Showcasing power and prowess

Kalamandalam Shanmukhan as Narakasura in 'Narakasuravadham'. Photo: Jawaharji K.   | Photo Credit: Jawaharji K.

Karthika Thirunal Ramavarma, lauded as one of the most able of rulers of erstwhile Travancore (1724 – 1798), was famous in the domain of culture also. He set up and maintained a full-fledged Kathakali troupe that was provided with regular performance opportunities at the Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple. His treatise on dramaturgy, entitled ‘Balaramabharatham’ upheld a Malayali’s point of view. Collaborating with Kaplingattu Narayanan Namboodiri and Mathur Panicker he brought about rigour and system in training and performance of the art form.

Among the seven Kathakali plays he composed, ‘Rajasooyam’ became popular, especially in venues in the South, while ‘Narakasuravadham’ earned the appreciation of rasikas all over Kerala. Besides ‘Ravanolbhavam’ (by Kallekkulangara Raghava Pisharoty) and ‘Balivijayam’ (by Kallur Nambudiripad), those two compositions of Karthika Thirunal brought to the centre stage titanic characters appearing in the so called ‘kurum kathi’ make-up, exhibiting regalia in full splendour and exuding both erotic and heroic sentiments.

‘Narakasuravadham’ commences with a female demon Nakrathundi’s histrionics behind the curtain. While returning to Pragjyothisha from the heaven along with some divine damsels she had captured for presenting to Naraka, Nakrathundi who is enamoured with handsome Jayantha, son of Indra, disguises herself as an enchantingly graceful lass (known in Kathakali parlance as Lalitha) and makes overtures to him. He, however, flatly refuses her proposal, whereupon, assuming her demonic appearance she tries in vain to capture him and subsequently gets mutilated at his hands.

A recent performance in the capital city commenced with Lalitha presenting a specific dance called ‘sari’ before Jayantha to introduce herself to him at her best. Kalamandalam Vijayakumar, who enacted Lalitha, delineated the character showcasing even some of her subtle distinctive features. Lalitha’s response to Jayantha turning down her proposal could have been much more dramatic and effective, had the musical support on that part of the padam were more context sensitive.

Rasikas who have enjoyed Kalamandalam Shanmukhan’s presentation of female characters and other roles in minukku make-up several times were pleasantly surprised to watch him donning Narakasura. His features amply suited the character. He took constant care to showcase whatever he learnt in the Northern kalari, without diluting its intrinsic quality in any way. Connoisseurs, however, were eagerly looking forward to watching a talented young artiste presenting ‘subdued’ antics behind the curtain (pathinja thiranottam) and also ‘transformative acting’ (pakarnaattam) in the scenes involving Naraka’s encounter with the mutilated female demon and with Airavatha, the unique elephant of Indra. They were disappointed.

The peacock dance (keki), embedded in select slow-paced padams in Kathakali, is reminiscent of chittaswaram in Carnatic music. Shanmukhan presented it flawlessly, keeping in mind proportions of time and space.

Kalamandalam Sudeep essayed the roles of both Jayantha and Indra diligently. Kalamandalam Jishnu Ravi was assigned the role of Naraka’s wife. His expressive eyes, spotless makeup and costumes and gestures and movements were much more than what was required for the flat character.

The padams and quatrains in the text posed little or no challenge to the singers (Kalamandalam Babu Namboodiri and Kalamandalam Vishnu). The contribution of a discerning and efficient coordinator was conspicuous by its absence in general and especially in this respect.

The orchestra was handled by Kalamandalam Venumohan and Kalamandalam Srivin on the chenda and Kalamandalam Vinith and RLV Jithin on the maddalam. It enhanced the quality of the performance. The performance was organised by Drisyavedi.

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Printable version | Apr 11, 2021 1:54:14 AM |

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