Reinterpreting a classic

Sadanam K. Harikumar Photo:K. K. Mustafah   | Photo Credit: K.K.Mustafah

The moment of truth for an artiste is when his creation makes its way into the world. All the pain and the pleasure that went into the creative process are put to the test. When the art receives acclaim, it is a moment like no other. Surely, Sadanam K. Harikumar must have experienced this during his diverse artistic endeavours. His latest achievement is the staging of the Kathakali play, ‘Kumarasambhavam’. He has scripted the play, composed and sung the songs, and designed the costumes. The artiste recounts where the inspiration to attempt the major work came from.

“When I was at Neytharamppally Subramanian temple (Palakkad) for a Kathakali performance, the head priest asked if I could do a production on Lord Subramanian. Since I was standing in front of the deity at that time, I felt there was some divine will at work. I set out to do it.”

At the next year’s temple festival, Harikumar was ready with his offering. Basing his text on Kalidasa’s immortal play, ‘Kumarasambhavam’, he innovated freely, choosing the more dramatic moments for presentation. An example is the war between Lord Indra and the two demons, Tharaka and Shurapadman. Harikumar explains, “Indra is not present, but the two asuras come off the stage and shower arrows into the air. Heaven is pictured as an unseen upper region in the theatre.” This is an innovative use of space in Kathakali. The battle itself is picturised as a stylised dance.

“There is an elaborate dance sequence where Goddess Parvati prays to Lord Siva to bless her by accepting her as his consort. She does a sari-nritham which is usually performed in a more romantic mood. I have designed Parvati’s headgear to make it look more like a crown and added theatrical elements to her entry and her worship of Lord Siva,” says Harikumar.

For a dramatic effect, the actor innovatively uses lighted camphor to stand for the fire that emanates from Lord Siva’s third eye. “There is a tumultuous scene in the play where Lord Siva is in a fiery rage and Parvati is shocked to see Kamadevan burnt to ashes. The denouement for this is a scene of calm despair where Parvati contemplates ending her life. All the elements of drama are incorporated, an example being that theatrical moment when Lord Siva intervenes at the very last moment to save Parvati who is on the verge of jumping into the Ganga. I have adapted the traditional ‘purappad’ and used it for the entry of Kamadevan and his assistant Vasanthan to Mount Kailasa, where they attempt to distract a meditative Lord Siva.”

This play is replete with a number of colourful characters on stage, such as, the two demons, Siva, Parvati, Lord Kamadeva, Vasanthan and, of course, Lord Subramanian and his vehicle, the peacock. Harikumar has conceived ‘Kumarasambhavam’ as a play with many scenes, punctuated by scene changes when new characters enter the action. “The numerous characters, dances and battle scenes have added a lot of drama to the presentation,” says Harikumar. “I have included family scenes such as Parvati caressing the baby Subramanian and later, a young Subramanian talking to his parents.”

Being an accomplished Carnatic musician, Sadanam Harikumar has made generous use of ragas for the production. Almost all the Kathakali actors and accompanying artistes are members of Gandhi Seva Sadan Kathakali Academy.

The inspiration for this production was an off-the-cuff remark by an aficionado, but Harikumar saw a challenge and rose up to it. “Through it, I got an opportunity to contribute to the great art that I practise, a humble homage for all that my Guru has given me.”

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Printable version | Jun 18, 2021 5:44:02 AM |

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