Karimkutty is all about classical finesse and the occult

High drama: Scenes from the play staged at the Bharat Rang Mahotsav's parallel theatre festival.   | Photo Credit: T. Singaravelou

An occult world of spirits, overlords and dark arts animated the stage as Karimkutty, written by Kavalam Narayana Panicker, doyen of Malayalam theatre, was performed as the closing act at the week-long 21st Bharat Rang Mahotsav parallel theatre festival of the National School of Drama at Adishakti.

Staged by Sopanam theatre troupe, which was founded by Panicker, Karimkutty presents classical theatre in all its finery.

The play takes its name from Karimkutty, one of the spirits (chathans) enslaved by the overlord Kondadimadan.

Karimkutty evokes the emotional rhythm emanating from the five elements — earth, water, air, fire and ether (ether). He is the leader of the downtrodden, the oppressed.

In portraying Karimkutty as a loyal acolyte to his master — the one who commands the ‘chathan’ army, but also refuses to align with his master’s devious designs to grab more and more wealth — Panicker also shines a light on feudal practices. As the play moves along, it explores the tetchy relationship between the master, who is greedy for power and wealth, and his morally superior serf-spirit. Kundunni, the overlord’s caretaker, who is petrified of the spirits, provides comic relief to the story.

The play leverages every aspect of Natyashastra, from angika (body movements) to aaharya (costumery) to transcend the limitations of language.

The costumes were designed by the late filmmaker G. Aravindan, who, like Panicker, held a fascination for folk culture and the occult, which led to a collaboration between the duo in theatre and cinema.

Mantravanan, a former disciple of Kondadimadan, is accumulating wealth and more magical powers, and turns up with a retinue replete with a caparisoned elephant, to demand the debt owed by his former mentor.

Though he is humiliated by Kondadimadan’s invisible army of spirits (chathans) and sent back, the unsettled due is a matter of embarassment for the overlord. Mantravanan would return shortly and repeat his proposition that the master repay the debt or release one of his spirits.

Meanwhile, Poomala, daughter of the overlord, is charmed by Sundaran chathan, on a designated day of Makaram when all spirits break free and run riot. An incensed Kondadimadan banishes her from the house for not heeding his warnings about never engaging with a spirit on the particular day.

The moment of reckoning soon arrives when Mantravanan turns up to collect his debt. Kondadimadan prefers to betray Karimkutty and releases him instead. As Karimkutty, bound in rope, is led away by his new master, the other spirits turn on Kondadimadan attacking him with stones, to complete the downfall of the once-powerful overlord.

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Printable version | May 6, 2021 1:27:09 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/puducherry/karimkutty-is-all-about-classical-finesse-and-the-occult/article30887115.ece

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