Malabar Mail: Celebrating the spirit of the region

Remembering a pioneering artiste

Illustration: Sreejith R.Kumar

Illustration: Sreejith R.Kumar   | Photo Credit: sreejith r.kumar

The contribution of Malabar Raman Nair to Ottan Thullal is not properly recorded

Not many know that Malabar Raman Nair, a native of Kasaragod district, was instrumental in making Ottan Thullal a popular theatrical genre in the State. Connoisseurs would say it was Raman Nair who sought to refine the art form.

Thullal, conceived and developed by Kunchan Nambiar in the 18th century, was once a very popular theatre art form in the State. True, today we have more popular mediums for satirical expressions. The onslaught of changing cultural tastes notwithstanding, Ottan Thullal survives as a genre.

The organisers of the recently held Kerala State School Arts Festival at Kanhangad in Kasaragod district, for their part, did their bit to honour the memory of the late exponent of Ottan Thullal. They named one of the venues of the event after him. Ottan Thullal artistes and teachers, who were present at the festival, however, did not hide their disappointment that the late master had not been accorded due recognition in the region of his birth.

The Malabar V. Raman Nair Memorial Reading Room and Library, housed in a two-storey building at Kuttamath, a sleepy village in Cheruvathur of Kasaragod district, is perhaps the only memorial in his home district or in the north Malabar region. Perhaps, very few people in north Kerala know that the large acceptance that the genre has gained had a deep connection to the region.

However, Ottan Thullal, which was gaining popularity along with other art forms and stage plays in north Malabar, came into prominence and got a new dimension with Raman Nair’s performance in the last century.

According to contemporary Thullal exponent Kalamandalam Prabhakaran, who is the nephew of Malabar Raman Nair, it was after one of the mesmerising performances before the royal family in Thiruvananthapuram that his paternal uncle was given the honorific ‘Malabar’ as a prefix to his name. The late master refined the structure of Thullal by incorporating elements of classicism, recalls Prabhakaran and notes that the sophisticated style evolved by him became the mainstay of Thullal in course of time.

Even Jawaharlal Nehru was said to have been impressed by his performance. Vallathol Narayana Menon offered him work by starting a department for Ottan Thullal at Kalamandalam.

In 1960, he died of cardiac arrest at the age of 60 in Kollam while returning after a performance.

Despite his huge contribution to the growth of Ottan Thullal, there is no proper memorial for him and his role in making Thullal a popular art form, barring that a modest library and reading room at Kuttamath where he was born and learned the art. A better memorial in his home district is long overdue. North Malabar could thus highlight the work and achievements of Nair to popularise the performing art.

Perhaps, such initiatives to perpetuate the memories of the Thullal exponent can draw more people in the region to study and appreciate the art. It may also set the stage for more studies on the genre.

(MALABAR MAIL is a weekly column by The Hindu’s correspondents that will reflect Malabar’s life and lifestyle)

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Printable version | Feb 22, 2020 3:29:44 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/kerala/remembering-a-pioneering-artiste/article30436465.ece

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