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The quaint connoisseurs

Illustration of a Kathakali face  

Kathakali is among the rare performing arts in which artists — actors, vocalists and percussionists — do not always rehearse ahead of a fixture. Sometimes, they might be even meeting for the first time before ascending the stage.

Until a few decades ago, connoisseurs would invite famous artists to perform, and knowing about the venue and date, others would come on their own to make an ensemble. By sunset, with the available artists, the playlist for the night and each role is prepared and displayed in the green room.

More often than not, the aesthetes would discuss and argue about selecting the repertoire and assigning roles when more luminaries arrive to perform. Once, during such a dispute, the organisers sought the suggestions of a Namboodiri who meticulously attended the performances, sitting right in front of the stage and next to the traditional lamp, kalivilakku, till the end. He nonchalantly replied, “No idea, I am there to sniff the wicks of the lamp while putting them out after the performance.”

In a village with its own kaliyogam (Kathakali troupe), one person attended almost all the performances. He keenly observed the artist in the central role but turned down his face within seconds.

Perturbed by this and suspecting that his facial expressions may not have adequately explored the art’s nuances, the actor met that “aficionado”. “My passion is counting the number of decorations in the headgear, but by the time I hardly count a few, you are turning your head; very disappointing,” was the answer the artist got.

The writings of Kalakkath Kunchan Nambiar (1705-1770) captured Kerala’s essential cultural ethos as no other literary work did. Any research into the State’s literature, history, culture and traditions, indigenous music and rhythm is incomplete without a thorough Nambiar study. His compositions, including the 42-strong Thullal repertoire, stand testimony to his scholarship and wit. During a walk with the king of Ambalappuzha, his patron, they saw a cow with diarrhoea. In no time came Nambiar’s banter, “Oh cow, you too feast from the palace?” Immediately, the king understood the issue and straightaway remedied it by ensuring the quality of the food.

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Printable version | May 10, 2021 8:27:41 AM |

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