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Nelliyodu Vasudevan Namboodiri

Nelliyodu Vasudevan Namboodiri   | Photo Credit: Liza George

Kathakali maestro Nelliyodu Vasudevan Namboodiri scripts plays and practices new roles at his kalari in Poojappura

“I apologise for the current state of the house; it’s being repainted and that is why it is in a mess. This room, by the way, is my kalari, my space,” says Kathakali maestro Nelliyodu Vasudevan Namboodiri.

The said room is spacious with cream-coloured tiled flooring. Large windows ensure there is enough ventilation and light for when he conducts classes for his students. Plastic chairs, an old sofa, a corner table, a cane cradle, paint cans..., however, crowd the room. There is a staircase by the side of the room that leads to the top floor and an open terrace. A few workers help clear a corner of the room for the interview.

Nelliyodu, who is from Cheranalloor in Ernakulam district, says it was work that had brought him to Thiruvananthapuram. He was a teacher at Attakulangara Central High School and used to work part time at Jawahar Bal Bhavan. “I taught Kathakali at the Central High School for 20 years before it fell to bad times. Now that the school has been revived, I am doing my best to resuscitate the institution by teaching a small group of students Kathakali,” says the alumnus of P.S.V. Natyasangham and Kerala Kalamandalam.

The 78-year-old recalls teaching students, especially girls, Kathakali, at their homes in his early days. As more and more students started approaching him for private classes, he decided to expand his house in Poojappura. “I bought my house in 1979. It was a small house and there was no room large enough to hold the classes. When I built this room in 1988, I wanted it to be large enough to accommodate my students and be well ventilated. Initially, I had only one row of shelves built onto that wall over there to display the various awards I received. I had to build a second and am now in the process of building a third. By the way, this room is normally not this cramped. The chairs, sofa, cradle… are dumped here due to the paint work,” says the artiste, a disciple of Vazhenkada Kunchu Nair. In fact, his residence-cum-Kathakali institute is named after his guru.

Although he specialises in playing the chuvanna thaadi, Nelliyodu teaches his students other veshams too. “I am fond of donning Pacha and Kathi characters. However, it was my characters in chuvanna thaadi that won me accolades. In fact, poet Vallathol Narayana Menon, once told me thaadi vesham would suit me best as I had a prominent nose and large eyes,” he grins.

Apart from classes, his kalari at Poojappura is also a place where he works on plays that have been adapted into Kathakali such as King Lear, Tempest, Don Quixote and the more recent Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs, in which he played the Evil Queen. “My colleagues and I usually work here on the plays as it is a relatively calm and quiet neighbourhood. We discuss the script, the characters, the nuances that need to be brought this room. I also scripted my interpretation of the Rasa-Leela - Rasakreeda, which was first performed by my students at a mandapam nearby, here. I am currently working on a performance based on the Ramayana; it will be a conversation between Kaikeyi and her son Bharata. It will be staged shortly. I love working here because of the comfort level; it’s my comfort zone.”

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Printable version | Feb 26, 2020 5:36:27 AM |

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