Hub for hardcore culture enthusiasts

THE SLEEPY little village of Kumbalam is waking up to a new cultural dawn. For the last 18 days a plot, ideally located near the waterfront, has seen hectic activity. Day and night, the workers and architects are toiling, giving final touches to a cultural centre. Spending sleepless nights, shouting out instructions, meeting people, sending out invitations and answering telephone calls are Pandit Gopal P. Dubey and his wife Nalini. What is now turning into a reality for them is a long cherished dream.

Next week, Prakrti, a cultural and heritage research centre, will be inaugurated here. And if Pandit Dubey's plans and hopes blossom, Kumbalam is sure to be much sought after.

"There have been quite a few events that inspired me into launching this project. My association with Kavalam Narayana Panikkar was perhaps the first of them. I had worked with him, assisting in the choreography for one of his plays way back in 1984. That bond has strengthened through these years. He had always insisted I start some sort of academy to train aspiring artistes in Chhau dance. After spending a few years in Delhi and Chandigarh, I had settled down in Mumbai, where I had also set up an academy. I was assisted in its functioning by a friend of mine. Her sudden death upset all my plans. The academy fell to seed and I took off for a long performing tour abroad.

"Reaching Kochi for a performance, I simply fell in love with this place and decided to drop anchor here. Even when we moved to an apartment in the city, I nursed this dream of setting up this centre. It was then we bought this land at Kumbalam and slowly began putting into place those small fragments of my dream," says this eminent exponent of Chhau and noted choreographer.

Like anyone attempting to set up an enterprise, Pandit Dubey was also caught into those inevitable bureaucratic tangles. "I hardly knew anyone here, except perhaps Mr. Panikkar and a few other artistes. I could not speak the language and there were very few who took pains to listen to me. It was here that Nalini was of such great help. She used her contacts and things began moving," says Pandit Dubey.

"Though we had the blueprint of the whole centre and had slated all the programmes for the April 14 inauguration, it was only towards the last week of March that we began work in right earnest. All those associated with the work, like the architects and contractors, have been sweating it out to meet the April 12 deadline. And I'm sure everything will be in place for the inaugural event," confirms Nalini.

Prakriti aims to preserve and propagate folk and traditional art. "The centre proposes to have regular training in chhau, mohiniyattam, kathakali and kalaripayattu. We will have hostel facilities with a canteen, which will serve only typical Kerala vegetarian food. We will have qualified teachers for all these disciplines. Apart from these regular training sessions Prakriti will be a venue for international workshops and an annual cultural festival. An ayurvedic massage centre, which will confine itself to basic treatment for artists and a library are also part of the plan," explains Pandit Dubey.

Hub for hardcore culture enthusiasts

The heart of Prakrti is the aesthetically and painstakingly chalked out theatre. "Initially we planned to just have that space with a platform. Then, despite a huge drain in our finaces, we thought of going in for something like the traditional koothambalam. We got Fab Interior Architecture to do the job for us and I feel they have done well. This is the first phase. We have asked a Delhi-based firm to set up the lighting and also a small concert stage close to the backwaters. This Intimate Theatre will, we hope, be ideal for small performances," says Pandit Dubey.

A much sought after choreographer, Pandit Dubey has collaborated with some of the most brilliant moviemakers and theatre directors in India and abroad. "There is a body language which becomes so vital for an actor, which has to be imbibed from folk and traditional art forms. We have an offer from noted actor Mohanlal, who wants to be choreographed for an upcoming play. Maybe this will be done at Prakrti," informs Pandit Dubey.

Chhau, with its graceful body movements, has been widely adapted by numerous contemporary dancers, various dance pieces in films and modern plays. "There is one thing I want to work on, a kind of research, which perhaps can be undertaken by Prakrti. I feel that chhau and kalaripayattu can be blended into a lovely piece. I need to work on this once I come back from my tour abroad in May," hopes Pandit Dubey.

Nalini sulks a bit. She understands that from now on it will not be just charting out the schedule for her illustrious husband. She will be responsible for the functioning of Prakrti. "I must travel. Not for a living alone, but to see that the dream project goes from strength to strength. After all Nalini is the secretary, she will be in charge. My role will be confined to the office, training, or those occasional workshops... " Pandit Dubey signs off with a laugh.

Pics. By Johney Thomas