Popularising all three forms of Thullal

MORE TO IT THAN OttanThullal:Kalamandalam Prabhakaran along with his son and daughter performing all three forms of Thullal in 2005.

MORE TO IT THAN OttanThullal:Kalamandalam Prabhakaran along with his son and daughter performing all three forms of Thullal in 2005.  

It is about time the name of the ‘Ottanthullal’ competition is changed to just ‘Thullal.’ For the first time in the history of the State School Arts Festival, all three forms of Thullal, including Seethanganthullal and Parayanthullal, were performed on stage this year. It is perhaps apt that Thullal came alive in its complete glory at the birthplace of Kalakkathu Kunchan Nambiar.

The driving force behind this change is Thullal Guru Kalamandalam Prabhakaran, whose five students are competing this time around. “I have been a regular at the Thullal competitions for the past three decades and not even once have I seen anyone taking up anything other than Ottan Thullal. Of course, it appeals to the popular imagination with its colourful costumes, fast movements and humorous poetry. People also believe that it is the best way to impress judges. Even parents who come to me with their children insist on Ottan Thullal, even though I drop hints about the other two,” says Mr. Prabhakaran.

So he waited, until one of his students came up and expressed his wish to learn Seethanganthullal three years ago. The student, Dipin Das, went on to win the first place at the State School Arts Festival in 2011.

“I was new to Thullal and I wanted to learn something which is different from the others. The win gave me confidence. Last year, I learned Parayanthullal and will be performing here,” says Mr. Dipin.

Mr. Prabhakaran says that the school textbooks have lessons on all Thullal forms, but students get to see only one on stage.

“There probably is a caste angle to it. Parayanthullal, which is seen as a representative of a caste, used to be treated with contempt sometime back. Also, preparing the costume is tougher for these two Thullals,” he says.

The Seethanganthullal costume consists of circularly shaped tender coconut fronds whereas the Parayanthullal performer wears a serpent-hood-shaped headgear and anklet on one leg.

This though is not his first attempt at popularising the other two Thullals. Way back in 2005, he along with his son and daughter brought on stage the ‘Thullal thrayam’ — a blend of the three Thullal forms to narrate the story of ‘Kalyanasaugandhikam.’

He was introduced to Thullal by his paternal uncle Malabar Raman Nair, who is considered as the father of modern Thullal for the reforms in costumes and performance that he brought about. He certainly is taking that legacy forward with this new crop of students.

“The fact that more students are coming forward to learn the other Thullal forms provides much hope for the survival of this art form,” he says.

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