Kathakali performs with a new-age sensibility

Sadanam Okay. Harikumar’s experimental works are recognized to discover the pysche of ladies and transgenders. The newest is Shikhandi

Studying Kathakali within the Nineteen Seventies, teenaged Sadanam Okay. Harikumar was disturbed by sure “skewed” portrayals of epic heroes within the dance-theatre. One such was Arjuna’s belittling replies to a love-struck Urvashi. “We all know the Pandava prince as a proud warrior,” says Harikumar , stating that the pre-eminent Kalakeyavadham play taught in school rooms too portrays him so. “But into the second half of that story, Arjuna comes throughout as an insipid particular person!”

This lingered in Harikumar’s thoughts for one-and-a-half a long time, until he got here up with Sapamochanam (1989). Its lyrics evoked a new-age sensibility and the choreography revelled in novelties. Within the course of, the famed episode from the Mahabharata acquired an appropriate twist through which Urvashi outshone Arjuna.

Over the previous 32 years as a Kathakali playwright, Harikumar has written many tales. Apart from the occasional tweaks to plots and characters, a sizeable variety of scripts shows a feminist spirit. They don’t seem to be only a celebration of womanhood, however are typically a tackle transgender struggles and victories. The newest being Shikhandi, the multifaceted Harikumar’s nineteenth experimental manufacturing. The four-and-a-half-hour work premièred lately, coinciding with the 68th anniversary of Sadanam Classical Arts Akademi, which he heads in Pathiripala, Palakkad district.

Examine and distinction

Shikhandi conjures up a climax that deviates from Vyasa’s masterpiece. The eponymous transgender was, within the earlier life, a ravishing princess named Amba. She suffered a tragedy in her prime: a botched marriage with King Salwa. All as a result of the valorous Bhishma entered the marriage venue, overpowered her fiancé, and took her and her two sisters away by pressure, to be made wives of his half-brother Vichitravirya.

Right now, that ‘villain’ is mendacity on a mattress of arrows. On the Mahabharata struggle, Shikhandi has felled him. Right here, past revenge, Harikumar’s protagonist betrays compassion. On second ideas, Shikhandi returns to the person and responds positively to a hand prolonged by Bhishma. A pensive raga within the air caps the poignancy.

“Nicely, however for his vow of celibacy, Bhishma would maybe have tied the knot with Amba when she returned to him after being disowned by Salwa. Amba too would have thought she lastly acquired the perfect man,” says Harikumar, a disciple of the unorthodox Kathakali maestro Keezhpadam Kumaran Nair (1916-2007). “Initially, this finish wasn’t in my thoughts. It occurred whereas writing. Choreographically, too, it appeared viable.”

Sapamochanam additionally stands out for being excessive on emotion. Urvashi, indignant owing to Arjuna’s disinterest in her, curses him to develop into a eunuch. In contrast to within the epic, Urvashi herself gives shapamoksha as a manner out. This, after Arjuna says he may solely see a mom in Urvashi, who has been a spouse of his forefathers. The maid’s fury melts in a jiffy: she senses a son’s heat for the primary time in her promiscuous life. And lets Arjuna lie on her lap, patting him to sleep.

As theatre researcher Renu Ramanath notes, “It’s distinctive for a Kathakali manufacturing to finish with a lullaby!”

From ‘Sapamochanam’

Encouraging responses

Harikumar’s recent method to Kathakali has sustained him as an actor-dancer, vocalist and make-up artist. Says nonagenarian literary critic M. Leelavathy, “Kathakali has immense scope to conceive tender scenes with feelings past valour and vengeance. Harikumar manages to liberate lovers of the artwork kind from age-old ideas about girls as meek or insignificant objects.” However some students discover his verses prosaic. “I don’t thoughts,” smiles the 63-year-old Harikumar, who can also be a painter, sculptor and Carnatic musician. “A Kathakali work within the twenty first century shouldn’t sound archaic. Neither ought to its dance be mere repetition of age-old approach.”

From the start, Harikumar’s works have reiterated this. They’re about novel facial designs, costume, gestures, patterned actions and, above all, catering to the younger technology. If his Chitrangada, staged a decade in the past, handled blurred sexual identities, different Puranic characters akin to Kali, Asti, Surpanakha and Hidumbi in subsequent performs portrayed the labyrinths of the feminine psyche.

The author is a eager follower of Kerala’s performing arts.

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