Sunday, October 7, 2007

Nalacharitham Nalam Divasam

Kathakali discovered long ago that the secret of the Great Stories is that they have no secrets...In the Great Stories you know who lives, who dies, who finds love, who doesn't. And yet you want to know again.
- Arundhati Roy (The God of Small Things)

Kathakali aficionados would undoubtedly agree that Nalacharitham is one such attakatha that weaves romance, terror, despair and suspense into such a gripping tale, that the magic of the performance is never lost, however many times one might watch it. Thus, the excitement and expectations among the audience was almost palpable at the Changumpuzha Park last evening, when the final quarter of Nalacharitham was staged with some of the greatest artists of today, Kalamandalam Gopi, Margi Vijayakumar and Kalamandalam Shanmughan donning the roles of Nalan, Damayanti and Kesini respectively.

Not much need to be said about Gopiasan, who as always, gave a superlative performance, and took the show to a truly different level altogether. With Kathakali being the singular art form which allows its artists to personalise their characters according to their taste and understanding, it is perhaps only Gopiasan, who has breathed life into his characters in such a manner that made one feel that, had the same character played by anybody else, it would have seemed a mere travesty of the original.

However, Margi Vijay Kumar, one of the most acclaimed artists today in sthreevesham, failed to impress, making one wish wistfully of the Nalacharitham of yesteryears when Gopiasan’s Nalan had found his perfect match in the truly breathtaking Damayanti by Kottakkal Shivaraman. Even though Vijayakumar performed the initial scenes quite well, ably assisted by Shanmughan’s Kesini, he fell woefully short of the audiences expectations in the electrifying last scene which, when performed by stalwarts like Shivaraman asan, usually takes the audience to a truly cathartic level before divine intervention in the story takes it to a happy climax.

Nevertheless, Margi Vijayakumar’s non –impressive performance was more than compensated by Shanmughan’s Kesini. Easily the prettiest face in the business, Kalamandalam Shanmughan has risen in the ranks of the current generation of artists with his deep understanding and mature portrayals of characters. Restrained and subtle in his portrayal of Kesini, Shanmughan proved yet again, that a talented artist can turn around even the smallest part in a story and lend elegance and importance to that part.

The vocal support by Kottakal Narayanan and Narayanan Namboothiri was also far from satisfactory. Some may beg to differ, but for someone who has grown listening to Shankaran Embrathiri and Hyderali, I felt like the Narayanan duo simply took the magic away from the incredibly poignant lines of Unnai Varyiar. One could not but wish for a more soulful rendition, especially during the last scene, where it is actually the music that sets the mood of the scene.


Haree | ഹരീ said...

What I should tell about this!!!
Splendid, I dont think one can write an aswadanam much better than this. Really great! Keep up the good work.

• Margi Vijayakumar was not impressive! I think it is just because it was not his day, otherwise he's not that far behind when compared to Kottackal Sivaraman.

• True, Kottackal Narayanan's rendering is not that soft, he's best in Kottayam Kathakal (so called chittapradhanam).

• One suggestion: Try to include the details of Chenda, Maddalam, Chutti artists as well. Also Veshabhangi should be mentioned. In some places, they vesham is so dull that it takes away the charm. And in Kathakali they do have importance, no?

Wish you all the best, waiting for more aswadanams.

Mohandas said...

A good account of a good kali indeed!

I have seen Gopi Asan and Kottackal Sivaraman together at Evoor Nalacharithotsavam, a month ago. Kottackal was an utter flop over there, in contrast to his many outstanding performances, which I have witnessed. So, the day matters. May be it was not Vijayakumar's day!

Pathiyoor and Babu Namboodiri have proved that they are a good team for Nalacharitham-4 music.But the best singer to me for Nala-4 is late Kalamandalam Haridas.His rendition was truly brilliant. Gopi Asan, Kottackal and Haridas --- a wonderful team, who could elevate Nalacharitham-4 to artistic levels, perhaps beyond the imagination of even Unnayi Varrier!

Also please visit:


Sunil said...

I’m not wise enough to analyze the intricacies of the art and to respond to your scholarly opinion, but just a novice, who got attracted to the Kathakali stage in the late hours of the night. So forgive me for all the stupid notes that follow...
What should I say about Gopiasan in addition to what you rightly mentioned? Like seeing P.J. Antony in every oracle we meet after watching the movie Nirmalyam; like experiencing the clutches of Khasak in every piece of novel that followed the legend; like we hear Yesudas in every young Malayalam playback singer; I think it’s impossible for a Kathakali artist to not be influenced by the charisma of Gopiasan. He is one of the few links of the dying out chain of personas, who unconditionally dedicated everything to Kathakali.
I haven’t seen the best of Sivaramanasan. But I have heard wise men telling that in the current era, if at all Kathakali has acclaimed appreciation by ordinary viewers like me, along with Gopiasan, loads of credit for that goes to this genius also. I hope still yearning and youth remain in him to excel others in various aspects of performance.
Jyothi, Cheers for the good article. Make it a habit, because these kinds of “sayhrudaya sallapangal” help the souls like me a lot to understand this complex art better.


Gokul said...

Hi Jyothi,
Wonderful words with an open mind. I admire you for not using very much praising words. You have stuck the pattern of writing the truth. Keep it up.

As written by few others, you should include details of other artistes like Chenda, chutti etc. We all know that without Unnikrishnan assisting on Chenda, Gopiasan cannot perform to his full .
Mallika was telling me about a kathakali workshop at Ambalapuzha, three days event. I just missed that. I want to attend one. We can plan such an event at edappally itself, what do u say ?

Srikumar said...

I was late to see this blog. Let me try to reiterate. What is the secret of the Great Stories? That there is no secret. Everybody knows the stories. But still we want to see it again and again! It's how you express it on stage, not taught by man, not limited by words, but the entire artists' combined effort makes it possible.
Srikumar - visit

Anonymous said...

I am a non resident keralan (don’t be surprised, this term was coined by my old friend and mentor, Mr Anand Shankar) for more than three decades.

Jyoti, you are doing an excellent job and I think you are a merciless critic too. It is heartening to note that there do still exist some kathakali lovers, who, between their busy living styes and work schedules, doing their bit to the cause of Kathakali, and manage to delve deep into the subject and amazes with their ability to bring to our notice the subtleties which otherwise may not have been noticed by a layman like me.

I avidly listen to the limited number of kathakali padams which I have on my MP3 player which is the only bridge that connects me to kathakali these days, and of course, those far and few performances that I catch up with, during my brief holidays.

I remember accompanying my dad to various venues where kathakali used to be staged, majority, in villages. On our way, he would tell the night’s stories and would explain mudras while watching it. Stages used to be poorly lit. For namesake there would be a couple of low watt bulbs hanging over the charaters. But, to see the characters in their glittering attire and their expressions in the light of kalivilakku still gives me goosflesh. Often, as children, we would fall asleep in between, only to wake up by the thundering beats of chenda as a thadi vesham does his aatakalasam. And, we would be retreating home, at the crack of the dawn, with a fading moon playing hide and seek among the clouds and a few stars still shining above.
Those were the days….

Jyoti, your narrative literally took me to my childhood days and made me relive those moments. As I finished reading it, how I wished I could witness it myself! Keep up the good work.


kusumita said...

firstly you have a style of a feature journalist. so lucid that you make people see and not just read...and that's the mark of a great writer...and i felt this cos i know jack abt kathakali bt after reading your blog i don feel the same.

Sreekumar (Singapore) said...

Your photos are splendid. By the way, which camera do you use?

Kannan's team said...


It is very nice to read your appreciation. I can see that your suggestions are well reflected. Please keep this up.

Best wishes
Ettumanoor P Kannan

Anonymous said...

Nice review. (Chanced upon it only now -- looks like some two years after the show, sorry.)
Thought would speak about just one point. Kottakkal Narayanan's music. I agree he isn't a "soft" singer for a melodramatic story like Nalaam Divasam, but surely he isn't bad -- at least on a good day. To somebody fed on Hyderali's music, Narayanan's rendition may be a bit too bold (definitely not "kara-para") -- and I find it lends another (good) dimension to Nalacharitam. And for a generation fed on Neelakantan Nambisan, Gangadharan, Ramu Varrier and Unnikrishna Kurup, there's a sense of deja vu that Narayanan (alone) brings in these days. Sad, Kathakali survives more on nostalgia than anything else.

Anonymous said...

Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now keep it up!

Thampuran said...


thanks a lot


Photos. Very beautiful.

Anonymous said...

Hi all,

i hope to join the discussion soon

i have some very strong opinions

looking forward to talking to you all. :)


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