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.