Kathakali: Capturing the nuances

This is the first time in the history of kathakali that a female character enters the ‘arangu’ through a traditional

Published: 26th February 2009 11:16 PM  |   Last Updated: 15th May 2012 10:21 PM   |  A+A-


KOCHI: Nalacharitham, penned by Unnayi Warrier, is considered the most fêted love story in kathakali.

If it unveils the subtle romance, between Nala and Damayanthi, Sadanam Harikumar’s ‘Hidumbi’ tries to capture the passionate love and its nuances through the mythical characters.

“As a kathakali artist I was very keen on observing the depth of the characters in various mythological plays. Especially the Bhagavatham of Kottayathu Thampuran in which the character Hidumbi appears in ‘kari’ as the demon and in ‘minukku’ as a dazzling beauty,” says Harikumar.

He has tried his best to capture the emotions of Hidumbi, as in the Bhagavatham, untouched by the clichés and pretensions of the modern world. “The play, ‘Hidumbi’ was the final outcome of this line of thought,” Harikumar says.

While moulding this novel concept about love in the play he assumes the role of a sculptor, singer, actor and choreographer. Instead of portraying the split personality of Hidumbi with two different characters as in Bhagavatham (Kari and Minukku) Hari tries to explore the possibilities of acting by painting the character’s face green in ‘minukku’.

Here the actor should possess a unique skill, very similar to that of pakarnnattami in koodiyattam, to portray the different characters of Hidumbi- one that of a sister concerned about her brother Hidumban and the other of an ardent lover filled with affection towards Bheema, Hari observes.

Moreover the ‘thiranokku’ (entry of the main character) itself deserves special mention in ‘Hidumbi’. The green faced female character Hidumbi, enters at the time of thiranokku accompanied by the ‘chempada’ on ‘madhalam’.

“This is the first time in the history of kathakali that a female character enters the ‘arangu’ through a traditional ‘thiranokku’, Hari claims.

The play begins with the entry of the brother (Hidumban) and sister (Hidumbi). The choreographer has made use of masks to symbolise wild animals. “It is a challenge for any actor to play out dual personalities in the same scene,” Hari says.

Another experimental approach of the choreographer is the introduction of masks, which is quite new in Kathakali, to portray scenes in the forest where Hidumbi meets Bheema. The masks are used to symbolise animals “To add to the fierceness of the main character I have used head gear with tender palm leaves, which are very common in ‘sheethankan thullal,’” Harikumar says.

The play was recently debuted at Palakkad Gandhi Seva Sadanam with Sadanam Sreenath assuming the role of ‘Hidumbi,’ Narippatta Narayanan Namboothiri playing ‘Hidumban’ and Kalanilayam Balakrishnan in the role of ‘Bheema’.

Though such a novel attempt in the orthodox frame work of kathakali is yet to gain approval, innovations of this kind have been experimented with success by celebrities like Ittiraricha Menon, Venkichan Swami and Pattikkamthodi Ravunni Menon.


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