KOCHI: Long ago, much before women ventured into theatre, Ochira Velukutti Asan, a doyen, enacted the fairer sex with much conviction. The sultry Vasavadatta, graceful Sita and the lovelorn Leela, Vellukutti Asan’s female characters mesmerised audience with their brilliance, beauty and depth. But, unable to separate his artistic and personal life and falling prey to a prejudiced society, Velukutti Asan faded to oblivion.
But, decades after the artist bid adieu to stage, theatre and movie actor Santhosh Keezhattoore pays him a tribute through Pen Nadan, a Malayalam solo drama that was premiered at Fine Arts Hall, Kochi, last Friday.
Dressed as Vasavadatta in rich kasavumundu and chunky neckpiece, Santhosh played Vellukutti Asan. The performance opened with a tired Asan fainting onstage. Before the booing crowd, Asan laments: “Your admiration for a character ends, the moment the actor turns himself. No one cares for the person the artist is.”
This statement, says Santhosh, leads the audience to the life and struggle of Asan. Beautifully reliving the great artist, the elegance of his characters, Santhosh also portrayed how Asan faltered, unable to overcome the social stigma attached to any man who plays a female onstage.
He switches between characters, changes attires and brings alive every special moment, even the most intimate ones, on stage through his solo show.
“Ochira Velukutti Asan is someone who brought onstage the feminine charm. But, the society pointed its judgmental finger at him. His gender was always a topic of debate. Even his wife never accepted him and accused him of ‘smelling’ like a woman. His unparalleled skill to play a woman onstage swallowed his identity. Through Pen Nadan I aim to portray the internal conflicts of an actor who played a female part to perfection,” says Santhosh.
Velukutti Asan was brought alive on stage through a splendid performance by Santhosh who switched between genders - as Vasavadatta, Sita and Velukutti Asan who played them - while portraying the angst and anguish that enveloped the life of the maverick.
“He wished to play a strong male part. He dreamt of playing Karnan, but what came to him was female parts. His love for the stage was so inimitable that he failed to live to the expectations of his wife. The same reason had robbed him off his love life too,” says Santhosh.
The actor says that enacting Asan onscreen was as challenging as his character. “Bringing Velukutti Asan’s life onstage was hard. His is a life that nobody knows much about. Many of the incidents here are real life ones, but I have taken the liberty of bringing in fictional elements too,” says Santhosh.
But, how did he zero in on Velukutti Asan though only a little has been said and written about the doyen? “Incidentally, I happened to play the character of Velukutti Asan in a play. I also acted as a theatre artist who plays female part in Kamal’s movie Nadan. But, the turning point was when I went to Mallika Sarabai’s theatre group ‘Darpana’. There I saw a memorial and auditorium in the name of a Marati actor who played female parts. That had me thinking how even our Akademi had nothing on Velukutti Asan, a man of unparalleled talent. That’s when I decided to do a one-man show on him,” says Santhosh.