It has been said in some art circles that you are one among the best in Kathakali to perform Kathi veshas, even though you have also done numerous pacha and minukku veshas. Are you generally selective in your roles as a Kathakali artist ?
I would say it is more of an audience choice. Perhaps the first few times that I have performed in Kathi veshas clicked with the audience. Once that happens, the natural penchant is for the artist to be approached with similar veshas. Also, the audience begins to tag such characters with the actor. In that way, it is very similar to how the medium of cinema works. Another reason could be the drastic reduction in the duration of performances nowadays. Today, everything is a miniature version of the original, keeping in mind audience attention spans and preferences. Back in the old days, a full night’s performance gave the artist the opportunity to explore different veshas and build upon his skills. Now, we rarely get such stages and are limited to one or two performances at a stretch.
Personally, I love portraying all characters, whichever scale they may be on – Satvikam, Rajasam or Thamasam.
You have been an exponent of the Kalluvazhi way of Kathakali. In your opinion, what is the difference between the different chittas (styles) of Kathakali?
The evolution of the different styles of Kathakali through the ages can be attributed to the differences in the way art was treated by the ruling classes of the time. The possibilities of exchanging ideas on individual styles between geographical territories were limited due to prevailing logistical hindrances. As communication lines between territories improved, there was blending of various styles to create better versions. Madhya Kerala was ruled by the Namboodiris who rigidly protected their indigenous style of Kathakali. With leisure time on their hands, they delved deeper into the classical aspects and had sound knowledge on them. Also, artists of the region were relatively more deferential to the rulers and abided by their orders and guidelines better than their counterparts. All these parameters may have created an environment which made the Kalluvazhi style more prominent. The common opinion is that other styles are meant for audiences that are less serious about Kathakali. Today, the Kalluvazhi style and its variants are more prevalent in Kathakali. It is similar to how the Valluvanadan dialect is considered by many to be the best in Malayalam.
In spite of all this, it is extremely difficult for a seasoned Kathakali enthusiast to identify differences in the styles. Kalluvazhi is predominantly a style which involves a lot of body control, with subdued yet highly expressive mudras. One reason for this could be that earlier venues were not as vast as today. They were just small enclosed spaces. A Kathakali artist had to recreate an entire story within that small square of space.
A student who is following the Kalluvazhi way of training can excel only with an exhaustive training regime. I feel this is lacking in today’s methods of teaching. Today the depth of knowledge gained by a student may be much lesser than previous generations because of this.
Tell us about your experience associating with Gajaangan – a production of Salabhanjika Studio of Arts and Performance.
I played the role of the Soothradharan in Gajangan. My good friend and Kathakali artist Dr. CP Unnikrishnan donned the role of Gajangan. This was a different experience for me mainly because I have not worked with pre-recorded recitals before. Majority of my performances are based on on-stage recitals which gave room for improvisations. Pre-recorded recitals meant that I had to be extra careful of each step that I take. While this was a slightly challenging hurdle to cross, I soon became comfortable in doing it.
As an artist, you have travelled across the globe for art festivals and performances such as to Poland, France, Netherlands, Spain, China, Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Italy, Germany, Portugal, Sweden, Brazil, and Arab Countries. Which has been your favorite audience?
My all-time favorite location outside India is France and the French audience. Their love for art is incredible and art enthusiasts there try their best to keep traditions of each art form intact. Even today, the Paris Festival hosts Kathakali performances in the same way they are done in rural Kerala, with the artists performing on low-built stages. This ensured the artist and his audience are in close proximity to each other. This is essential for the veshakkaran to communicate better with the audience.
In many other regions, Kathakali is considered just as an oriental dance form. But in reality, Kathakali is an art form that incorporates each facet of art such as dancing, singing or acting to the fullest. In fact, there are still full-blown debates as to whether Kathakali is ‘acting while dancing’ or dancing while acting’.
Kottakkal Nadakumaran Nair is the recipient of the Senior Fellowship from the Ministry of Culture, Govt. of India, the Kerala Sangeetha Nataka Akademi Award for Kathakali in 2009, Kalahamsa Puraskaram of Ernakulam Kathakali Club in 2008, Pattikkamthodi Ravunni Menon Award in 2012, Suvarna Mudra Puraskaram of Thrissur Kadhakali Club.
Picture Courtesy : Kottakkal Nandakumaran Nair Facebook Profile