Kathakali, an ancient larger-than-life theatre, thrives on unhurried presentations. It could last all night or be enacted over several days. They are shortened for modern-day consumption, and in many cases, presented in parts. Many plays in Kalakshetra Foundation’s ‘Bhasuram Bhasayati’ lasting two to three hours were presented as parts.
If you heard the title ‘Subhadra Haranam’ Part 2, what would you think? That it would deal with the dramatic abduction of Subhadra? No, it dealt with happenings after the abduction — Balabhadra’s anger when he learns of it and his subsequent placation by the wily Krishna. Interestingly, this is considered the more dramatic part.
A group of brahmanas, led by Varanad Sanalkumar, are returning from a wedding, when they discuss the abduction of Subhadra by an ascetic. When they see the remnants of the fight with the security guard, they conclude that the ascetic could have been none other than Arjuna.
Balabhadra (Kalamandalam Balasubhramanyan) is on his way home, when he sees them. He goes closer and overhears their conversation. This scene is broken by Balabhadra’s Thiranokku presentation.
Balasubhramanyan’s was a masterly act, quite technical, as in the gestures and in the use of minute facial expressions and eye movements. For the bold character, percussion increased, with the addition of two more drummers on the chenda and maddalam.
This is how Kathakali becomes larger than life — elaborate costume, massive headgear and detailed face paint according to the role, which incidentally remains organic, and the frenzied drumming during an angry or aggressive monologue.
As Balabhadra listens, he enacts the brahmanas’ banter about an ascetic falling in love. Hearing Subhadra’s name, he is startled. And when he hears of the abduction, he is furious. He turns his anger on Krishna, suspecting his involvement.
The confrontation between the brothers is the mainstay of the production. Krishna (Kalamandalam Shanmukadas) looks nervous and denies any role in the abduction, reminding his older brother that the ascetic looked effulgent and was invited by both of them to the palace, to be served by Subhadra. He makes Balabhadra see the wisdom of keeping their sister happy. And all ends well.
Every lead actor had room for manodharma elaboration and the sensitive playing of the chenda or maddalam and idakka, for the male and the female characters respectively, reflected the emotions. Krishna’s devotion to his brother and his denial of any complicity was impressive.
His words, couched in the plaintive tunes of Nilambari, Kalyana Vasantham and Sahana, added pathos to his appeals. The vocals of Kottakal Madhu with Kalamandalam Ajesh Prabhakar and Sadanam Saikumar were poetic, and the long, drawn-out melodies enjoyable. It somehow suited the unhurried pace of narration. The delivery turned aggressive with Balabhadra’s accusations (Madhyamavati).
The drama in ‘Subhadra Haranam’ Part 2 was heightened by the percussion of Kalamandalam Balasundaram and Kalamandalam Vinod Kumar (chenda) and Kalamandalam Haridas and RLV Jithin (maddalam). Chutti was by Kalamandalam Balan and Sadanam Shrinivas.
Balabhadra’s eventful journey
Sadanam Balakrishnan as the brahmana in ‘Santhana Gopalam’, staged on day three, who loses nine children in succession was outstanding with an unusually lokadharmic accent, used as he is to highly technical performances. A long beard covered most of his face leaving only the eyes; that together with the gestural language was all he had to convey emotions. It was a skilful performance, the split-second timing conveying his mastery.
The brahmana approaches Krishna (Kalamandalam Radha Krishnan) bemoaning the death of his ninth child in ‘Ha ha karomi’ in dukha khandaram. When he is met with indifference, Arjuna (FACT Mohanan) offers to protect his tenth child. The brahmana is not convinced. This sequence as other smaller scenes is part of the manodharma Kathakali allows, called Illakiyattam. It is not part of the script and underlines the actor’s imagination. It is accompanied by expressive percussion.
Back home, he reassures his wife (Sadanam Vijayan), who is in mourning — her expressions said it all.
The time comes for the birth of the tenth child and Arjuna is summoned. The men wait outside the chamber, Arjuna keeps vigil. But after the delivery, the child disappears. The brahmana turns in anger towards Arjuna (‘Moodda athi’, Bilahari) berating his pride and dismissing him irreverently, ‘Go eat well and sleep,’ he says. He falls down crying at the end of the outburst — it was an inspiring act.
Arjuna is sad and wants to jump into the pyre, as he had promised he would. He questions his power and introspects quietly. Krishna appears and assures him that all the children are safe and retrieved from Vaikunta.
The reunion scene was heart-warming. The three-hour play ended with the brahmana praising Krishna, and apologising for behaviour earlier. ‘Jayika Krishna’ in Bhoopalam struck a sentimental chord.
The music was sopana-style, long, drawn out singing that suits the dramatic art form that Kathakali is, where emotions are heightened more than events. Vocal by Kalamandalam Harish and Kalamandalam Ramesh Babu, chenda by Kalamandalam Raman Namboodri and Kottakal Vijaya Raghavan, maddalam by Kottakal Rameshan and Kalamandalam Prashanth and chutti by Kalamandalam Vaisakhan and Shri Abhidhanath, enhanced the performance’s appeal.
‘Nala Charitam’, ‘Uthara Swayamvaram’ (first part) and ‘Dakshayagam’ were the other plays staged at the festival. The flavour of each was distinct. One saw the romantic and the scheming side of Duryodana (Kalamandalam Sreekumar) in ‘Uthara…’. In the opening hour-long romantic scene, he appreciates the beauty of the garden and his wife Bhanumathi (Kalamandalam Arun Raju) with the alapadma hasta moving rapidly with the chenda mirroring the movement. The rest of ‘Uthara Swayamvaram’ was action-packed. The play highlighted the sensitive and animalistic tendencies of human nature.