‘Kalyanasougandhikam’ brought alive the blend of elements unique to a Kathakali play
Both halves of the play begin on a meditative mode. First, with a romantic scene involving Bhima and his spouse Panchali. If the opening 30-minute choreography for the Pandava prince is fascinatingly unhurried, the story in the woods repeats the idea, albeit briefly. That is just into the second part, where the monkey-god sits in penance. It is a still posture struck in silence, barring the murmuring percussive rolls that represent the devotee’s breaths.
Hanuman finds his quietude broken. Unexpectedly. A self-search into the reasons is essayed through high-vibrancy mudras. The Ram-bhakt realises an invasion is on, and the man approaching his idyllic territory is Bhima. The ensuing encounter is dramatic: the club-wielding Bhima seeks to shove ‘a doddering ape’ out of his way, but fails. Hanuman soon reveals his identity, and the dizzy younger half-brother is pleasantly surprised. They hug, chat and part, with Bhima having now got guidance on where to find the fragrant flowers that had enchanted his wife.
Kalyanasougandhikam is a story known for its unique blend of elements that highlight the classicism of Kathakali. The richness of its Sanskrit-dense literature, the slow and fast dances, twists in plots, and the vitality of background scores was showcased at Kalakshetra Foundation’s 67th Annual Art Festival overlapping with 2020 Margazhi celebrations.
The December 22 programme retained the presentational spirit of the work by Kottayam Thampuran of 18th century Malabar. The show chose two popular scenes from the 13-chapter play that canonically spans overnight, bringing out certain central features of the dance-theatre in 140 minutes.
The invocatory Kedaragowla alapana and sloka paved the way to what sets the eminence of Kalyanasougandhikam. The Sankarabharanam-raga padam is set to eight-beat Chembada tala, but the cycle is expanded four-fold — like naalu kalai in Carnatic music. The technique ensures a particularly slow tempo, letting the love-nourished verses of ‘Panchalaraja tanaye’ mould a grand architecture.
Kalamandalam Balasubramanian met the challenge with grace, unveiling the grammatical eminence of the mainstream Kalluvazhi style of Kathakali. Be it the profile of the hand gestures, the curves the headgear scripts in the air while delineating the abstract chuzhippu movements, or the restraint in the facial expressions — much of it lived up to a viewer’s expectation of a master with five decades of experience.
Indeed, clean body language was common to all three dancers of the evening. Young Kalamandalam Adityan kept Panchali’s timidity intact, which suited the tenderness of the breeze-brought sougandhika blossom that she wanted her husband to fetch more of. Middle-aged Peesappilly Rajeevan, as Hanuman, sought to present ‘wind’ as a leitmotif, given that Vayu is the spiritual father of Bhima as well. The end phase of the play had adequate doses of natural acting light up the fraternal camaraderie. Like desserts served as the last course of a ceremonial feast.
Nedumbally Rammohan displayed well his schedule-keeping skills as the anchor vocalist, while the supporting Sadanam Jyothishbabu shone especially well in the upper registers. Sadanam Akademi batch-mates and colleagues Ramakrishnan (chenda) and Devadas (maddalam) complemented each other with practised ease. Kalamandalam Satheesan’s make-up skills were evident in the tidy visages of the male characters. Greenroom assistants Sadanam Sreenivasan and Vivek doubled well as floor managers.
The camera angles during the live streaming indicated nice preparatory work. An apt mix of medium shots and close-ups made the viewing pleasing.