India – with its rich culture and heritage – is all about colour, essence of music and a multitude of classical arts. Indian classical arts are often accused of being detached from the reality. But the fact is that they are constantly evolving and communicating with every single thing that affects our routine lives.
K K Gopalakrishnan’s Kathakali Dance-Theatre, A Visual Narrative of Sacred Indian Mime, is one such work. It is based on a far stretched research and information gathered by people associated with this art, all around the country.
Written by highly regarded writers on Kerala arts traditions, this book records the art of Kathakali comprehensively, right from the scenario that paved the way for its origin and development to its present history.
The book chronicles its various facets, the acting, music and costumes, crucial contributions of the masters, momentous incidences, evolution of styles, riveting anecdotes, and related socio-political issues affecting Kerala.
It incorporates the legends of Kathakali: The stories of how Nalan Unni left everyone distraught when he takes leave of Damayanti on stage or Kunchu Karthavu gave Bheema a real fright when he enacted vazhiyil ninnu poka vaikathe in Kalyanasou gandhikam.
Gopalakrishnan laments the fact that the demise of the great exponents of the art and the changes in the attitudes of both teachers and disciples have ensured the lack of rigour and precision in Kathakali training.
The author also points out that the Indian media avoids carrying analytical reviews of Kathakali performances, a practice that would have helped safeguard their quality and evoke interest in the dance. Many of the photographs that accompany the text are from his personal archive; of particular interest, however, are sketches of facial drawings, costumes and mudras provided by Kalamandalam Rammohan and Sumesh Pallam. These will help readers understand the dance form, for it is widely believed that Kathakali is a difficult, complicated art that requires patience, enthusiasm and a trained eye to appreciate.
Kathakali originated in the country’s present day state of Kerala during the 17th century and has developed over the years with improved looks, refined gestures and added themes besides more ornate singing and precise drumming. The themes of the Kathakali are religious in nature.
They typically deal with the Mahabharata, the Ramayana and the ancient scriptures known as the Puranas. This is performed in a text which is generally ‘Sanskritised Malayalam’.
Gopalakrishnan’s love for Kerala is very evident in the 296 paged book. His dearness to his homeland and its art forms is obvious from the very start of the book. A true Kathakali bhrantan- the one who is ‘happily crazed’.
This book takes you through every aspect of an exquisite form of dance expression. Divided into five parts and 15 chapters, it will surely be heavy on your laps and mind.
Connoisseurs of performing arts will find this book very useful, especially those alien to Kerala’s language and culture. This book places Kathakali in its historical, social and caste context, delineating its 400-year-old journey with a rich and varied collection of photographs. What makes the book stand out are the anecdotes from conversations with the masters of the art and the common legends that are part of its social fabric.