Seventeen Pairs of Kathakali Eyes

Kalamandalam Balasubramaniam, Senior Dancer and Teacher

Kalamandalam Balasubramaniam, the senior most Kalamandalam artist from India is a short thin man. Unassuming and humble you could pass him on the street unnoticed until he takes on the ‘Vesham’ of Bhima. The character Bhima consumed by the wrath and anger after the Killing of Dusshasana drinks his blood as seen in the picture above.

In a once in a life time experience, I saw and felt the transformation of this character build up. Did it happen when he entered the stage? or was this character born with every stroke of the painted colors on his face, with the sticking out of his masked chin, adorning of his long black hair, fixing of his large head gear and the bright humungous costume. Like a painting that comes to life with every stroke of the painter’s brush. From within his mind’s eye Balasubramaniam’s complete surrender to his characterisation was to see theatre and art in its combustive best.

[In the video Clip above, Krishna meets with Dhuryodhana and tries to negotiate with him to avoid a war but Dhuryodhana stoically refuses”].

As for the story line, the killing of Dusshasana takes viewers to the forefront of war, where they watched all the gamut of emotions and cunning that is employed by all the characters. The fight between Kauravas and Pandavas, Yudhishtara’s weakness to gamble away his wife Dhraupadi who takes an oath to wash her hair in the blood of Dushasana, Arjuna’s painful refusal to kill his own brethren, Krishna’s advise for him to perform his paramount duty as a warrior, and the final killing of Dushasana by Bhima.  Drama and Action and where was the special effects specialist ? All that accompanied the grand display of their costumes were the two percussionists and the two singers.

Before Make up : Kalamandalam Balasubramaniam and Kala Vaisakh who portrayed Bhima and Draupadi

In an interview with Sydhwaney, Vice Chancellor KG Paulose, of the Kerala Kalamandala Deemed University of Art and Culture, said that the Kalamandalam artists are chosen with care at a tender age. Only twelve students are admitted each year after a rigorous selection process. Every student resides at the institution learning at no cost for ten years. As the students finish their arungetram after three years of training, they begin to accompany the Dance Company of Kalamandalam after a further two years of enriched training. Students can choose various disciplines and are mentored and coached through this selection. Some may choose to become singers, some percussionists and some kathakali dancers and some others stage and make up artists. Kathakali is perhaps the only dance form in the world that is dominated by male gender. The female characters are also therefore portrayed by men.

Kala Vaisakh as Draupadi

In fact only men are taught this artform. When asked why Mr KG Paulose informed that the body of the dancer is moulded carefully through exercises so that there is greater flexibility. At times these may be a little harmful to a female body. Seen here Kala Vaisakh, the Youngest of the Kalamandalam dancers in the vesham of Dhraupadi.

While most of the Kathakali stories depicted are from Ramayana and Mahabharata, a delighted Mr Paulose noticing that Bell Shakespeare’s King Lear was running at the Opera House an evening before their own show at the Seymour Centre, said that there have been many productions of King Lear depicted through the artform of Kathakali too. Mr John McCarthy, High Commissioner to India and the recently appointed Chair Person of the Australia India Council presided over the programme stating that such fabulous events developed cultural understanding between the two countries. However an invitation sent to the Bell Shakespeare Company by Mohindar Dhillon of Natraj Arts the brain behind the event sadly went unnoticed. More Photos here

Krishna in full form

Vice Chancellor KG Paulose with Kathakali Dancers

Manipulating Shakuni