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Of benevolence and devotion

Inimitable Nelliyodu Vasudevan Nampoothiri excelled as Kuchela at a performance of ‘Kuchelavritham’ in the capital city

Kuchelavritham Kathakali, penned by Muringoor Sankaran Potti (1851- 1914), provides infinite possibilities for emotional acting, involving innovations and experimentation in musical rendition. The play is about an indigent Brahmin’s devotion to Lord Krishna, who in return, bestows his blessings on his devotee.

Master on stage

At a staging of the play in the capital city, octogenarian actor Nelliyodu Vasudevan Nampoothiri, as Kuchela, captured the attention of the audience with his mastery in stylised acting. The veteran actor appeared on the left side of the stage and proceeded, eagerly and anxiously, to the centre, holding an old palm-leaf umbrella and an improvised walking stick.

‘Kuchela’ (meaning one with a bad robe) was Sudama’s (meaning one with impressive garland) nickname he earned in Sage Sandipani’s hermitage, as he could afford to wear rags only. Following his wife’s persuasion, he sets out from his hut to have a darshan of Lord Krishna, which would lead him to salvation. Nelliyodu’s minimal acting of Kuchela’s soliloquy on his way to Dwaraka brought out the tone of the play, namely eschewing desire for worldly pleasures and submission to the Lord.

The second scene opened with Krishna seated on Rugmini’s bed and chatting with her. As he espies his classmate, Krishna runs out to reach him at once, embraces him and prostrates before him with humility. After showering him with his hospitality and honouring him with sacred objects, Krishna pretends to be hungry and takes from Kuchela a small packet of aval (flattened rice). As he enjoys a handful from the packet, Krishna blesses Kuchela’s humble hut before he yields to Rugmini, who prevents him from eating more of the aval. He makes it clear that he forgets himself when filled with compassion for his devotees.

Kalamandalam Mukundan and Margi Sukumaran, essaying Krishna and Rugmini, respectively, portrayed the above incidents realistically, sans any improvisations, which would have embellished their presentation considerably. The lack of experience of watching ace actors handling the situation was evident in their presentation.

Nelliyodu made Kuchela’s taking leave of Krishna unforgettable through an appropriate blend of stylised and realistic acting.

The music and percussion were impressive with Kalanilayam Unnikrishnan and Kalanilayam Rajeevan as vocalists and Kuroor Vasudevan Nampoothiri and Chunakkara Raji on the chenda and the maddalam. Unnikrishnan’s musical rendering was superb.

The southern tradition of Kathakali music practised by his father, Thakazhi Madhava Kurup, and grandfather Thakazhi Kochukunju Kuruppu, reputed as ‘Danavari Kurup’ for the beauty of his rendition of the soliloquy of Kuchela beginning with ‘Danavari’, and the northern tradition, which he imbibed from his preceptor Kalamandalam Sankaran Empranthiri, harmoniously blended together in the singer’s style. Beginning the padam ‘Kalayami’ in Sankarabharanam, Unnikrishnan’s use of Natta, Mohanam, Athana and Shanmukhapriya proved excellent. The performance was held under the aegis of Drisyavedi.

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