18 June, 2021

Why Does Doubt Grow On You, O Manasa?

Change is the only constant, even at the heart of arts stabilised by tradition. Kathakali critically examines itself in the mirror....

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Contemporary concerns have prompted young Kathakali artistes to take a fresh view of their art
Photographs by Naveen Rudran, Raghu Ganesh, C.N. Shyamkumar
Why Does Doubt Grow On You, O Manasa?
  • The guru is enraged: the small, reed-thin student has messed up a critical bit of sequence yet again. The 15-year-old is being taken through a vital part of Kathakali training: the anti-hero’s part in Keechakavadham, which, the boy would only later learn, has an exalted status within the canon. At one point, the lecherous Keechaka has to teasingly simulate a female character, and that’s where the boy is repeatedly slipping up. The guru thra­shes him black and blue—only to feel remorseful by evening, when both hug and weep in reconciliation. Followed by piping-hot parippuvadas, rolled in yesterday’s newspaper.

That’s a 65-year-old incident; a time when Katha­kali—that beautiful, mysterious dark art forged on the crossroads of dance and theatre—was in a phase of critical renascence as it met a modern epoch. A time of self-aware attention to pedagogy, to the setting of norms, to codification. Over the decades, as the form attained a rare kind of respect from the world, that kid too went on to become a...

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