Kavalam Narayana Panicker, the doyen of Kerala theatre turns 80 tomorrow. To pay tribute to his artistic Endeavour to theatre in specific and culture in total, his friends and admirers are organising a celebration in Thiruvanathapuram.
There will be a seminar which places his contribution to Indian theatre, a photo exhibition on Kerala Theatre, a function to honour him, performance of plays written and directed by him and more , in the 3 day celebrations. Nedumudi venu and Kavalam’s old disciples along with new thespians of Sopanam will be performing the much celebrated play Avananavan Kadampa penned by him and directed by late G.Aravindan.
I am reminded of my earlier days in Theatre where I am astonished by the strength, beauty and possibilities of indigenous theatre, when I watched Avanavan kadampa at the Boys High School ground in Kuravilangad- my home village- in 1997. The best of acting I have ever seen in my life from Nedumudi Venu (in stage and films) is as pattuparisha trying to court Chithira pennu the heroine of the play. The other cast included late Gopi, Jagannathan, late Krishnankutty Nair, Gopalakrishnan, Late Nattuvan paramasivam etc... I am to revisit those memories when I will be watching kadampa on this 20th in Trivandrum.
The theatre of Kerala and mine is connected with the works of Kavalam. Personally my first ever play (acting and directing) is Ottayan written by Kavalam, which physically launched me in theatre. Later I directed Poranadi written by him which turned out to be one of my best productions. The production of Lokadharmi was attempting to see poranadi from the cultural-political perspective on the evolution of Kerala society. It was about the human sacrifices done for the benefit of the village community and also to eliminate the uprising of a hero from the lower cast who may grow to question and thwart the existing power structure… The myth is suggestive and it expose the hypocrisy of those in power and their heinous means to stick to it. A state derives its strength not form the upper strata, but from the lowest, however rude or crude they be. For the king the bali is only an anushtana-a ritual, but for Pokkan it is ninam- a bath in blood, an act of self-dedication.
And I have started rehearsing another play written by Kavalam, Karimkutty which can be read a sequel to Poranadi.
Always the works of Kavalam was a reference point from which my theatre starts, develops and grows. The many hours I spent with him talking about theatre have been immense source of inspiration.
I remember my first journey abroad with the Malayalam adaptation of the play Medea by Euripides. After reaching Athens to take part in the International Festival on Ancient Greek drama 2001, we were taken through a long road journey to the city Kalamatta where our first show was scheduled. At late night 11.00 clock Tchakiris, the festival director and who himself is a director of plays was waiting to receive us in the front lawn of the hotel. The first thing he asked me was about Kavalam and he sang two lines in Malayalam starting “Maharaja, Maharaja …” along with drumming on the table. This line was from the Malayalam adaptation of Prometheus done by Kavalam, and he started speaking in length about the poetic heights of the Kavalam’s adaptation of the Greek play and its appropriateness. I was so happy to tell him back that Kavalam is one of my gurus.