Asian Theatre Journal 21.2 (2004) 222-224
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Invis, a partner in UNESCO's Global Alliance for Cultural Diversity, has produced a five-VCD package of Kerala's performance forms: kathakali, kutiyattam, mohini attam, nangiar kuttu, and ottan thullal. Many North Americans missed the VCD format and moved directly from VHS to DVD. By 2000 VCD had replaced VHS in tropical Kerala because tapes deteriorated and tape players developed fungus. An Indian VCD will play in Windows Media Player or its equivalent, in PAL/VCD and DVD players, and some of the newest DVD players geared to NTSC. ( Kathakali, kutiyattam, and mohini attam are also available in NTSC/DVD format.) These five VCDs have several things in common. All are subtitled in English. The performers are all master artists. Their performances were specially commissioned and shot in a theatre that had been turned into a professional recording studio. Production standards are high because M.R. Hari, Invis Multimedia's managing director, is a perfectionist. Two of the offerings fall within the purview of this batch of reviews on Sanskrit theatre media.
Kalamandalam Sivan Namboodiri performs "Kailasodharanam" (Ravana lifting Kailasa mountain), the same item he performs on the Margi documentation also reviewed in this issue of ATJ. That twenty-minute performance includes a detailed description of the mountain and ends with Ravana straining to lift Kailasa. Here, the actor hurries through that portion in order to elaborate the tiff that Parvati and Siva were having just before Ravana tossed their mountain home in the air. This lover's quarrel is known as "Parvati viraham, " the separation of Parvati from Siva.
By minimally realigning his body and slightly adjusting his costume, the actor displays a fascinating gender slippage. At one moment he suggests a jealous wife and, in the next moment, a husband who has an answer for everything. Parvati has spied her rival, Ganga, in Siva's hair. Pouting, Parvati tells him, through hand gestures, that she sees a face in his hair. Siva is momentarily flustered, and then replies, through hand gestures, that it is not a face, but a lotus. Two sets of subtitles assist the viewer of this VCD. One is an English sentence in parenthesis. As the repartee continues, Parvati, annoyed by Siva's response, retorts: "It is not a lotus. Are there curly locks in a lotus?" This sentence remains on the screen. Above it a second set of subtitles "reads" the hand gestures one by one: "it is/lotus not/here/curly locks/lotus/curly locks/are there."
This is one of the most famous sequences in kutiyattam not only because of the clever dialogue (which the dual subtitles allow you to follow "word for word"), but also because the actor's face must reflect the emotions and thoughts of both characters. [End Page 222]
Sivan Namboodiri is in his fifties. He is wearing the makeup for Ravana, a green base with red designs painted on it. Knobs are attached to his forehead and nose. A white paper collar is glued to his jawbone.Yet he wonderfully conveys the injured Parvati, finally so fed up with her husband's double-talk that she gets up to leave for her father's home. Just then her world begins to shake (Ravana raising Kailasa) and she rushes fearfully into her husband's arms. (For a discussion of identity change in kutiyattam see "Skirting the Issue: Gender and Identity in Kutiyattam Sanskrit Drama," by Bruce M. Sullivan, in Notes from a Mandala: Essays in Honor of Wendy Doniger [New York: Seven Bridges, 2001].)
On this VCD, Kerala Sangeet Nataka Academy award winner Margi Sathi shows items from the entrance piece for nangiar kuttu, a solo female genre of kutiyattam. Traditionally, a girl from a performing arts family learned the entrance piece (purappadu) for her temple initiation. Only after her debut performance could she...