- Rāmāyaṇa Saṁkṣepaṁ: An Āṭṭaprakāraṁ (Acting Manual) for Depicting the Story of Rāmāyaṇa Through Mudrās in Kūṭiyāṭṭaṁ Theatre by G. Irinjalakuda Venu
This remarkable publication by G. Venu is an invaluable, highly accessible, beautifully produced print and audio-visual resource for understanding and appreciating the three-dimensional embodied process of acting and training actors within the kūṭiyāṭṭaṁ tradition of performing Sanskrit dramas in Kerala. The publication includes an introduction to kūṭiyāṭṭaṁ; bilingual translation (Malayalam/English) of the acting manual; along with an audio-visual publication of this specific manual for teaching acting within the kūṭiyāṭṭaṁ tradition in the form of photographs; and two exquisitely produced accompanying DVDs with close-up camera work featuring Kapila Venu as she performs the entire text over a period of three hours and twenty-three minutes.
The printed text includes a series of five short chapters. Chapter 1 is a brief introduction of the kūṭiyāṭṭaṁ theatre while chapter 2 contextualizes and introduces the acting manual. The third chapter provides an introduction to the Rāmāyaṇa performance within kūṭiyāṭṭaṁ that has been assembled from three different Sanskrit dramas. Chapter 4 introduces the production manual which informs the staging andacting of the Rāmāyaṇa text; chapter 5 introduces the acting manual per se and how it is used in teaching. A bilingual Malayalam/English translation of the text allows the reader to have a sense of the text as a whole. There is also a complete Malayalam script version of the acting manual, with notation of each specific hand gesture used to deliver the text, linked by number to Venu G.'s system of notation for each gesture, incorporating documentation of hand positions, movement of the eyes, etc. As laid out below, the ninth chapter provides a complete bilingual (Romanized) version of the text, with both a literal and a more fluid translation in English.
Venu G. is a kūṭiyāṭṭaṁ performer and teacher who trained for thirty years under the guidance of Guru Ammannur Madhava Chakyar—one of the great masters of kūṭiyāṭṭaṁ. He is the founding [End Page 293] director of Natanakairali (from 1975)—a cultural organization located in Irinjalakuda, Kerala, India, and devoted to the revitalization of the traditional arts of Kerala via training, research, and performance. Venu G. is a widely published author and has developed a unique system for annotation of the hand gestures of kūṭiyāṭṭaṁ. As well as training kūṭiyāṭṭaṁ actors, Venu G. also works with contemporary actors sharing his in-depth understanding of kūṭiyāṭṭaṁ with acting students at the Intercultural Theatre Institute (ITI) (Singapore), the National School of Drama (NSD) (New Delhi), and in workshops at Natanakairali.
As Venu G. notes in his acknowledgments, while teaching the acting techniques of kūṭiyāṭṭaṁ to students at ITI and NSD it occurred to him how important it would be to have Rāmāyaṇa Saṁkṣepaṁ available "so that the students would be able to grasp the meaning of the mudras easily" (p. vii). For anyone wishing to understand kūṭiyāṭṭaṁ's threedimensional practice of embodying/enacting a text, this is an essential resource.
As a text for training young kūṭiyāṭṭaṁ actors, the fact that Rāmāyaṇa Saṁkṣepaṁ is written in the local language of Malayalam rather than Sanskrit is crucial. As Venu G. explains the "mother tongue … is as vital as oxygen" (p. 51): "Only the mother tongue goes in your imagination. It's like the breath of each human being. Through that if you think about the associations, so many things come with each word of the acting manual" (Introduction to DVD1).
The first of two DVDs that accompany the publication begins with a twelve minute...