Ekoji's `Sakuntalam'... beautiful explorations.
THE BHAGAVATA Mela Natya Vidya Sangam, which faced a fire disaster in 2000, is slowly recovering and continuing its dedicated work amidst difficulties. The Sangam has been revived, thanks to the generous support rendered by its chairman, Nalli Kuppuswami Chetti and several local and outside philanthropists, and has managed to maintain the ritualistic offering around Nrisimha Jayanthi in the tiny village of Melattur, in Thanjavur district.
This year's festival was inaugurated by Nalli Kuppuswami Chetti. The District Collector Kosalaraman and the Congress leader, G. Rangaswamy Moopanar, were present. The events commenced with the staging of `Harischandra,' and included a Marathi play by Ekoji of Thanjavur and the well-known `Prahlada Natakam' of Venkatarama Sastry.
Mali has a dedicated team of artistes, which includes youngsters like his own son Vinod, who adorns different minor roles in the Natakams, seniors like Gopalakrishnan, Subramaniam (who was awarded the title, Bharatam, this year, for his service in the field for 30 years), Nagarajan, the skilful artiste, and Gopi, taking up prime roles. Aravind, and little Prasanna, who has a natural talent combined with innate composure and confidence to enact roles like that of the devout Prahlada in `Prahlada Charitamu,' complete the list.
The orchestra consists of veterans like Tiruchi Natarajan, Tirukkodikkaval P. S. Subramaniam, and Thanjavur Srinivasan, Sanskrit pandit of Saraswati Mahal Library, and himself a Harikatha exponent, for vocal support. Noteworthy were the younger participants, Hariharan, (son of Thanjai Herambanathan), a disciple of K. P. Kittappa Pillai, who did the nattuvangam; flautist Needamangalam Ramesh, who gave enriching support throughout; and Thanjavur V. Sathish, who rendered solid percussive support.
The `Harischandra Natakam' (usually performed in two parts) was presented in an abridged form, to fit into the time available. Mali as Harischandra enacted the role with dignity; his portrayal of the lyrical passages as well as the rhythmic details revealed an old world charm, well preserved. In his Paatra pravesam, he maintained the beauty of the age-old technique where one could witness the simple course of adavus like `Di di tei' and `Tha-tei tei tha' which are predominant in the Bhagavata Mela natakams.
Mali's Patrapravesam as Harischandra... dignified portrayal.
Subramaniam as Maatangakanya, Nagarajan as Chandramati, Ramaswamy as Viswamitra and Kalakanta and Anand as Lohitaksha gave impressive portrayals. However, this group needs to work a lot in improving the general standard and quality of performance and presentation, particularly in the aspect of abhinaya.
The second production was `Sakuntalam' of Ekoji Raja II (published by Saraswati Mahal Library, in a collection of five Marathi natakams, edited by Telugu pandit N. Viswanathan) of the Thanjavur Maratha dynasty, set to the format of Bhagavata Mela natakam. The content of this Marathi play describing the well-known story of Sakuntala has a pleasing Sanskritised Marathi lyrical format, set to melodious, apt ragas (music by Mumbai P. S. Krishnamurti), and a variety of tala structures, suited to the content, giving the theme a rich dramatic appeal.
The content of the play reveals the author's deep knowledge of the work of the Mahakavi. Vocalist Thanjavur Srinivasan was at his best while rendering the Sanskrit content and the linking Marathi poetry not only musically but also through his erudite diction in both the languages. Just as in any introductory musical prelude of the Bhagavata Mela nataka, details of the author and his lineage are beautifully brought out in the opening segment of the play, describing him as the son of King Tulaja and Deepambika. The verse on Sri Chandramouleeswara (performed by Vinod) that followedalso refers to the royal family, apart from glorifying the Lord.
Nati (Mahalingam) describing the advent of Vasanta Rtu (Keera Kokila Sannaada) and informing the arrival of King Dushyanta, and Dushyanta on the chariot (with a lively movement technique) were well captured. A well-known Pandanallur Jati was adapted (Nattuvanar Herambanathan's improvisation) aptly and performed beautifully by Nagarajan to depict the hunting of the king, the tisra nadai set-up for Vikata chatura in lively Khamas, introducing the friend of Dushyanta (Gopu), the lively Praavesika Daru-Sarasa Madhura Vaani, Aruna Pallava Paani for Sakuntala (Gopi) and the king expressing his love for Sakuntala were beautiful explorations of the three-fold aspects of drama.
However, in the earlier part of the play, the element of Vachika (spoken word) was missing and the latter part had a brief dialogue in Marathi, delivered by the actors, giving more emphasis to the crucial aspect of this variety of natakams.
Although the costumes were elegant and had an aesthetic touch about them, more authentic designing for Sakuntala and her sakhis, like a typical bark-like garment could have been used. Make-up by Kumar and Senthil Raj deserves mention. On the whole, the Marathi version of `Sakuntalam' brought alive the literary, musical and artistic excellence of the Thanjavur rulers and their deep involvement in the propagation of performing arts. The Sangam's concluding presentation was `Prahlada' on Nrisimha Jayanthi day.
The other guests present were writer Sivasankari, L. Sabharatnam, A. Natarajan and Dr. Padma Subramaniam.
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