In the footsteps of the maestros
Kalamandalam Shanmughan, a promising Kathakali artiste in Kerala, has impressed the connoisseur and the layman alike.
STAGE PRESENCE: Kalamandalam Shanmughan
Over the year many connoisseurs have lamented the dearth of talented artistes in the field of Kerala's classical arts. Very few youngsters take up traditional art forms as a career.
Viewed against this background, Kalamandalam Shanmughan's enrolment at Kerala Kalamandalam as a student of Kathakali at the age of 13 in the early 1990's and his current status as an up-and-coming actor of the day deserve to be lauded. Shanmughan hails from Pullankadi village in Kuttanad, once a beehive of cultural and artistic events. When it was more or less an island, the cluster of hamlets in Kuttanad had given birth to eminent artistes such as Mathoor Kunhupillai Panickar and Chambakulam Paramu Pillai.
Shanmughan can lay claim to that proud tradition. At the Kerala Kalamandalam it was the renowned artiste Kalamandalam Vasu Pisharody who first spotted the talented youngster. Trained consecutively under a team of expert teachers for eight years in the Kalluvazhichitta, Shanmughan's experience in the kalari was wholesome. Later he was selected for special training under the titans, Kalamandalam Ramankutty Nair and Gopi for two years. This intensive training coupled with continuous stage programmes honed his innate talent.
It is a less known fact that Kalamandalam Ramankutty Nair was the first to note Shanmughan's potential in female roles. After a `Keechakavadhom' performance at Nigdi temple in Pune, the usually reticent acharya commended Shanmughan's portrayal of Sudeshna. His praise, although, reserved, inspired the young actor. A graceful form, dignified facial expressions and disciplined angikabhinaya soon made Shanmughan a name to reckon with in enacting female roles.
From Kesini in `Nalacharitam' and `Sudeshna' in Keechakavadhom, he rose to portray Damayanthi, Maalini, Mohini, Lalithas and Urvashi. At the old Kalamandalam kalari, Shanmughan played the cholliyattams of the principal female characters in Kathakali under the critical guidance of Kalamandalam Padmanabhan Nair.
The maestro later remarked, "My instructions are duly reflected on the face and body of this boy. He can carry the flame forward."
Milena Salvini, a former student of Kalamandalam and a promoter of Kathakali in Europe, was drawn to the precision and grace of Shanmughan's cholliyattam during her visit to the institution in 2001. She included him in the troupe that toured Europe. Vedika, a Thrissur-based centre fostering the classical performing arts, has documented the cholliyattam of Shanmughan from various plays under the rigorous supervision of Kalamandalam Padmanabhan Nair.
Shanmughan is quite adept at handling both the male and female roles in Kathakali.
A recipient of the Kottackal Krishnankutty Nair endowment award, Kerala Kalamandalam presented him this year the Bhagawathar Kunhunni Thampuran Puraskaram for the best young artiste.
These honours are a big encouragement for this young actor who has, within a short spell, won the hearts of aficionados.
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