Narrated within the Kathakali format, the play ‘Jagratha’, an modern piece within the conventional artwork type of Kerala, was composed and enacted by artistes of Margi, a cultural organisation and coaching centre of conventional artwork types in Thiruvananthapuram.
Although Kathakali has many memorable battle scenes in its repertoire, veteran Kathakali artiste Margi Vijayakumar was greatly surprised when he was requested to give you a Kathakali play on COVID-19, a brief one which depicted precautions and measures to cease its spread. But he did conceptualise, write and choreograph the five-minute play, which depicts the coronavirus as a demon on the rampage.
Vijayakumar, Principal of Margi, remembers the efforts that went into the creation of the play and the recording. “I am not a writer or poet. So when S Srinivasan, secretary of Margi, wanted me to conceptualise a social awareness message in the medium of Kathakali, I was a little hesitant,” says Vijayakumar.
Nevertheless, he wrote just a few verses and despatched it to be polished to linguist and Kathakali connoisseur Prabodhachandran Nayar. Once the scholar completed the work, Vijayakumar refined it as soon as extra and received down to work on its efficiency.
“This verse had to be enacted in the visual language of Kathakali and so I had to make sure that the words could be translated into the performance idiom of Kathakali. For instance, I had to use my imagination to find a word for ‘lockdown’ as there is no mudra (hand gesture) to depict that. Instead of using that particular word, I came up with lines that suggested people locking up themselves in their houses and staying behind closed doors and windows,” explains Vijayakumar.
Threes characters narrate the theme. Vijayakumar visualised the virus within the character of Kali, one of the characters within the story of Nalacharitham, a play in Kathakali excerpted from the Mahabharatha. Dressed in black, Kali is an evil spirit that toxins Nala’s thoughts and creates all types of issues in his life.
“I imagined the virus as Kali while one of the characters represents mankind. The other character comes as the Rakshakan. In this present scenario, the protector could symbolise health workers, government machinery, administration and so on,” says Vijayakumar.
Composed in ragas Punnagavarali and Vaghdeshswari, the songs have been rendered by Kalanilayam Vishnu whereas the melam has been led by Margi Krishnadas and Margi Ratnakaran.
Margi Suresh, Margi Vijayan and Margi Balasubrahmanyan play the three characters.
“We had several rehearsals and dress rehearsals at Margi’s performance space before recording it. I was satisfied when many appreciated the piece, especially because it showcased how even a traditional art form that has a strict syntax can be imaginatively adapted to narrate a contemporary theme,” says Vijayakumar.
The recording was accomplished at Invis Studio in Thiruvananthpauram.
Srinivasan, who set the ball rolling for such an initiative additionally says that he’s comfortable that Margi was ready to give you such a theme inside a short while.