- Vijay Shanker
July 30, 2014
Kalamandalam C Gopalakrishnan and Kalakshethram, the most popular organization standing for presenting, preserving and propagating classical art, are inseparable. Gopalakrishnan is the most popular Kathakali actor in Mumbai, his teaching career spanning more than three decades at Nalanda Nritya Kala Maha Vidyalaya as tutor / accompanist and 28 years teaching experience in Kathakali and eight years in Mohiniattam at Kalakshethram, Dombivli, as honorary guru. As a nattuvanar, he has accompanied performances of Kanak Rele in India and abroad. He has accompanied on the nattuvangam all the senior artistes and students of Nalanda for the past two decades as well as provided vocal support for several Mohiniattam and Kathakali recitals of leading artists. Gopalakrishnan speaks about why Kathakali has few takers in Mumbai and his passion for the most dramatic classical dance style of India.
Why is it that Kathakali has few takers?
Kathakali is the most difficult and strenuous classical dance among all the styles, hence that is one of the reasons there are few takers. Moreover, unlike other styles Kathakali is a group presentation with very little scope for solo presentations. Normally, Kathakali is taught and practiced only by male dancers.
Is that the reason for its decline?
Like other classical dance styles, Kathakali is not on the decline although some feel like that. In fact classical dances are vital and powerful like the sun and the moon. As long as there is life on this earth, classical dances will always be there; they are eternal. In other words, it is the art which is more important than the artist.
Do you have many students?
Not many but what is more important is the quality. I have female students as well. Priya Nambudiri, Supriya Warrier, Ranjesh Nair, Subash and Unnikrishnan are among the prominent ones. I also teach at Kalakshetram in Dombivli.
Why is it believed that Kathakali is mainly meant for males and not females?
It is quite strenuous and the training is also difficult but then female Kathakali dancers have driven away this myth. In fact, we have an all women Kathakali troupe in Kerala.
How were you initiated into Kathakali?
When as a child I had seen a Kathakali performance, I was completely driven away by the colour, the dramatization and power. It left me spellbound. I insisted that I would like to learn Kathakali without realizing how complex and difficult it would be. I enrolled myself as a student at the famous Kerala Kalamandalam and since then there has been no looking back. It was a six year course. I was trained by M.P.S. Namboodiri, Vijayan asan and finally Kalamandalam Gopi.
Why did you move to Mumbai?
I was informed about Dr. Kanak Rele's Nalanda College and there was a vacancy as a tutor. I applied and was fortunate to be included in the faculty.
Can you tell us about your experience at Nalanda?
Kanak behn is great personality. It opened up a whole world of Sopanam sangeetam and her personality as a choreographer and creative genius. I have performed in her dance dramas like Dasavataram, Kanchanmrig, Rukmini Swayamvaram, Kalyani, Swapna Vasavadatta (Sanskrit play) etc.
It is believed that new themes like the Holy Bible have also been interpreted in Kathakali. What is your take on that?
Yes, new themes are being interpreted, which is a welcome trend as it expands the horizons of Kathakali to a wider audience. Richard Tembley, a Kathakali student from Toronto University, approached me as he was interested in interpreting the Greek Iliad and the lyrics were composed in English and sung in the Kathakali style. It was an interesting experience.
Who are the Kathakali actors you have worked with?
I have had the privilege of dancing and acting with veterans in the field like Kalamandalam Ramankutty Nair, Padmanabhan Nair, Gopi, M.P.S. Namboodiri, Vijayan, Vasu Pisharodi and Sadanam Krishnan Kutty.
About your performances abroad...
I started performing abroad when I was at Kalamandalam and also along with Kanak Rele. It is amazing to watch how Europeans are fascinated with the Kathakali dance style.
Any advice to students of Kathakali?
It is not easy. You have to be completely involved and give your best and then the whole world opens up as a great stage for performances.
Contact Kalamandalam C Gopalakrishnan: firstname.lastname@example.org
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