Raman Kutty Nair
July 8, 2005
On June 8, "Lights On", a programme curated and showcased by Prasanna Ramaswamy and supported by Sathyam Cinemas and Savera Group of Hotels, exhibited the latest documentary film of the internationally well known filmmaker, Adoor Gopalakrishnan. This is a 73 minute long film on the greatest living Kathakali artist, Kalamandalam Ramankutty Nair. The film was financed by Sangeet Natak Akademi and this was the world premiere of this film.
On seeing this film, a viewer and critic like me was reminded that Adoor Gopalakrishnan was best suited to make such a film with his intense and deep knowledge and insight into this art form ably supported by his technical expertise. It was indeed a case of "a great film maker commissioned to make a film on a great performing artist."
The film takes the form of a monologue by the protagonist interspersed with clippings from actual Kathakali performances in which he had participated. The monologue part of it may sound dramatic and emotionless, but those who know Raman Kutty Nair personally, can make out that it is his natural way of talking. Adoor must have wanted to present him as he was, not even changing his tone or mode of talking. Adoor has treated this film as a historical document in which reality and honesty plays a very important part. He did not want to sacrifice truth in order to make the film cinematically more interesting. In other words, he has not used any cinematic tricks to make the film more entertaining to the uninitiated audience. On the contrary, he makes demands on the viewer’s intelligence and artistic sensibility to stretch and understand the nuances of the form and the artist who performs it.
Through Raman Kutty Nair's monologue certain vital aspects of his personality come out very clearly. His love and regard for his mother, his respect for his Kathakali Guru, Pattikkamthoti Ravunni Menon and his abiding veneration for his mentor and patron, Poet Vallathol Narayana Menon. Another factor which the filmmaker has emphasized on is that the line of separation between his personal and artistic life was very thin. He loved his art form to such an extent that he devoted his entire life for learning, performing and teaching it. In other words, Kathakali, the art form and Raman Kutty Nair the practitioner merges into one another in a seamless manner. His life and the events in his life are deeply connected to the famous moments in the history of Kathakali also. So this becomes a documentary not only on Raman Kutty Nair, but the Kathakali of Kerala during the twentieth century.
Raman Kutty Nair has extensively performed four types of Kathakali characters – Pacha which are the Satwika (good and saintly) characters; Kathi which are the Rajasa (brave but worldly), Thadi (bearded; Hanuman) and Minukku (soft, like women, sages etc). The famous roles that he has performed are Ravana, Duryodhana, Keechaka, Bhima, Arjuna, Dharmaputra and Hanuman. Adoor has taken special care to have passages from Kathakali depicting all these roles. These are also the scenes which are enactments of famous pieces of Kathakali Padams (poems). So, for a person who has been initiated into the form of Kathakali from a very young age, this is like a walk down memory lane, an indulgence in nostalgic reminiscences.
Adoor is to be specially appreciated for not being intrusive or violating the sacred space of an evolved art form such as Kathakali. His camera is like an observer, an intelligent and appreciative observer who does not at any stage break or vulgarise the rhythm of the protagonist as well as the performances. He has also chosen his locations very carefully – Vellinezhi, the village of the protagonist, a typical Kerala village and Kerala Kalamandalam, the premier institution in Kerala devoted for training of Kathakali. One can see that the protagonist is very comfortable in both locations. He has spent the best part of his life in these two locations either as a child, or a student, or a performer or a teacher. So, his rhythm is not upset at all. In fact, it is very difficult to separate the man from his art form. He not only practices it, but breathes and lives it.
documentary film which depicts the life and times of an artist usually
touches on details of his personal life also. But, Adoor had a different
plan altogether. He has touched on those personal details from the life
of Raman Kutty Nair which are relevant to show him as a true and dedicated
artist. He has even broken the story telling mode in order to present the
emotion of man or the nature of his nostalgia devoid of sentimentalism
and melodrama. At the same time, there is enough to give a peep into the
man's abiding emotions. Thus the filmmaker preserved the unsentimental
and at the same time poignant nature of the documentary.
Vasanthi Sankaranarayanan, is a PhD holder from Madras University on the subject "Malayalam Cinema, Society and Politics of Kerala". She has translated books from Malayalam to English and vice versa and has written some dance scripts. She is a freelance journalist and art critic and regular contributor to narthaki.com .