Anti – hero cult

An important characteristic feature of Kerala classical theatre is its adherence to anti-hero cult. The traditional heroes like Dharmaputra or Srikrishna are insignificant minor characters on the stage where as anti-heroes like Dhuryodhana, Dussasana etc. reign supreme. Their roles are donned by major characters.

Bhasa is at his best when he depicts the pratinayakas.8 The traditional anti-heroes command respect in Bhasa’s plays. He is sympathetic towards Kaikeyi in Pratima. Rama is pale before Bali in Abhiseka; unable to answer his questions. Karna is held in high esteem in Karnabhara. Urubhanga extols Duryodhana.

Bhasa thus rebels against the traditional readings of the itihasa. He re-reads these texts and reveals the inner struggle of these characters who are ordinarily condemned as evil.

Sympathy for the anti-heroes endeared Bhasa to the Kerala audience. Consequently the Kutiyattam and Kathakali theatre became stages for the display of the valour and struggle of the anti-heroes. Bali, Ravana, Duryodhana etc. have become the major characters in the classical theatre. The real heroes like Rama, Krishna, etc. have been withdrawn to the background. Thus the theme of the Kerala theatre became abundant with battles and killings.

Another point of conflict with traditional view is in the treatment of Rasa. Most of the interesting scenes in which rasa is delineated are cases of rasabhasa in the technical sense. Love in these instances are not mutual – Ravana’s love for Sita, Kichaka’s love for Draupati etc. But their exquisite beauty surpasses all the definitions of poetic propriety.