The general perception is that Kutiyattam, being the performance of Sanskrit plays, follows Natyasastra. It is true, only partly. According to Natyasastra, the drama has a rigid frame, sophisticated structure with a beginning, development and denouement, the five junctures with their innumerable limbs for the plot and the actor imitating the historical
character. All these go to develop the principal sentiment, either heroic or erotic. The abhinaya is predominantly vakyartha oriented. The multiplicity of characters on the stage gives room for interaction among the characters, which helps a lot in the development of action.
A close look at Kutiyattam would reveal that none of these requirements of Bharata is fulfilled here. Kutiyattam has a loose structure, the development of plot does not follow the accepted track, abhinaya is almost of the nature of a monologue with little scope for interaction and the elaboration centers around the padartha.
We have another stream, the epic tradition, which employs a different narrative technique. Here, the narrator moves from one incident to another, jumps from the present to the past and hither to the other world. It is a journey through the unlimited time and space. The structure is kept loose to facilitate this flexibility. Kutiyattam follows this epic tradition in its content and mode.
In Kutiyattam, the actor has a break not only from the structure of the play but even from the very stage itself. The actor gets himself transformed into a stage and characters, emotions and incidents pass through his face as though it were another stage erected for acting. He is liberated from everything around except from the lamp kept before him. Only the epic tradition permits an actor to be so liberated that he can fly through the space in imagination, assuming as many roles as possible.
Bharata’s actor is an imitator, whereas a Kutiyattam actor is also a narrator and interpreter. These two additional roles are inherited from the epic tradition. He is akin to the suta in Naimisaranya than to the hundred sons of Bharata in the ancient lore. Even the learned fails to understand this difference and keep on asking about the imitative and identifying functions of the actor on classical stage.
Sage Vyasa is the first narrator. He got an excellent audient – Ganapati. The sacred bond between them was that the audient wanted uninterrupted narration; the narrator, in turn, demanded a careful understanding. This narrator-audient relation is key to the Indian aesthetics, be it literature or theatre.
These narrative techniques have been studied fixing them in different contexts. One thing is common to all-the interest of the audient is sustained. It is the sole aim of all narratives. The storyteller in Chakyar is a direct inheritor of this tradition. The verbal techniques translated to physical action provided the basis for pakarnnattam. Kituyattam, therefore, is the fusion of Vyasa and Bharata, the narrator and the imitator. Kutiyattam, thus, represents a higher stage of progression from Bharata’s concepts.
Natyasastra provided the classical rigidity to the acting in Kutiyattam; the interventions of Vidushaka gave it a popular base. This is derived from the narrative, epic tradition. In short, classical theatre is indebted to Bharata for its sthavara elements and to Vyasa for the popular and progressive aspects. The contributions of Kerala actors are the daring deviations they made from the national pattern. They, in a way, regionalized national theatre and localization, as a form of resistance, itself is a progressive step.
Theatre: Classical and Popular - IV
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