For the untrained eye that tries to decode the complexities in Kathakali, but with little luck, the dance-drama of Sunil Pallipuram and Paris Lakshmi was an aesthetic incentive that couldn't be overlooked.
The former, a maestro in the dance form of Kathakali, and the latter, a learned exponent of Bharatanatyam, and what they together brought to the table was atypical of both forms in one way. On the other hand, what they achieved through it was commendable; they reached out to their audience, inducing them to partake in the stories they were depicting, and bridging the chasm between the performance and the viewer.
The stage was set. Acoustics were at play, while people trickled into the CMS College auditorium in Kottayam for the Soorya Festival. A lovely Kathakali padam taking a stroll across the hall greeted the gathered people who were anxiously awaiting the duo, who were to perform. Not keeping them for long, Sunil Pallipuram made his entry along with Paris Lakshmi. Regal and imposing, they took the centre stage and the grandeur of it all couldn't be missed against the backdrop of assorted instruments, such as the mridangam, chenda, maddalam, violin, and (the sound of) ghatam along with piercing vocals.
The act, called 'Krishnamayam', traversed through the life of Lord Krishna, selecting a few episodes to be enacted on stage. While Sunil Pallipuram abounded with classic Kathakali mudras, Paris Lakshmi matched them with those of Bharatnatyam. The vocals and instruments played more of Kathakali padams, alternating them with keerthanams.
Act 1 is in a playful setting, where Radha awaits Krishna. At the sound of his flute, she is elated. Mesmerised by the music, she is transported to an imaginary world, when Krishna comes looking for her. Krishna wakes her up from her reverie and they indulge in some jovial chit-chat. Radha, then gets to work, churning out butter from curd for Krishna. The alacrity of the performers attending to the nuances of their art is a bliss to behold. Radha, adjusting the machinery before she starts churning, looks like there really is a machine - invisible to the audience! She serves him the butter and he picks out the flowers for her to taste the honey in them. The flute in the backdrop interspersed by the violin adds to the already enchanting scene.
Act 2 is the story of Kuchela (Sudama), an old friend of Krishna, poverty-stricken and in dire need of help, who visits Krishna to ask him a favour. Sunil Pallipuram is Krishna in Dwaraka and Paris Lakshmi is Kuchela; Kuchela (Lakshmi) made his entry through the front doors that opened to the audience, while Krishna thronged the stage. It created the perfect picture of a deprived man walking his way through the dark alley to get to the one seated high on a pedestal glowing in his affluence and prosperity—an unconventional move from the performers that was well received by the viewers.
Shutterbugs were in a frenzy to capture Kuchela walking amidst the crowd. And then, Krishna sees his friend. Ecstatic to see his old friend, he jumps up and down in glee. A splendid Sunil Pallipuram brings about the aura of the one who has been missing his childhood friend for long. An embarrassed and trembling Kuchela is made to climb up the steps to the stage (the kingdom of Dwaraka). The talk between Krishna and Kuchela gets even more exciting as Krishna gently prods Kuchela asking him, whether he is wedded. A diffident Kuchela turns red! And as the story goes, unable to ask for any favours, Kuchela bids a tearful goodbye to Krishna. Both the performers captured the audience's imagination essaying their parts to perfection. Little details add to the charm of this mythological story, regarded as one of the fine examples of a glorious friendship.
Act 3 is Panchali Shapatham, where Draupadi (Panchali) appeals to Krishna for justice after she was harassed at the court of Hastinapura by Dushasana at the command of Duryodhana. An enraged Draupadi enacts how he pulled her hair, dragging her to the court, while all the esteemed men—Dhritarashtra, Drona and Bhishma remained mute. Brilliantly executed by Paris Lakshmi, Draupadi's sorrow comes alive on stage.
Act 4 is the Ras Leela, with Krishna enticing Radha playing his flute. A lovely dance by the duo between the romantic interludes is the high point here. The chemistry of these performers on stage is electrifying, and they hold strong on the reigns of their art promising more laudable performances.
Act 5, the final act is the Geethopadesham, where Arjuna, right before entering the Kurukshetra confides in his sarathi, Krishna himself, of his dilemma. The stage opens to Krishna and Arjuna riding their horse cart enroute the battle field. Arjuna stops mid-way and tells Krishna that he feels weak fighting against his own kith and kin. The consternation of Arjuna, beautifully portrayed by Paris Lakshmi is complemented by Krishna, who tries to pacify him, and at last dons his viswaroopam and tells him that come what may, dharma will rule in the end. Arjuna, who is confident after that, lifts up the gandiva and proceeds with the warfare. Sunil Pallipuram amazed with his larger-than-life act, while Paris Lakshmi enthralled the audience as the Arjuna who burns in impassioned fury after the Geethopadesham.
The performance was great in terms of concept, technique and execution, where the performers took the stage by storm. We've known Paris Lakshmi as the lady who Nivin Pauly finally falls in love with in Bangalore Days. A native of Paris, France, she started her Bharatnatyam classes in India at the age of five and used to travel back and forth. She has studied under Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam among many others. Sunil Pallipuram has been a Kathakali artiste for long.
The couple, who are married to each other in real life seemed to enjoy an excellent rapport on stage; they shone through the highs and lows, moments of jest, grief or amazement, just like in real life.