Kathakali makeup in progress

Kathakali is supposed to be a temple dance from Kerala. I’d heard stories of Kathakali performances where the make-up would take half the evening, and the performance would go on all night. So I was a little disappointed when I found that there was a little show for tourists which would last an hour. The make-up was supposed to start an hour before the show. We arrived half an hour before the performance, and found that the hero’s public make-up was almost done. The man applying the make-up in the photo above is called the chuttikaran, and he is applying the last stages of chutti: the white ridges on the face, to the man who’s lying down. In the next half hour the characters put on their costumes. When they finally appeared on stage, I could understand why this part takes so long.

Kathakali MinukkuThe first to appear was the female character called Minukku. Notice the elaborate costume; it would have certainly taken me more than thirty minutes to put on all this. All characters are played by men. This man gave us a demonstration of the nine basic expressions, navarasam. I’ve forgotten whether this photo depicts bhayanakam, fear, or beebhtasam, disgust. Would you be able to guess?

One of the interesting things about Kathakali is that you can guess who the characters are by the dominant colour of the make-up. Kathakali PachaYellow denotes passivity and is mostly used on Minukku or rishis. Green, pacha is the colour of a noble character, who is also called pacha. The demons are black as their lustful heart and called kari. We saw little play with just these three characters. The story is acted out through a rhythmic dance.

Kathakali KadupputhadiThe ticket cost very little: about half the price of a movie ticket in a multiplex in Mumbai. It is hard for artistes to survive on such earnings. I saw a donation box in one corner of the stage, where we dropped some money. Interestingly, the actors had evolved an interesting method of making a little more. After the play they invited the audience to take selfies with them. This was an incredible hit: families queued up for their photos, and had no qualms about donating significantly more than the price of the ticket for this memento. What a lovely way to use social media!

Author: I. J. Khanewala

I travel on work. When that gets too tiring then I relax by travelling for holidays. The holidays are pretty hectic, so I need to unwind by getting back home. But that means work.

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