The story of Kalankari  
- Padma Jayaraj, Thrissur 
April 6, 2008 

Renga Chetana, an established a theater group in Thrissur, Kerala, celebrated the World Theater Day (March 27) by honoring the veteran drama director Prof. Ramanujam. Men, who stand tall in the field of theater in Kerala, spoke on the occasion. A trilogy written by Arun Poothezhath, was launched.  
Kala-padasala based in the sleepy village of Arangottukara, staged 'The story of Kalankari.' Theater buffs sat late into night watching the play measured its appeal. A simple theme unfolded its complexities in poetic dimensions. 
Cast in the mode of the old sangeetha nritha natakam, the play revived memories of a genre lost in the world of experiments. Essentially folk in its presentation, the theme takes us back to the origin of settled life, the beginning of civilizations.  
The stage setting 
People watched the stage being set in front of them. A stout bamboo pole with spikes stands in the middle, in front is a potter's wheel; at the back an abstract form of a plant carrying three flowers. Soon we realize that this is the home of a woman with its central pillar, that the flowers are decorated pots made by her, a pot maker, put out in the sun to dry. A group of children, men, and women come singing and dancing narrating the story of a woman who made pots and pans and of her man who went around selling them. 
The folk numbers, a mixture of kurava and gypsy style, and the narration of the mythical origin of human story lend depth to the drama. 
The play 
When the chorus departs, the scenes reveal the joy of young life and love, the joy of hard labor, and of domestic bliss in a rural ambience. But tragedy is embedded in human lot. He dies and his young widow is left inconsolable. The chorus is the village folk now enacting the roles of a neighborhood. The typical village scene showcases the social milieu, its complexity in their sympathy and in their naive gossip. Lighting a lamp under the pillar, the sanctum sanctorum of her home, she keeps vigil in tears. 
Sun rise and set; time moves on; seasons change; nature is in havoc. Natural urges wake up in the hearts of people; spring explodes in the mind of the young widow.  Torn between grief and longing, torn by tradition and superstition, the young woman dreams of life. Life for her is creative joy in working with hands.  
The dream technique used is a masterstroke to explore the psychological realities that lurk within. The flower-seller is a figment of her imagination. The dialogue between Kalankari and the flower seller is between her hopes and fears. Allegorically, the flower-seller is spring. She brings colors on the stage, scattering flowers everywhere, the chorus feel her presence communicating the spirit of Spring to the audience. 
Like the flower girl, the ghost and the strange robber too descend down the central pole into her life. Tired of conflict, she is taken to the verge of martyrdom, SATI, by the ghost of her dead husband. The chorus intervenes to tell the finale of an Indian widow. But a child poses a question in all innocence to the traditional ending of ever after... it reminds you of the child who dared to shout "the Emperor is naked." The innocent query sets the village folk to scratch their heads.  

The robber and the flower girl play the game of hide and seek in beautiful dance steps. And finally the robber with his strange philosophy of 'giving for taking' wins the debate in the mind of Kalankari. He tells her to make things other than pots and pans. And like the flower girl, he gives her colors to paint the toys: birds, animals, humans in myriad forms and variegated colors. 

Both the Kalankari and the village folk wake up to a different reality: understand the need to go on, the need to be positive, to be creative.  
Technique of presentation 
Story-telling method, folk aspects heavily drawing from porattu natakam, and kurathy, and the role of children are the striking features. 
Pookari and robber are regular characters of porattu natakam, the indigenous theatre of Kerala. The play moves back and forth from the physical to the mental plane with extraordinary ease.  Even when the flower girl and the robber do not interact with the villagers, they perfectly merge into the medley of the village community - a master stroke of direction.  

Songs by Sreeja, the author of the text, and by the poet PP Ramachandran and the mode of singing in the vein of natan pattukal add to the mores of Kerala. 

Rajitha as Kalankari, Beena as pookkari, Dinesan as the ghost, and Prasanth as the robber, make the play a success. 
CN Narayanan deserves credit for direction. The play has an earthy vitality. With the Earth's first clay, the potter's wheel becomes the symbol of creation; the earthen bowl the secret well of life; the woman an extension of creativity filled with love, longing and natural urges. The drama, in spite of its limitation as a folk presentation, is truly poetic in dimension. Even when the theme is woman-centered in a patriarchal society, the director pins all hopes on positive elements in society to bring about a change in perspective, in a wholesome approach. 

Padma Jayaraj is a regular contributor to