Chitrangana: A welcome endeavor in Mohiniattam
- Supriya Rajan
Photos: Sunil Ammadan

August 9, 2014

On July 18, 2014, a houseful audience at the SNA Regional Theatre, Thrissur witnessed ‘Chitrangana,’ a Mohiniattam presentation by a group of students, led by Chitra M from the prestigious Kerala Kalamandalam, the institute which has been solely responsible for saving Mohiniattam from the realm of extinction. The work deserves appreciation for the fact that it tried to deviate from the conventional norms of presentation rarely altered by artistes, in the homeland of Mohiniattam. Chitra and her team tried to make Mohiniattam more appealing by  adding a unique dimension in the presentation, novel to the rasikas of Mohiniattam in the state.

With the support of Indian Ministry of Culture and Jhanabheri, an organization dedicated to theater and classical art forms of Kerala, Chitra brought out a production on Shakuntala and Yashoda called Chitrangana through reminiscences of Raja Ravi Varma’s paintings. With lyrics specially penned by renowned Malayalam poet and lyricist Prabha Varma and composed by eminent musician and mridangist NK Madhusoodhanan, the artiste / choreographer had the freedom to work on the treatment of the narrative to give a theatrical feel to the production.

The first part of the concert, a fifty minutes long composition on Shakuntala, began with the scene where Shakuntala is journeying with her attendants to the palace of Dushyanta. With simple walking steps and advancing into nritta to edakka vaytharis, the piece “Yathrayakunnu” was a journey with characteristic Mohiniattam adavus with certain Kaikottikali movements. Shakuntala, dressed in saffron (instead of off white) and adorned with jasmine flower embellishments was a sight to behold. They enter the court of Dushyanta where the court dancers were in action. With a jathiswaram like piece, the composition seemed to progress like a margam. Chitra convincingly depicted the dramatic scene of dejection. The composition further showed episodes of Shakuntala’s life from her childhood to her youth. The mood of romance after her meeting with Dushyanta was effectively portrayed with a good spotlight of rain and beautiful choreography. Shakuntala feels she has been doomed to rejection. Her parents deserted her when she was as a child and now her beloved turns her down. She cries for acceptance; a cry of many women of the world!

The second segment of the evening was a ten minutes composition on Yashoda. As Yashoda helps Krishna dress up, her fear of losing Krishna’s attention to the peacocks, the cows, his friends, the gopikas, and finally to Arjuna, overcomes her. A universal facet of motherhood! The production, laudable for its treatment, however has ample scope for improvement. Chitrangana was supposed to be based on Raja Ravi Varma’s painting. But the characters portrayed were larger than the painting and failed to establish the required connect. Shakuntala and Yashoda belong to the epics and to bring them to the reference point of Raja Ravi Varma’s painting surely require highly creative choreography. In time, with more experience and guidance from her gurus we can possibly expect Chitra as well as many young and well trained dancers to come out with brilliant productions in Mohiniattam.

The dancers of the evening were Kalamandalam Chitra, Kalamandalam Oormila, Kalamandalam Rashmi, Kalamandalam Revathy, Kalamandalam Sisira, Kalamandalam Pravitha and Kalamandalam Sangeetha. The musicians who ably supported the presentation were Jishnu Namboothirippad and Kalamandalam Binu V Gopal (Vocal), NK Madhusoodanan (mridangam), P Nandakumar (edakka), Muralikrishnan (veena), Vivek Shenai Cherthala (flute) and Thrissur M Shyam Kalyan (violin). Lighting design was by Jose Koshy.

Supriya Rajan is a disciple of Dr. Neena Prasad and is an administrator of the online Mohiniattam forum Lasyatarangini.