Cel­e­brat­ing vic­to­ries

Chen­nai-based pho­tog­ra­pher A. Prathap doc­u­ments the vi­brancy of Tamil folk the­atre in In­dia.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Art - By MAJORIE CHIEW star2@thes­tar.com.my

IN Kat­taikkuttu, a tra­di­tional folk the­atre of Tamil Nadu, In­dia, the ac­tors use their bod­ies, voice, and mind to tell a story. The per­former builds a char­ac­ter through songs, di­a­logue, move­ments and fa­cial ex­pres­sions through­out an all-night per­for­mance.

The young ac­tors of the troupe, be­long­ing to the Kat­taikkuttu Gu­ruku­lam near to Kanchipu­ram, are taught and trained in Kat­taikkuttu. The vi­brancy of char­ac­ters is pal­pa­ble in the painted faces, en­er­getic move­ments and cos­tumes of the ac­tors as they en­act roles from mytho­log­i­cal sto­ries.

Chen­nai-based pho­tog­ra­pher A. Prathap, whowork­swith The Times Of In­dia, has cap­tured this an­i­mated spirit through his por­traits of the young per­form­ers. He shares the beauty of this tra­di­tional the­atre in Myr­iad Faces, a pho­tog­ra­phy ex­hi­bi­tion that is now show­ing at KL’s Su­tra Gallery.

“Pho­tograph­ing the­atre per­for­mances such as Kat­taikkuttu re­quires a to­tally dif­fer­ent frame of mind. Th­ese are all-night events, where one needs to wait for the plot to de­velop over time, while be­ing con­stantly alert to cap­ture the right mo­ments,” says Prathap.

Prathap, who also records news, cur­rent events and life­style sto­ries, has been doc­u­ment­ing this Tamil art form at Kat­taikkuttu Gu­ruku­lam since 2012.

He has vis­ited this in­sti­tu­tion many times, mostly to cover its per­for­mances and the­atre fes­ti­vals.

The pho­to­graphs ex­hib­ited in Myr­iad Faces are a se­lec­tion of his works at the the­atre be­tween 2012 and 2016. Among his favourite pho­to­graphs in this ex­hi­bi­tion are the por­traits of Ar­juna, Ensem­ble of the Ju­nior Per­form­ers and Ekalavya.

Th­ese are char­ac­ters from a drama in­spired by the Ma­hab­harata (one of the two ma­jor San­skrit epics of an­cient In­dia).

Prior to the set­ting up of this Kat­taikkuttu Gu­ruku­lam troupe in 2002, there was no for­mal (the­atre) train­ing in Kat­taikkuttu.

“Help­ing out in the com­pany and per­form­ing small roles in all-night per­for­mances re­sulted in th­ese child ac­tors drop­ping out of reg­u­lar ed­u­ca­tion. This is an un­der­ly­ing rea­son why the Gu­ruku­lam of­fers its stu­dents a fully-fledged ed­u­ca­tional pro­gramme, in ad­di­tion to Kat­taikkuttu train­ing,” he re­veals.

The Kat­taikkuttu Gu­ruku­lam of­fers pro­fes­sional train­ing in act­ing and mu­sic to chil­dren and young peo­ple from age six to 18. All stu­dents par­tic­i­pate in the new pro­duc­tions of the Gu­ruku­lam. In ad­di­tion to tra­di­tional all-night plays, the Gu­ruku­lam has built a new reper­tory of mod­ern plays, in ad­di­tion to plays cre­ated for chil­dren.

Dur­ing their train­ing, the stu­dents learn to play both in overnight (eight-hour show) and shorter pro­duc­tions, which cater to non-tra­di­tional, mostly ur­ban au­di­ences. The cast of this the­atre com­prises 25 to 30 young per­form­ers, in­clud­ing the mu­si­cians.

Prathap ex­plains that shoot­ing such a long per­for­mance re­quires a lot of en­durance. One has to stay awake all night through to early morn­ing and be at­ten­tive at all times.

“In my pho­tog­ra­phy, I try to fo­cus on their strug­gles, the blood and sweat that has gone into per­fect­ing them­selves as artistes and the beauty and com­plex­ity of this the­atre form that is hardly known out­side its own re­gions. My work is not about cap­tur­ing their de­pri­va­tions, it is about cel­e­brat­ing their vic­to­ries,” he con­cludes.

Myr­iad Faces is show­ing at Su­tra Gallery, 12, Per­siaran Ti­ti­wangsa 3 in Kuala Lumpur till July 9. Open times: 9am to 5pm (Mon­day to Fri­day). Call: 03-4021 1092.

— A. PRATHAP

S. Sri­mathy (cen­tre) as Ar­juna in the chil­dren’s the­atre play Vi­laiy­at­tin Vi­laivu (War Games) per­formed by the ju­nior ensem­ble of the Kat­taikkuttu Gu­ruku­lam.

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