Chennai-based photographer A. Prathap documents the vibrancy of Tamil folk theatre in India.
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.
S. Srimathy (centre) as Arjuna in the children’s theatre play Vilaiyattin Vilaivu (War Games) performed by the junior ensemble of the Kattaikkuttu Gurukulam.