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Biennale Awaits a Rare Collaboration of Carnatic Music and Tamil Theatre

In Entertainment
January 17, 2019

Going ahead with its spirit of bringing in diverse topics and art-forms, the Kochi-Muziris Biennale is presenting this Sunday ‘Karnatic Kattaikkuttu’, a path-breaking collaboration between south Indian classical music and a Tamil rural theatre.

The January 13 programme at the Biennale Pavilion in Fort Kochi’s Cabral Yard will reflect on socio-economic differences that separate certain arts and the role caste and language play in the intricacies that define the two forms.

Primarily a brainchild of iconic Kattaikuttu artist P Rajagopal and Carnatic maestro T M Krishna, the production strives to meld the aesthetics of the two arts that have seldom had interaction in their native Dravidian motherland or elsewhere. While Kattaikuttu has men sing, dance and act highlighting the form’s inherent capacity for satirical, comedic and sharp commentary, Carnatic has largely enjoyed the image of being ‘devotional’, ‘ancient’ and ‘elevating’.

Actor Rajagopal (also a playwright and director) and Krishna (a winner of Ramon Magsaysay award) are being assisted by musician Sangeetha Sivakumar and performing-arts scholar Hanne De Bruin, who is the programmes director at the Kattaikkuttu Sangam in Kanchipuram of northern Tamil Nadu. The biennale show is being brought in by First Edition Arts (FEA), a performing arts company in Mumbai.

The Kochi Biennale Foundation, which is hosting the ‘Karnatic Kattaikuttu’, says the programme will be a musical conversation lending insight into how creative minds find common ground without sacrificing the sanctity of their art-forms. “It also shows how surrendering of individual egos can push the boundaries of artistic enlightenment,” notes visual artist Bose Krishnamachari, president of the 2010-formed foundation.

De Bruin reveals that the production’s juxtaposition of two art forms that are interrelated yet so different in their ways of performance triggers a fresh occasion to reflect on Kattaikkuttu as well as Carnatic. “It will show how artists of the two forms handle their material differently and how they get articulated as well as visualised on the stage,” he says about the show involving 18 artists presenting excerpts from Kattaikuttu which are typically all-night plays with stories from Hindu mythology. “It is an outcome of an artistic and social experiment, which, I think, is quite amazing.”

Chennai-based Krishna, 42, says this collaboration is an exploration of potential meeting points of the two forms, while recognising each other’s aesthetic distinctiveness stemming from the different spaces they occupy in Tamil social hierarchy. “We hope to rekindle the musical links that Kattaikkuttu and Carnatic have had in the past,” he adds.

FEA says it chiefly aims to work on interdisciplinary connections between art-forms. “It has been a privilege to produce and present ‘Karnatic Kattaikkuttu’ and watch an exciting and ambitious artistic collaboration take shape,” says Devina Dutt, co-founder and director of the institution comprising a team of people with backgrounds in business journalism, corporate communications, music, design, filmmaking, advertising and cultural documentation.