As a guru
I started learning from Kalamandalam Krishnan Nair in the 1980s. The most important aspect of his classes was his emphasis on ‘bhava’ over moulding ‘mudras’, refining steps or on any technical aspects of Kathakali training. It was amazing to watch the way he used to enact the bhava in detail while explaining them to me. He had also gave importance to the body movements according to every mudra. He also attached equal importance to eye-movements according to each mudra in specified contexts.
As a guru, I never felt him to be a very strict disciplinarian. His classes were good for refining one’s talents if you were already trained in Kathakali and there is no question that his classes were not for learning the basics. I would say Kalamandalam Krishnan Nair was good for advanced learning. If I remember correctly, he never corrected my steps or mudras, whereas he was very particular about the ‘bhava’ aspects in abhinaya. Though he was known for his ‘Nayaka’ vishams, what he taught me most was female characters like Mohini in Rukmanga Charitam, Damayanti in the second and fourth days of Nala Charitam and Sairandhri in Keechaka Vadham. Another blessing I had in Margi, Thiruvananthapuram, where I was trained by Kalamandalam Krishnan Nair was that the regular viewers were great scholars like D. Appukkuttan Nair. Mr Appukkuttan Nair’s supervision and precise understanding of the nuances of the texts and stage has always contributed to moulding my understanding about Kathakali.
I was fortunate to have performed with Kalamandalam Krishnan Nair from a very early stage in my artistic career, and I have played Mohini, Damayanti and Sairandhri with him. I was comparatively very young while sharing the stage with a stalwart like Kalamandalam Krishnan Nair. But I would like to say one thing, that being with him on stage always limited my performances. His immense stage presence used to dwarf others.
If you ask me to recollect some of the unforgettable performances of Kalamandalam Krishnan Nair, I would start with his Brahmanan in Rugmini Swayamvaram. It was always a wonder to me. Another out of the world experience was him enacting ‘Kuvalaya Vilochane’ in Nala Charitam. The most important characteristic of Kalamandalam Krishnan Nair was his ‘Nottam’ (the nature of his glance), and no one else had his style before. It had to be seen, and I am sorry it can’t be expressed through words
A Disciplined Life
A major quality I have noticed in Krishnan Nair Asan was the disciplinarian that he was throughout his life. At the peak of his career, he had performances almost every night and those days most of his travels were by bus. But I noticed even after a night-long performance he would go through his three-hour meditation without fail. He used to break his fast only after this daily routine. Wherever he travelled for Katahakali, it was the organizers’ duty to arrange a place for his meditation. I think that the meditation he engaged greatly helped the actor in him.
As you know, Kalamandalam Krishnan Nair was a great star of his times, however, the way he interacted with people around would remain a lesson to all successful artistes in any field. He never carried the thought that he was the mega-star of Kathakali and more importantly, the support that Kalamandalam Krishnan Nair gave his fellow-artistes on stage was immense.
Sahapedia: As an actor who mostly plays female roles in Kathakali, do you recollect any of Kalamandalam Krishnan Nair’s ‘Sthree Veshams’?
Margi Vijayakumar: I have seen two of his female characters, one is ‘Kunti’ of Karna Shapatham and ‘Vasavadatta’ of Karuna and both were unforgettable. But my own opinion is that his ‘Nayaka’ performances are more significant than his female roles.