K for Kattaikkuttu

Ambika Shaligram
Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Dr Hanne M De Bruin-Rajagopal, Programme Director of Kattaikkuttu Sangam brings her rural art form and her students to interact with city kids through ‘Junoon arts at play with schools’ programme

Have you sat through Kattaikkuttu’s all-night performance held in Chennai villages? The eight-hour long musical theatre combines stories from the epics, especially the Mahabharata.

There are several versions of the Mahabharata in southern as well as northern India. But Kattaikkuttu Sangam performances are very much attuned to the local audience and how it relates to everyday life of people, in one particular region. It’s similar to a nautanki or a jatra in Bengal. “It used to be an all male tradition; but now we have both male and female characters.

And, that’s quite empowering. People in villages are still surprised to see women on the stage. They appreciate it as long as it’s not their wife, daughter or sister!,” explains Dr Hanne M De Bruin-Rajagopal, Programme Director of Kattaikkuttu Sangam and Kattaikkuttu Gurukulam at Kancheepuram.

Dr Bruin-Rajagopal will be getting the young performers of Kattaikkuttu to Pune and interact with students of Delhi Public School (DPS) during ‘Arts Encounter’ arranged by ‘Junoon arts at play with schools’.

Talking to us ahead of the programme to be held on November 8, Dr Bruin-Rajagopal shares what she has planned for the students of DPS. “This is the first time we are participating with ‘Junoon arts at play with schools’. We have classes VI, VII and VIII with us. So the programme is focussed on that particular age group. We bring students of similar ages, because we also run a school offering professional training and drama education,” says she. 

The  Kattaikkuttu Sangam will be presenting three episodes from their repertory, which focus on children with some kind of participatory content. “We have 50 kids in one group. So we plan to involve them; but it’s impossible to get all of them on stage,” she says with a chuckle.

Dr Bruin-Rajagopal, who is married to P Rajagopal, a Kattaikkuttu artist and founder of Kattaikkuttu Gurukulam, adds, “The first episode is from an all night performances which we do in villages. It’s called Kurvanjini and has a woman character. This is the first time that a woman is playing a role in the all-male domain. So we want to showcase that women have the same capacity as men and can perform in a physically demanding form. Kurvanjini is from a construction background and she is famous for making tattoos and so there is a comic scene in which the junior-most clown played by a boy wants a tattoo.”   

The second is the episode of building of a shamiana (canopy), for a game of dice, which Duryodhana organises. This episode will invite kids from the audience to be the killers. 

In the last episode, Hanuman encounters Bheema, who is his half-brother. “Bheema is selfish and considers himself to be the strongest person on earth. Hanuman sprawls across the road and Bheema is unable to lift him. That’s the last scene,” she adds.

Besides the performances, Dr Bruin-Rajagopal also plans to have a demonstration on how Kattaikkuttu sounds, how it works. “Voice training is an important aspect in Kattaikkuttu, besides knowing the stories. How the form unfolds is also significant because it doesn’t have scripted performances. You can’t memorise for eight hours. So how does the performer know what to say on the stage? All this will be a part of the demonstration,” explains Dr Bruin-Rajagopal.

Besides adapting episodes from the Mahabharata, the Kattaikkuttu Sangam is also working on new stories. “My husband has written a story called Magic Horse for the younger ones he works with. The Mahabharata can be quite complex for kids to understand. So they come with a request to include characters like the magic horse, a magician, a doctor, a tortoise etc,” she adds. 

Besides that, the husband-wife duo also try to introduce kids to other art forms, which are based in the metropolis, or get international troupes to perform at their gurukulam. “We have international workshops for our students and other artists, like we had an acrobatic workshop. Kattaikkuttu is a rural art form. So through these collaborations, we are trying to shift the paradigm a little bit,” concludes Dr Bruin-Rajagopal.

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