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'Karna Shapatham’ - A telling play
I did not really fancy watching something that I had already branded too loud for subtle tastes. Watching Kathakali – that too for nearly three hours! But my maiden experience turned out to be something that I shall remember for a lifetime. Late Mali Madhavan Nair's `Karna Shapatham’ was staged on January 5 at the Kalakshethra Auditorium. With the famed Kalamandalam Gopi as the tragic hero Karna, expectations were high amongst the audience. The play is an emotionally-charged one and shows almost every facet of love – the romantic love between a man and a woman, the love between a mother and a son and the love between two friends.

The customary usage of the screen accessory to introduce the characters on the stage accompanied by the resonating `chanda mela’ opens the stage. After taking blessings of the sages such as Vyasa, Panini and Narada, the screen opens to disclose Athiprabhava Duryodhana (Sadanam Balakrishnan) in all his glory. His wife Bhanumathi (Sadanam Bhasi) is in deep turmoil after a dream about his demise in the Mahabharatha war. The scenes between them are quite romantic. The occasional hugs and the way two people in complete love behave are shown beautifully. In one Padam, Duryodhana tells Bhanumathi how her usual Mandahasa face has turned placid. He also tells her that she is his Prananayika (prana sangata).

The way the stylish and powerful Duryodhana (in every other scene) is pained by the pain of his dear wife touches one’s heart. A very distressed Bhanumathi, though not convinced, tells him of her avid dream of his dying. At this point, Duryodhana gives a caustic laugh. After these love-filled scenes, Karna enters the stage. He consoles Bhanumathi in a very beautiful Kanada raga Padam. She is somehow convinced. The entire play is a one-scene saga, no entry and exit for the actors on stage.

Then enters Ducchasana. He tells Duryodana and Karna to get ready for the war. His disrespect for Karna is quite apparent. For, he salutes Duryodana but not Karna! This is followed by a scene, where Karna is shown in general distress. Karna goes down memory lane. He thinks of Parashurama, who drives him away for having hidden his kshathriya lineage. Karna then goes to the Ganges to do his customary Sandhyavandhanam. His inner turmoil comes out clearly in the way he changes several times his meditation spot. Here, the iconic meet between the mother and son takes place. It is a highly dramatic and emotion-filled moment. The first few seconds of the scene – they are permanently etched in one’s mind. The scenes that follow are better to be watched rather than told. Piping hot anger, disgust, happiness, joy, love affection, retort after retort one after another - the story of our hero comes out for the audience. Margi Vijayakumar as Kunti is dignity personified. Here Karna makes a sapatham or resolution. Karna gives a promise to his mother that he will kill only the eldest of the Pandavas- Arjuna, his arch rival. Ducchasana, who sees this scene between the mother and son, narrates it to Duryodana. This is followed by another emotional scene between two friends. Karna stands by his friend. The two friends warn Duchasana against spreading gossip. The way Karna tells him to stop rubbing his nails in worry of what to say to whom - is another clear example of the great dramatic skills.

The music is distinctly different from the music accompanying any other art form. The voices of the two singers - Sankarankutty and Rajeevan - were magnificent. Every place had apt usage of ragas to suit the temperament of the situation.