ItalyIndia design
ItalyIndia design
ItalyIndia design
ItalyIndia design
ItalyIndia design
ItalyIndia design
ItalyIndia design

14. Two sides of India

two faces one in front of the other: on the left a katahakali mask on the left a young indian man

Sethunath is a computer technician that works for IBS in a technological park established during the recent Indian economical growth.
Nighttime, however, he is a different man. His mind and soul change: the digital computer world leaves place for the one of celestial powers, where demons and deities fight their eternal war for good and evil.

Sethunath is Kathakali actor, the secular dance-drama expression of Kerala. Kathakali knows no hurry. With discipline and a trained mind, Kathakali actors aim for perfection. A moment of absolute beauty, bound by meticulous attention for details.
“Combine both activities is not an easy job”, he said during an interview. “Hard and queer, but not impossible.”
With his efforts, he demonstrates that a present in harmony with past traditions in completely possible.
Once, performance were fostered by nobility and took stage in open spaces lit up by oil lamps, near temples.
On the stage, actors never talk. Plot and narration are left to singers, and dramatic tension is held by the rhythm of drums and cymbals.
Actors express themselves through their clothes, their make-up, enactments and facial expression. Interaction between actors musician and singers is fundamental for a successful result. It takes years of training and preparation. The single make-up part takes a lot of time, but it’s the only way to make a god out of a man. 

At the moment, Sethu’s problem is time. It’s hard to find a moment for his passion, because his job’s tasks are plenty.
However, the actor within him does not give up: he never loses a chance to practice, perform or go to shows. He always wanted to be a Kathakali actor: when he was a child, his uncle used to take him to performance to the temple near his village, close to Alapuzha. He was fascinated by costumes, make-up and the mystical atmosphere of evening shows, where you could fell asleep to wake up right in time for your favorite parts.
You never go to a Kathakali to look for something new; you usually go to see how the sequences are performed, and how good the artists involved are.

He started studying in a little theatre’s school, subsidized by the government, when he was 9. His family wasn’t really happy about that, but never interfered – thinking it was only a fleeting desire. They wanted a better future for him, with a nice economical income that Kathakali would never provide. Sethu fulfilled his family’s wish without denying his dream.
During the university, he kept on studying with a private teacher (Kalamandalam Sri Kumar) and, for the first time, went onstage, made some experience and even a little money. With the job, everything grew harder: for a year, Sethu worked in South Arabia, where theater is forbidden and he was allowed to train only during his holidays back in India.
His professional choice brought him to Singapore, where there’s an academy and best opportunities to take on his hobby. After seven long years, he eventually came back to India, where he met the most important master of his life: Rathishan. Since that day, he never stopped learning.
Sethu loves Kathakali for its completeness, its eternal yearning for beauty and perfection and the opportunity to experience supernal feelings through a human body. On the stage he plays only the minor roles, for only someone who can spend his life for Kathakali is capable to properly perform a major one.

With a group of enthusiasts he founded Keleeravam, an association to foster and preserve Kathakali that sometimes subsidizes exhibitions and artists, to encourage Indians to keep this art alive.
To understand Kathakali, you need to learn actors’ bodily language. For this, Sethu made us a big present: the navarasa, a representation of nine emotions (see the video).
The video was taken during a working day in the Technopark, without make-up – against the custom – and shoes – to honor the tradition.

Sethunath, computer expert by destiny and Kathakali actor by faith, recommend us to never lose our roots and improve them by applying a modern point of view on them. Abandon our customs would only leave unbridgeable emptiness into us.
A Kerala without Kathakali, he says, does not exist.


Cover by Natana, Cultural Club in Technopark



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