Imagine watching Lady Macbeth pouring “my spirits in thine ear” with her valourous tongue in Kathakali style. How insanely creative is that! Kathakali exponent Prabal Gupta is known for the same. Performer, choreographer and a research scholar, Prabal is a prominent name in the world of Kathakali. He is a disciple of the Central Sangeet Natak Academy Awardee and the legendary Kathakali exponent and research scholar Guru Sri Sadanam Balakrishnan. Prabal has been performing and popularising the art form Kathakali all over the world for the last three-and-a-half decades. He is instrumental in choreographing two major works of William Shakespeare in Kathakali — Lady Macbeth, and Cleopatra.
Initially trained in Odissi and Bharatanatyam, Prabal found his ultimate calling in Kathakali. “It was while doing my graduation in English Honors that the idea of using literature in dance dawned upon me. I thought, why not use English for Indian classical dance? I expressed it to my mother, and she said, ‘My son has become absolutely mad!’”
Prabal obviously didn’t give up. In 2013, he expressed his desire to do Macbeth. “I approached Dr Shankar Raja Raman from Bengaluru to write the lyrics for me in Sanskrit as a solo presentation of Lady Macbeth, but in a way that the audience will know that in my performance I am talking to the other character (Macbeth), who though not visible is omnipresent,” says the dancer.
Premiered in 2014, the performance received so much love and appreciation that Prabal was immediately invited to perform at the Down Town’s Erasing Borders Festival in New York.
Then during the pandemic, Prabal thought of reworking Macbeth and making it a group production, with Macbeth’s character, now played by Sadanam Vipin Chandran.Prabal says, “I approached Dr Shaka Rajaraman once again to add the poems for Macbeth. Now Kathakali uses raagas to bring out emotions, it is just not sung. For example, Revathi is used in Carnatic to propitiate Lord Shiva, but in Kathakali, we can also use Revathi to propitiate karuna. Raaga Gauri Pant is also used for karuna. For example, the sleepwalking scene is sung in raag Gauri Pant to bring out the effects of the karuna. I sat with the orchestra members and for the first time I used the timila, one of the pancha vadham used in the temples of Kerala. And I used timila to enhance the effects of the mystery when Macbeth was going to kill King Duncan.”
The piece premiered once again in 2022 in Bengaluru, the entire production choreographed and conceived by Prabal; the scenes are connected with narration in English by him; and the thought process, of course, is absolutely Prabal’s. “I also changed the kalasams, the basic sequences of Kathakali. Lady Macbeth, if you see in depth, though a woman, had man-like wicked traits in her; she had a poisonous mind; she wanted to rise up to supremacy through evil methods. So, what I did is I removed those female oriented kalasams, keeping them only in beginning when she’s reading the prophecies of the three witches; but for the latter part, I created a new set of kalasams, which are neither manly or womanly, but fall within the proceedings of the Kathakali tradition,” he tells us.
Moreover, the female characters in Kathakali wear a headgear called kiritam, which Prabal did not use them. Explaining the same, he says, “Lady Macbeth is a Western character, so I removed the bindi and instead I wear a ‘sign of the cross’ on the forehead. Again, I have used a chuttituni, a red branding mark instead of a kurunira traditionally worn by a female character in Kathakali.”
Entry free. October 7, 7.15 pm.
At Edouard Michelin Auditorium, AFM.