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Kalam. Iswaran Unni

Kalamandalam Iswaran Unni

FRIDAY, JULY 15, 2005
Thumping success on the mizhavu

Kalamandalam Iswaran Unni was selected for the title of `Paanivaadaratnam,'
instituted by the Paimkulam Rama Chakiyar Smaraka Kalapeedhom.

ON A DIFFERENT BEAT: Iswaran Unni on the mizhavu.

No award is dearer to a performing artiste than one instituted by an organisation instituted to perpetuate the memory of his guru. Small wonder then that Kalamandalam Iswaran Unni's eyes were moist when informed by the Paimkulam Rama Chakiyar Smaraka Kalapeedhom that he was selected for the title `Paanivaadaratnam,' last week. "It's all his (guru's) blessings," said Unni, presently the head of the mizhavu department in Kalamandalam, as he rushed to invoke the blessings of his living guru P.K. Narayanan Nambiar.

Tryst with Koodiyattom
Iswaran Unni's tryst with Koodiyattom was quite fortuitous. Even as a child, he was drawn towards percussion. So it was but natural that his parents wished him to get trained on the chenda.

During the screening test for admission to Kalamandalam, Narayanan Nambiar persuaded Unni's parents to admit him to the Department of Koodiyattom for learning the mizhavu. But his parents were puzzled. For, Koodiyattom and mizhavu had been the exclusive preserve of the Chakiyar and Nambiar communities. How could a Warrier boy be trained on the mizhavu?

They were unaware of the great changes were taking place in Kalamandalam in 1965, which enabled any one to practice any art irrespective of caste or creed. Rama Chakiyar was the head of the Department of Koodiyattom and Narayanan Nambiar, that of mizhavu.
A living monument of this secular outlook of the institution, Iswaran Unni is also the first non-Nambiar student to get a scholarship for his studies and also the first non-Nambiar teacher of the mizhavu. Before joining his alma mater as a staff in 1982, he had served Margi, Thiruvananthapuram, as an instructor of the mizhavu for one year.

Inspiration for the actors

Seated on the mizhavina (the stand) behind the actor, Iswaran Unni is very much a powerhouse of disciplined energy, inspiring the actor and embellishing his every move with his carefully manipulated staccato beat on the drum.

He has accompanied all the celebrities, including Mani Madhava Chakiyar, Paimkulam Rama Chakiyar and Ammannur Madhava Chakiyar. He proudly remembers how Rama Chakiyar addressed him as `Warrieraasaan' after a performance. Only an accomplished artiste can accompany the actor on to the stage, that too in accordance with all the subtle movements and expressions so characteristic to Koodiyattom. He explained that this is possible only with sustained training, not only on the mizhavu but in the nuances of abhinaya as well. One has to be conversant with all the characters, their peculiarities, anecdotes and occasions. Moreover, it requires a deep understanding of the idiosyncrasies of each actor, knowledge all the mudras and Sanskrit.

Endowed with an amazing gift of the gab, Iswaran Unni has become a much sought-after Koothu exponent in recent times. He had under taken a deep study of a number of Sanskrit prabhandhas under Unnikrishnan Elayath. Well-versed in all the percussion instruments of Kerala, including the timila, he was associated with his guru Narayanan Nambiar in designing `mizhavil thayambaka'.

He had also successfully tried his hand in `chutti' under the guidance of Vazhenkada Govinda Warrier.

In 1989, he was invited by Farely Richmond to the Stonybrook University, New York, where he had trained 36 graduates and undergraduates for seven months.

Today, `Jatayuvadham,' `Balivadham' and `Soorpanakhangam' are part of the syllabus of the theatre department of the university, he said. played was in a haphazard manner.


Copyright © 2006  Prem Manasvi.