Published: 24th October 2019
Meet Karthik Nair, the 20-year-old Bharatanatyam dancer who shared the stage with Hema Malini recently
Karthik Nair, an upcoming Bharatanatyam dancer talks about his love for the art form and his experience dancing with celebs
A year ago, I had enrolled myself in a group dance for a cultural event in my college. We were asked to practise some semi-classical dance steps. I practised for two days, but I couldn't get the hang of the moves. However, I didn't want to be a spoilsport. So I quit. There were, of course, other factors too. Like the distance. Just two kilometres, but it was too much of an effort for me. So when Karthik Nair told me that he travels approximately 400kms to Bengaluru every week just to learn Bharatanatyam, I was quite taken aback.
Karthik Nair considers Bharatanatyam as his lifeline
Having practised the art form for 13 years now, Karthik took it up seriously after getting a chance to be the disciple of Parshwanath Upadhye, a well-known Bharatanatyam dancer in India. He begins explaining his journey. “Reshma and Ashna from Raasyajani (Palate of emotions), a dance production team of which I was a member, attended a workshop conducted by Parshwanath. When they told me about it, I was thrilled and was desperate to get a chance too. I did not think twice when I heard about the classes at Bengaluru. I was a person who would sit idle at home every weekend. Now, I travel to Bengaluru almost every week,” says the 20-year-old, chuckling.
Karthik Nair shared the stage with Hema Malini
Like Ray Kroc said, Karthik believes that 'Luck is a dividend of sweat. The more you sweat, the luckier you get'. To Karthik, his Facebook videos were his token of luck. He describes how that even helped him land a chance to share the stage with actress and dancer Hema Malini. He says, "Hema Malini’s sister spotted my dance videos and photos randomly on Facebook. Through some mutual contacts, they approached me and offered me a chance to perform as Krishna with Hema Malini as Yasodha. Those were the best days of my life. We performed at ISKCON temple at Juhu, Mumbai on August 22, 2019.” Loaded with excitement he says that Parsh anna (Parshwanath) posted their performance on his social media handle and that was the moment he would treasure forever.
Karthik Nair is a private Kathakali artist
If you're stalking him on social media right now, you might come across pictures of him in Kathakali costumes. Yes, another one of his not-so-hidden talents. He tells us about his arangetram (debut) performance in class III. “I was too tiny for the costume. So my asan (kathakali teacher) found alternatives. I wore a female kachamani (anklets worn by Kathakali artists) as my legs were too small to wear the kachamani worn by male artists. My asan had to hold me up often as I was about to fall down with the heavy costumes,” he laughs.
Karthik Nair has performed female character as well in Kathakali
From the world of Bharatanatyam, Karthik slowly takes me into the world of Kathakali. “Kathakali is more about simplicity. You have to do the makeup all by yourself here. Someone will help you make the Chutti (The white ridge that is built up from the chin to the cheeks on either side of the face). We call it Theppu. I learnt it by applying Bhasma (ash) and Kajal on my face.” he giggles. Being a private artist in the field of Kathakali, he says that sharing the stage with Padma Shri Kalamandalam Gopi AKA Vadakke Manalath Govindan Nair was his greatest achievement.
Talking about his future plans, he says that he would take up a job and once he becomes stable enough to take Bharatanatyam as his full-time profession, he would quit that job.
Dancing would always be his lifeline forever
Witnessing his interest in the artforms, I asked Karthik, currently a student of Sree Narayana Guru College, Coimbatore whether Braratanatyam was his passion or profession. With a smile, he explains, “The word passion is widely misused these days. I would say dance is my lifeline. I have no other word to describe it,” says the BA English Literature student. A true connoisseur of the art form, Karthik simply cannot agree with traditional art forms being used as contemporary entertainment. "People who have no clue about the art, dress up in Kathakali costumes and mimic them to welcome guests. I personally feel that the art form is being disrespected that way. Every minor detailing is divine to us in the artform. I feel a bit too emotional if I see such unfair things as we put in a lot of pain and effort to learn the art,” he concludes.
Entering the Kathakali Aniyara (Makeup room)
- An incandescent bulb is commonly used in the Aniyara as Kathakali is usually performed in yellow light. This helps in creating the right shade of colour on the face of the artist.
- The makeup is an extended process as it lasts for four to five hours. This helps give that superhuman look.
Karthik Nair getting ready for his Kathakali performance
The colour is prepared just before the performance. The colours are obtained from natural substances and herbs. Stones from Sumeru mountains are the source of the colours. Coconut oil is used as a base for mixing these stone powders.
The green colour is obtained by making a proper proportion of Velamanayola (yellow coloured powdered stones) and Neelamanayola (Blue powdered stones)
The black colour is obtained from Mashi. It is to be mixed carefully with oil. As the powder is light, it should be mixed in a corner of the room as there are chances of it flying away.
Brushes are not used in Kathakali. Instead, they use Manayola (made from coconut leaves)
Chutti is made from paper, rice flour, gum and cloth. The right measurement is to be given to get that exact shape of the face of the artist.
The skirt is well-starched and pressed into a frill garment. Before the skirt is put on, the actor ties 20 to 40 pieces of short cloth (plastic sacks and clothes) around the waist with the help of a large twisted rope to give the skirt an oval shape.