When we told our friends that Happy Campers will be travelling to Kerala, India… almost all mentioned that we must grab the opportunity to watch Kathakali. Personally, we have never watched a Kathakali performance even in Malaysia so we have no idea what to expect.
Kathakali literally means ‘story play’ and it is an ancient theatre performance of classical dance and drama which dated back over 500 years ago. The essence of their performance lies in telling the stories using face expressions and it is truly amazing watching them doing this. There are 9 basic expressions – love, fear, courage, sad, disgust, comedy, wonder, angry and peace.
Though the performance itself is an experience on its own, what truly mesmerized us was the effort in getting oneself ready prior to the performance. From the many pictures we saw of Kathakali (especially the male character) we always assumed that it is a mask when it is actually an elaborate make-up that took almost 4 hours to put on.
Each character has a specific make up colour and usually green face represent a ‘good guy’. Slowly they paint their face with what look like a stick…No.. they did not use those paint brushes… though we kind of feel it might make the whole process faster but we are sure they have their reasons. Then we found out that the ‘white coloured layer thingy’ that is on the male character face is actually made of rice paper and it is glued to his cheeks. The whole costume weighs about 5 kg… at least. Ever wondered how they make the skirt fluffed up? easy… lots of those gunny sacks tied up together around the waist… in fact if we remembered correctly it was almost 40 pieces.
Oh yes… for those of you who might have watched a Kathakali performance, you will notice that their eyes are red. In order to get those ‘red’ eyes, they will insert a small flower seed into their eye balls.. yes.. into their eye balls so that their eyes will have the natural red colour effect. It is actually similar to the effect if you have dust entering your eyes. Imagine having a foreign object in your eyes on purpose for more than 3 hours in the name of art.
By the time they have finished getting ready, we can’t help but wonder if they still have the energy to perform because after spending almost 4 hours watching them we are fairly certain they must be tired… because we were.
Now after witnessing the whole process of the performers getting ready, we enjoyed and appreciate this classical art even more.