Not put off by our Tharu cultural experience in Nepal, we attended a kathakali performance. Apparently this form of theatre came into existence in the 16th century and essentially are performances of the Hindu epics the Ramayana, the Mahabharata and the Puranas.
No one speaks in the performance but the show is set to loud drums and there is a singer who wails his way through the whole performance (this might be the explanatory dialogue but that wasn’t clear): to be fair that looked like hard work for him (although was also quite hard work for us too).
The actors are dressed in elaborate costumes as well as spectacular make up (the first 1½ hours of our “show” was watching the actors get made up with paper beards etc as well as dramatic face paints: this process is about the transformation of the actors into the gods and demons they play in the subsequent show). In the performance, they communicate by dancing around and also by all important facial expressions and using elaborate set hand gestures. As part of our introductory show, we were told what some of the facial expressions, eye movements and hand gestures were conveying, either emotions or whole phrases. Unfortunately due to a couple of power cuts during this part of the show throwing us into total darkness and therefore unable to see any of the actor’s expressions or movements, we were left with a few gaps in our knowledge.
And in the actual performance itself, apart from understanding that Good prevailed over Evil with the evil demon being slain, it’s fair to say we didn’t follow everything. Mind you we did a lot better than many of the audience who took it upon themselves to leave before the end. And this was an abridged version (just an hour’s excerpt): the traditional kathakali performances go on all night long starting around 10pm.