Grant Period: Over seven months
In 2012, IFA made a grant to Bangalore-based musician Saji Kadampattil to research into the life of the Malayalam poet Kadamanitta Ramakrishnan Nair and into the ritual performance form of Padayani, towards creating a performance. This grant now supports him to produce the performance based on his research.
During the research period, Saji travelled extensively across Kerala, meeting and interviewing Kadamanitta’s family, friends, colleagues and contemporary writers, gathering insights into the poet’s life and times. Simultaneously, he also watched Padayani performances over several nights and interviewed the various artists/communities that come together for the performance. Since a lot of Kadamanitta’s poetry was deeply influenced by the music and rhythms of Padayani, Saji especially focused on it, looking for ways to bring together the poetry, Padayani’s rhythms and his own music. During this period, Saji connected with another IFA-grantee – Thrissur based theatre director and actor Martin John – who he had met at the IFA Grantee Orientation meeting in Bangalore. Both of them found synergies between their work and they began to work collaboratively. ‘This was serendipity’, says Saji. Hitherto a studio musician, who had been working all by himself, Saji found a new energy working with Martin and his team. Not only did he meet new people who he could work with, he was also exposed to new processes of creating and presenting work. Subsequently, Saji formed Oorali, his musical band, with Martin. Much like the character Oorali of Padayani, who is the conscience keeper of the village, the band Oorali too makes music out of their reflections on the social and political concerns of the community and has been performing across Kerala - on trains, buses, boats and other public spaces.
This grant enables Saji and his band Oorali to produce the performance work that has emerged out of his earlier research. ‘In Padayani, I noticed that each artist is multi-dimensional. The training enables them to be so. While each of them might specialize in a certain element of Padayani like singing, dancing, mask making etc, they can also do all of these. This makes them performance ready, capable of creating maximum out of the minimum’, says Saji in his proposal. Interestingly, the poet Kadamanitta too would use musical and theatrical elements during his poetry reading/reciting sessions. This kind of a multidimensional performance sensibility is also something that has unfolded in Saji’s own artistic journey; and through his associations with actors and visual artists, he now finds himself exploring other modes of creative expression such as painting, mask making, song writing and acting. The performance, therefore, will now be one that blends all these elements, rather than a solely musical one that Saji had initially envisaged.
In preparation for the performance, Saji and his team comprising of musicians, actors and visual artists will take additional training in rhythms from a Mizhavu exponent in Thrissur. They will also go through a mask making workshop and intensive physical training with a Padayani master. In terms of content, five of Kadamanitta’s poems have been chosen for composition. Additionally, new songs that respond to Kadamanitta’s poems are also being composed. The music will draw upon Padayani’s melodic and rhythmic movements alongside Saji’s influences in Reggae and Rock. In terms of visual elements, all properties for the performance will be created using organic materials in the manner in which Padayani properties are created. Visual projections and percussion installations will be part of the performance design.
The performance is scheduled to premiere at the amphitheatre in Kadamanitta town in February 2015. Since this is the heartland of Padayani and the birthplace of the poet, Saji feels that it would be an appropriate venue for the first show. Along with this, Saji is also exploring other venues across Kerala for subsequent shows.