Kathakali maestro, FACT Padmanabhan turns seventy


It is birthday number seventy for Padmanabha Pillai, the maestro of the contemporary world of Kathakali. Popularly known as FACT Padmanabhan since his close ties with the FACT Kathakali troupe, his Kathakali credentials quite much link to the heroics of the troupe.

Kathakali was for Thiruvalla born Padmanabhan, an escape from the rough facets of real life as his childhood passed unceremoniously watching his father, a casual labourer, battling his way to keep the family going. Nevertheless, the liking for Kathakali of Narayana Pilla, the father of Padmanabhan literally became instrumental in paving way for his youngest son to walk on to the stage illuminated by traditional brass lamps.

Chengannur Raman Pillai and Madhavan Pillai were the gurus under who Padmanabhan was put by his father for the first time. Later his was placed under Moncombu Sivashankara Pillai. There he learned the basics of the Kapplingad school of Kathakali or the Thekkan Chitta (Southern Style). Soon Padmanabhan was covetously sharing stage with his legendary teacher Guru Chengannur; the sojourn went on involving a number of legends as well right up to Kalamandalam Krishnan Nair.

It was FACT troupe that gave Padmanabhan sort of an elevated identity in the world of arts. The first presentation of the troupe was in 1970 as part of the historic Edinburgh Festival. Packed crowds there curiously watched the troupe performing Mahabharatha and Ramayana for the next few days. For Padmanabhan, it was a massive step in his quest to emerge as one of the best Kathakali actors history has ever produced.       

Padmanabhan said on the occasion that the audience of the present day never looked upon Kathakali as a complete art form; instead they quite much prefered particular actor or singer as their favourite. According to him, the audience today had a tendency to forget the supporting actors as they ought to realise that no Nala would be complete without Damayanthi.