As the live video opens on Facebook, the singer couple is seen greeting the viewers with a namaste. After they exchange pleasantries, the playlist unfolds. The soulful singing of Kathakali padams begins. The live greetings swell in no time. There are many requests for popular pieces. The chemistry between the couple keeps the viewers hooked to the session.
COVID-19 crisis has unlocked a hitherto undiscovered territory for the artistes — live streaming the performance from the comfort of their homes. Kathakali singers are among the first to grab the slot, thanks to the push by the fan pages. The initial attempts were a few impromptu performances. But the domain soon became enduring and popular.
The reasons are many. Devoid of the usual frills or even the accompaniments, home streaming concerts offer a new experience. Tune in the sruti box and take the chengila (gong), the singer is show ready. Being routed in the Sopana style which is typically sung to the basic accompaniments, this arrangement does not clash with Kathakali padams. In the social distance scenario you can’t expect more either. The frame, usually the home confines, presents the singers in a different light. They are casual and engage with the audience in a way live concerts don’t allow. Says one enthusiast, “With live stage shows hanging in the balance, this may be the best bet. There are many recorded (Kathakali) padams available. But I find this more lively and interactive.”
Kathakali addicts are divided lot, so to say. For some the actor is supreme and the musicians are secondary, whereas for others it is the other way round. The blend of Sopana style and Carnatic tradition have made Kathakali music a unique genre. It gradually evolved into a tradition that could hold on its own. Although on the stage, the vocalists rendered the padams in a supportive role, boosting the play act, they invented other avenues, say Kathakali pada kacheris, to entertain their exclusive fan base. Many of the veterans might not be well-versed with the grammar of Carnatic music. But the present breed of singers is fine tuned to the whole set of nuances.
Home streaming perhaps has signalled the dawning of a new era in singing of Kathakali padams. This also provides an opportunity for the fans to bond with the singers. One only wishes that the trend continues even during normal circumstances.