Clad in a black T-shirt and leggings, a fashionable young student perches atop a wooden stool, trying to emote once more a challenging scene from a theatrical tradition whose history stretches back 1500 years. It’s a famed episode from Koodiyattam, where the actor, as Ravana during a flashback, alternates between the roles of Shiva and Parvati. While the narrator is indeed the Lankan king of the Ramayana, here he has to move and freeze into the poses of both the Lord of Kailasa and his consort. A sequence of evolutions from the masculine profile to the feminine to the masculine once again.
By the time Yashaswini R. is through with her 15-minute slice of the mime, dotted with slow and detailed mudras to the beats and rolls on the mizhavu drum, tears trickle down her cheeks. It is not that the student is overcome with emotion; it’s because she has given enormous thrust to her eye muscles—something she seldom does as a student at the National School of Drama (NSD). Her master has vital advice for the pupil facing the lit lamp that is her cornerstone. “Your body should only shiver in anger. It shouldn’t jerk,” points out septuagenarian Venu G. “For that, regulate your breath.” The girl, from Karnataka, smiles and nods in agreement.