Redefining the feminine in Kathakali: A Case Study of Asti

Madhavan, Arya (2019) Redefining the feminine in Kathakali: A Case Study of Asti. New Theatre Quarterly, 35 (2). pp. 169-186. ISSN 0266-464X

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This essay focuses on analysing the patriarchal nature of Kathakali, a dramatic performance form from the south Indian state of Kerala and the ways in which the female protagonist, Asti, from a new Kathakali play written by a male playwright, unsettles it. I would argue that Asti is an aberration from the long practiced patriarchal gender construct of the female employed by the performance in question. It is important to consider the character of Asti and study her place in the history of Kathakali because it’s political perspective on women remain somewhat unchanged through its four centuries of existence and development. Any gender specific research on Kathakali is scanty till date and scholars such as Phillip Zarrilli or Eugenio Barba focus on its performer training method. Given the fact that female characters or indeed female performers are limited in Kathakali, it is not altogether difficult to understand why such few research materials is produced on the subject.

This study will examine why women characters in Kathakali occupy such inferior position and its reasons will be examined first, through the socio-cultural lens of Kerala where Kathakali emerges from and second, by enquiring the feminine in minukku, the term used to denote generic female roles in Kathakali, and why it is limited in scope to accommodate a wider range of female characters. In the same vein, the essay will also briefly overview the patriarchal nature of Kathakali performances. The third section on Asti will, then, discuss why she is not a typical minukku and the reasons for having to reinvent her entry, her characterisation and finally, her costume. The cultural landscape and social practices of Kerala are crucially linked to the performances in Kerala, such as Kathakali and the socio-cultural perspectives on women are well-reflected in the performance. One such aspect is the social perspective on the female characteristics that class a woman as either ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Strikingly similar is the distinction between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ in Kathakali. Kathakali plays and performance structures, I would argue, author the feminine of Kathakali by encapsulating the Kerala social norms in the form of minukku. The tripartite structure of this essay will, therefore, situate Asti outside the long patriarchal narrative of Kathakali. No critical feminist reading of any new Kathakali plays has so far been undertaken and this essay studies Kathakali’s slowly changing gender norms for the first time.

Keywords:Patriarchy, Women in Kathakali, Indian theatre, Gender
Subjects:W Creative Arts and Design > W440 Theatre studies
W Creative Arts and Design > W400 Drama
L Social studies > L320 Gender studies
Divisions:College of Arts > School of Fine & Performing Arts > School of Fine & Performing Arts (Fine Arts)
ID Code:35160
Deposited On:08 Apr 2019 14:37

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