G Venu’s latest book ‘Arangilum, Munnilum Pinnilum’ is a deep exploration of the abhinaya guru’s artistic and instructional journey.

Arangilum Munnilum Pinnilum (Before, Behind and On Stage) is the latest addition to the oeuvre of G Venu’s works. The book provides a vignette of the odyssey of Venu through 65 years of his varied roles as an actor, researcher, choreographer, impresario, guru, writer and patron of arts. As for the art forms, the gamut is eclectic — folk, ritualistic and classical. Interestingly, what makes it more praiseworthy is that it delves deep into varied art forms of the country and also into a cross-section of vintage forms still in vogue across the world.

At the beginning of the book, the reader can find a village boy born in Pappanamkode near Thiruvananthapuram watching with amazement numerous nomadic folklore troupes such as ‘Hanuman Pandaram’ and ‘Kakkarassi natakam’ passing by his home. Admittedly, they served to kindle his urge for knowing more about them which turned into a significant sphere of his activity during later years.

But his initial training was in Kathakali thanks to the wishes of his father Chittoor Gopalan Nair and he had the privilege of being groomed by the veterans of those days like Guru Chengannur Raman Pillai and the renowned celebrity Guru Gopinath. Venu waxes eloquent while describing the days he spent under Gopinath, and for the same reason the account of the life and achievements of the illustrious artiste is exhaustive. He minces no words to point out the raw deal meted out to the dance form Kerala Natanam, an enchanting creation of Gopinath, as it was introduced in the youth festivals of Kerala.

Further, Venu bemoans how the powers-that-be failed to honour Thankamani, Gopinath’s spouse and the first Mohiniyattam student of Kerala Kalamandalam. In this connection, he comes down heavily on the office bearers of the cultural institutions of the government for their ignorance and indifference to the artist fraternity in general.

G venu

True, training in Kathakali moulded the actor in him and helped him get coveted stints in institutions like Kalaparishat of Madhya Pradesh government and School of Drama of the Calicut University and also to perform on international stages.

But as different from other artists, his interest took a novel path of notating the mudras – hitherto not attempted by anyone in the whole country. Painstaking efforts that began during the early years of his training won encomiums from all quarters. His name appeared on the list of 55 dance notators of the world. Notations for Mohiniyattam and Koodiyattam later appeared in books that won him laurels from the state Akademis as well.

Training under Ammannur

A path-breaking turn in his life was the decision to follow the Koodiyattam celebrity Guru Ammannur Madhava Chakyar like a shadow until his death, after watching his performance at Sree Vadakkunnathan Temple in Thrissur. The passion was such that Venu resigned his job in the School of Drama and shifted to Irinjalakuda. When Guru Chakyar accepted him as a disciple, that decision was historic as the orthodox Ammannur family decided to train a non-Chakyar in Koodiyattam.

Book details:
Arangilum Munnilum Pinnilum
By Venu G
Mathrubhumi Books
Rs 650

Needless to mention, later years proved how far his decision had benefitted Guru Chakyar, Ammannur Gurukulam, Koodiyattam and himself. Perhaps what had served for the popularity of Koodiyattam at the international level was Venu’s choreography of Kalidasa’s Abhinjanasakuntalam towards which the Chakyar community had an attitude of apartheid. But the acclaim the play had won in all countries across the world catapulted both Koodiyattam and Venu to the international stage.

Soon followed Kalidasa’s Vikramorvaseeyam. And further, when an annual festival of Kalidasa’s plays at Natanakairali appeared in the calendar of its variegated programmes, it marked a milestone in the history of Koodiyattam. Chapters on ‘the efforts for the revival of Nangiarkooth’, ‘a fitting reply to the criticism of Koodiyattam by the author of Natankusam’, ‘Koodiyattam beyond religious rituals’ etc. are proof enough of Venu’s perseverance for the promotion of the age-old Sanskrit theatre.

G venu

Further, his choreographies of Nangiarkooth viz. Soundaryalahari, Narasimhavatharam, Koormavatharam, Sitaparithyagam and Parvathiviraham have helped considerably in the popularization of this art form exclusive to women. It is evident from the book that Venu’s mission was to popularize the hoary tradition of the esoteric acting techniques of Kerala to the entire world.

Towards this, his strong footing in the various genres of art forms had been an advantage. Innumerable workshops of Kakkarassi Natakam of the tribals and all the forms of puppet theatre, of the World Theatre Projects and UNIMA (Union of International Marionettes Association) are worth mentioning in this connection. Interaction with surviving exponents of the Japanese theatre forms and a comparative study of Koodiyattam and Noah, Kathakali and Kabuki, visit of the stalwart of Beijing Opera of China – all these and more have been unprecedented in the annals of the cultural history of the country.

An all-encompassing guide to Kerala arts

The book is also a compendium of all art forms of Kerala. Mudiyettu, the precursor of Kathakali, has been dealt with in detail. That a description of Kummattikkali appears along with the study of masks in art forms like Krishnanattam and even in the Japanese theatre of Noah speaks for the importance he attributes to art forms irrespective of their genres. Incidentally, Krishnanattam had its first tour abroad under his leadership.

A separate chapter has been devoted to paying tributes to the cultural celebrities of the globe who had been instrumental in guiding him in his long journey. And the list is commendably long. ‘Navarasa sadhana’, the ingenious technique of teaching abhinaya for artists of all hues is the end product of his experiences of teaching at the National School of Drama, Delhi and Inter-Cultural Theatre Institute of Singapore and also what his Guru had gained from the training in Kodungallur palace.

What makes it noteworthy is that it is anchored both on the traditional and contemporary methods. Over the past few years, artists of all hues have vouched for the benefit of undergoing this unique system. That Navarasa sadhana continues unabatedly is an index of its incomparable efficacy.

Though lengthy, insightful is the forward by Vinod Gopalakrishnan, son of the dancer couple Guru Gopalakrishnan and Kusumam Gopalakrishnan. The book features photographs that amply support the content. ‘Arangilum, Munnilum Pinnilum’ is a treasure for researchers, art students and connoisseurs.

Venu stands out among the cultural protagonists of the country for having donned different roles not only on the stage but behind and in front of it. The title is very much the epitome of this aspect.


GS Paul is an eminent art columnist and critic. He has been writing for national dailies such as The Hindu for more than three decades. Currently, he is the Editorial Advisor of India Art Review.

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