Kavalam Narayana Panicker, the doyen of Indian theatre who died at the age of 88 at Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala on June 27, struck an emotional chord with Bhopal.
Panicker visited the city frequently, and trained many theatre artists, directors and budding actors.
The Madhya Pradesh government honoured Panicker with Kalidas Samman for his contribution to theatre in the state whose artists and authors remembered their association with him.
‘Working with him was like living a dream’
Udayan Vajpeyi, an eminent poet and fiction writer and Panicker’s friend, says, “When I went to Thiruvananthpuram in September 2013 to write a play based on three works of Kalidasa with Panicker Ji, he put me in a guest house close to his residence. We would sit there all the day and imagine the sounds and images of the play. While I would write the play in Hindi, he would render it into in Malayalam. So, a play Sangmaniyam, written in Hindi and Malayalam, was born – something that has never happened in the history of playwriting.”
Vajpeyi further says, “A hard task master that he was, he made his collaborators work equally hard. Working with him was like living a dream. He was definitely the greatest theatre director that India produced after independence. His theatre was grounded in civilisational ethos of India. He made almost frozen theatre traditions flow beautifully on the stage.”
‘He was very simple and down-to-earth’
A Bhopal-based art critic Vinay Upadhyay says, “Panicker will be remembered for bringing the classical and folk traditions together and putting them in a contemporary manner. He was very simple and down-to-earth who never left his roots. While directors in green-room remained serious, Panicker was jovial. The artists of the state are shocked at the demise of Panicker.”
‘Panicker was a living heritage of the Indian civilisation’
Renowned writer and Sanskrit scholar Sangeeta Gundecha who has authored two books on Panicker says, “He was a living heritage of the Indian civilisation. Besides being a theatre expert and poet, he was also well-versed in Kerala’s folk and traditional arts like Thayyam, Modiyettu, Kudiyattam and Mohiniattam. He also composed music for Mohiniattam. Despite being ill for the past eight months, he was working on a Sanskrit play ‘Shakuntal’, a Malayalam translation of Shreemad Bhagwad and his autobiography.”
Swastika Chakraborty, a theatre actor of Bhopal, who had an opportunity to work with Panicker at a workshop of the National School of Drama in Delhi, says, “He was like a father-figure to me. Besides his love for art and culture, his love for nature was another thing that inspired me a lot. His love for animals and plants knew no bounds.”
‘He brought a revolution in Sanskrit theatre’
Hemant Deolekar, musicologist and researcher in MP’s folk and tribal music, says, “Music was an important element in his theatre. I attended a workshop, organised by Sangeet Natak Academy in 2008 in Delhi, where he trained me. He used to say, music is the foundation of any play. No one in the country has ever composed Sanskrit shlokas and used them in a play. He brought a revolution in Sanskrit theatre. I see a whole era of theatre gone with him.”