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"At the Kattaikkuttu Gurukulam in Kanchipuram, young actors, who had once been disenfranchised children, are taught and trained in the art of Kattaikkuttu, a traditional, resurgent and popular folk-theatre form of Tamil Nadu. This complex, rural, theatre form involves the use of voice, body and mind. It requires the performer to build a character through songs, dialogue, movement and facial expression, and maintain this character throughout an all-night eight-hour performance.
The Kattaikkuttu Gurukulam follows the guru-shishya system of transmission, and provides professional training in acting and music to children and young people between the ages of six and 18. In view of the complexity of the form, particularly for younger children, the Gurukulam’s training takes into account the age and interest of the students and evolves progressively from play to serious acting. The principal Vattiyar (Guru) of the Gurukulam, P Rajagopal, has been a professional Kattaikkuttu actor for 40 years. He is a director, author of seven plays, an innovative teacher, and a strong advocate of introducing Kattaikkuttu training and performances to girls.
During my visits there, I observed how these young children put in hours of rigorous training, for months on end, to perfect their craft. My visits there, and witnessing the process of training and rigorous rehearsals that eventually manifest in actual performance, have been lessons in humility and perseverance, especially when one remembers that these young actors were once disenfranchised children.
My work usually involves covering events for their news value, but photographing the Kattaikkuttu required a totally different frame of mind, especially the all-night ones, where one often has to wait for that intense point of heightened emotional involvement from the actors. In my photography, I have tried to focus on their struggles, the blood and sweat that have gone into perfecting themselves as artistes. Capturing the essence of their performances required much patience and keen observation. My work is not about capturing their deprivation; it is about celebrating their victories."
Myriad Faces: Transforming and empowering young actors of Kattaikkuttu, a folk-theatre of Tamil Nadu, will be presented by the Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Indian Cultural Centre in association with Sutra Foundation, Kuala Lumpur at the Sutra Gallery, on June 9, 2017. The exhibition will be inaugurated by Sri HETS Tirumurti, High Commissioner of India to Malaysia
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