In the drawing room of V. Ajithkumar’s residence in Kottayam, the first object that catches one’s attention would be the lifelike statuette of a Kathakali character erected at one corner. It is Krishnan, a figurine that people love exhibiting at homes. “Once it was Arjunan. Then people started asking for Krishnan. Rarely do I get orders for kathi veshams,” says the artist, who started making Kathakali figurines in 2003.
But his love for Kathakali began at a very young age. The art form carved a niche in his mind during his childhood days. “I used to go for Kathakali performances with my grandfather. I started liking it gradually,” he recalls those days. So, the features of each character are embedded in his mind.
Though Ajith, who has a background in automobile engineering, spent 10 years abroad for work, Kathakali didn’t leave him. Soon he returned home, settled down in Kottayam and started working in a private firm here. Then he started his own business. The idea of Kathakali statues struck him then. “Once I bought a Kathakali face statue from outside, but its features weren’t correct. I modified it. That was the beginning,” he says.
From face, he graduated to doing the full-size statues over time. His first full-size work was of Arjunan. “I put it in my home. Pallam Chandran, the then secretary of Kottayam Kaliyarangu (Kathakali lovers’ club), visited my home one day. He liked it and asked me to display it in the club. It fetched me orders,” says Ajith.
His clientele grew through word of mouth. Prominent figures like Kalamandalam Gopi and Kalamandalam Hyderali became his customers. He began to receive orders from abroad. “I usually do 4 ft size statues. I have done a few life-size ones on request,” says Ajith. “My work wasn’t so perfect in the beginning. Suggestions from Gopi asan and all have helped me improve my style.”
Now Ajith has stopped his automobile business. He spends his whole time making these. “One statue would take at least 10 days to complete. So, I take only two orders a month,” he says.
He makes the figurines, which can be dismantled into four pieces, using materials such as m-seal, synthetic cotton and pvc pipe. His automobile background has contributed a lot to the making of these figurines. “I first used Plaster of Paris, but it wasn’t durable. Then, I zeroed in on m-seal. The statues are not so heavy, so it is easy to carry these abroad,” he explains.
Making it is a herculean task. “It differs according to the character. Only the ornaments remain the same. Everything else — drawings on face, dress and the crown — changes.” He never compromises on quality. “I purchase the same fabric that Kathakali artistes use. I want to give the best to people,” he concludes.