Like his stature as a performer nonpareil, Kalamandalam Gopi has undergone almost all tribulations of a lifetime. Destiny did test him and his mettle through a variety of crude experiments. He was born in a poor family. He could not complete even lower primary schooling as he was asked to undergo training in Ottanthullal, which lasted just a year. In early stages of his artistic life, frustration compelled him to attempt suicide - timely hospitalisation by his guru, Kalamandalam Padmanabhan Nair, saved him. There were attempts to initiate a police case against him by the then Kalamandalam administrator for "suicide attempt" and to facilitate it, to move him to a government hospital. But on knowing this, the private doctor treating him refused to discharge him and report him to the police.
He was the most inspiring performer of the youth of the 1970s-1980s and the numero uno since 1990. The influence of some of his mad fans put him in serious danger several times; at some point even upsetting his family. He even lost his best friends but patched up with them later. Alcohol shattered his performance and personality but he regained his composure too soon. He was even served liquor laced with poison but luckily escaped. Many a time his health was at risk. He underwent prolonged treatment, including surgeries for tumour in the stomach and a broken disk in 1991. For a few months he was propped up by a walking stick, perhaps the most traumatic time for him and family. Many tried to "to write me off from Kathakali stage." Very few among his vast fans and friends turned to him in moments of anguish.
Later during convalescence he said "my hospitalisation taught me a lesson on discipline in life. It showed me who my true friends are." At age 57, he was forced to leave the dream house he had built with his entire savings. One morning, he and family became penniless and shelter-less. For a couple of years, a friend, Kapra Namboothiri, provided him with temporary accommodation in a part his old ancestral home. Very few called on him those days. He bounced back, winning back his reputation with the support of his family and a few close friends. He bought a decent house not very far from the temporary shelter (this writer accompanied him on way to the deal) and renamed it, 'Gurukripa'. He attributes his accomplishments to Lord Guruvayurappan and his guru.
A highly sensitive Gopi relates many of these poignant tales with some of the characters he had essayed, such as Dharmaputhrar of Kirmeeravadham, Nala in Nalacharitam Randamdivasam and Karna in Karnasapatam), making him Kathakali's one and only Gopi Asan. As a Kathakali actor his plus points: Ideal height, skin-tone superb for Kathakali facial (manayolappattu), in-born rhythmic sense, cute nose like the parrot's beak, highly expressive and resonating large eyes, training under none other than the late Kalamandalam Padmanabhan Nair in the first three years at Kerala Kalamandalam, stage experience through the then minor set of the Kalamandalam and on-stage improvising; plus his uncompromised emphasis on quality of fellow actors and accompanists.
(The writer is the author of critically acclaimed Kathakali Dance-Theatre: A Visual Narrative of Sacred Indian Mime)...