‘He only has to think of an emotion and it envelops him,’ is what they say within the Kathakali community about Padma Shri Kalamandalam Gopi. An artist who manages to elevate any vesham from ordinary to exalted, the living legend celebrated his 80th birthday on May 21. From June 1 to June 4, artists cutting across various fields will converge to celebrate Gopi asan’s 80th birthday through a programme called Haritham which will be held at the Regional Theatre, Thrissur.
We caught up with the legendary performer over the phone and he let on that the extended birthday celebration was not his idea at all. “Oh no no, it was not my plan. In fact, I told the organisers that I do not want such a celebration.” He laughs and adds, “My greatest wish has been to retain all this love that I am getting from everyone. When such a huge celebration was planned, my biggest concern was that I may accidently leave out someone. So the intention behind extending the celebration to four days was to ensure that no one misses out on it.”
He informs that he agreed so as not to disappoint or pour cold water on the enthusiasm of the organisers, Korambathu Gopinathan, Ajayan Abu Dhabi and Rajeev Menon. “They insisted that my 80th birthday celebration should be grand. They are doing all this for me and so I could not say ‘no’. I will perform on the first day. I had, however, expressed my desire to the organisers to include as many Kathakali performances and artistes as possible from across the state.” Has age ever been a hindrance to performing? “I wouldn’t say so. Mentally, I am extremely active. I do have some slight trouble with my knee and experience some pain there.m also performing on the first day.
“I also do get tired quite fast, but I try not to let my audience know about it. Obviously, the body is not moving as it used to. But my mind is still young, at least I would like to believe it is,” he laughs out aloud. Despite his advanced age, Gopi Asan is still the most sought after actor when it comes to portraying young romantic ‘pacha’ characters on stage. “I don’t choose these characters myself. It is always the organisers who come with a request for a certain character.” He gives a hint or two about how he gets into the groove of these ‘pacha’ characters: “When we take ‘Nalan’ for instance, the character on day one is different from that of day two. In order to put forth a seamless performance of that particular character,
“I must bring myself down to that age and that is possible only if my mind transforms. It is only then that aficionados can enjoy it to the fullest.” So far, he has not received complaints about any character that he was brought to life, he says, with typical understatement. “I hope it was not just flattery,” he laughs. “But when you hear those compliments after a performance, you feel content. The audience has the power to make or mar an artist. “And I believe that the energy that emanates from the audience keeps me going. I believe this is why I am able to perform such characters. Above all, I also believe the artists must have the Guruthwam (guru’s blessings, Deivatheenam (Divine blessing) and luck. I guess I have one or two percent of all those.
Which vesham did he find the most difficult to enact? “I would say the Kathi characters. I have not done too many. Since I am used to handling Pacha vesham, I am always confident while doing those. But when it comes to Kathi, no matter how easy it might be, I am always anxious.” Reminiscing about his performances abroad, he says, “France has the best audience. They watch it with so much love and respect. Even if it is an overnight performance, they sit through the entire performance.”...