A Kathakali dance-drama with a predominance of percussion and very little music does not sound interesting until you see a play like ‘Raajasuyam,’ presented by actor-dancers of the calibre of Sadanam Krishnankutty (Sishupala) and Kottakal Devadas (Jarasandha). It was part of Kalakshetra’s Bhava Bhavanam Bhavashabalima festival ‘Raajasuyam’ written by Eleedathu Namboodiripad, was staged in the Vadakkan (Northern) style that presents Jarasandha with the red beard- chuvanna thadi, a cruel demonic character, and Sishupala as kathi, a villainous male, the Southern style using inverse characterisations. The play includes two episodes, connected yet independent- that of Jarasandha being tricked and eventually killed, by Krishna, Bhima and Arjuna disguised as brahmins, and the killing of Sishupala, whose uncontrolled anger at Krishna at Yudhishtira’s Raajasuyam yagna left Him with no choice. Padams were few and far between, though what was heard was sublime (vocal and gongs - Kottakal Madhu, Sadanam Jothish Babu). It was left to the dancer-actors and the keenly involved percussionists (chenda - Kottakal Prasad and Kalamandalam Venumohan, maddalam - Kottakal Ravi and Kalamandalam Hariharan) to communicate the storyline. The dance-drama had a broad outline filled with anecdotes, so the emphasis was on manodharma acting. Kalakshetra’s practice of displaying programme notes on audio-visual screens alongside the performance, was helpful. Jarasandha was presented in a traditional ‘Thiranokku’ to frenzied drumming and blood-curling cries. He describes circumstances of his birth, born as two halves, the result of a boon gone wrong. His father throws the two lifeless halves in the forest where Jara, an ageing demoness, finds them and happens to hold them together. The halves fuse and turn into a living child. Devadas’ acting was delightfully clear and realistic. As the demoness, he is puzzled with the strange find and looks for the other half. Having found it, he licks them both and accidentally holds them together. The child comes to life with a cry, startling Jara, who is at a loss not knowing how to handle it. Conversation with the brahmin visitors added a sense of the comic. Jarasandha watches their unconventional approach and is suspicious. He describes them with a lack of reverence - puny (Krishna), big made (Bheema) and a smiling countenance (Arjuna), questioning their identity and purpose. The brahmins egg him on, poker-faced. They say they have met him at Draupadi’s swayamvara, when Jarasandha broke his tooth in his unsuccessful attempt to string the bow. Jarasandha is full of indignation as he lies that he chose to walk away from Draupadi, throwing the bow he was to string, after seeing her ugly face. The broken tooth, he glibly attributes to a fall on a rocky path. The bravado continues until the brahmins ask for a boon. Jarasandha becomes agitated, recalling the dwarf Brahmin Vamana, and dramatically enacting the way Vamana assumes the Viswaroopa form to cover the earth and the sky. When asked to fight anyone of the visitors, he physically sizes them up and chooses Bhima in his arrogance, saying that he alone looks capable to taking his first blow. The brahmins reveal their true identity and Jarasandha is killed after a fight. The next anti-hero was Sishupala, a Krishna-hater. Septuagenarian Krishnankutty Asan as Sishupala has a powerful presence and a remarkable acting technique. Apart from the effortless pakarnattam (where he donned multiple roles at the same time), he has remarkable control over facial muscles that emphasise extreme agitation or excitement. Sishupala receives an invitation; he pulls it out, unties it and reads the scroll. This was the attention to detail Krishnankutty Asan displayed. He accepts the invitation for Yudhishtira’s Raajasuya yagna and herein lies the story. In a theatrical technique that was simple yet ingenuous, Sishupala stands on a stool behind a curtain to show his journeying to Indraprastha. In the forefront on stage providing the context was the yagna scene. Sishupala could be seen only chest upwards, from where he greeted people on the way. His gaze was so telling of the situation. All of it was manodharma- the gloating, smug expression, the greeting and lording over others on the way, the swagger in the walk, the depiction of the fire in the yagna, et al. He reaches the yagnashala and sees Krishna being honoured. His arrogant swagger turns to anger and how... With cheek muscles and eyes twitching, one could see the anger building up, almost in a physical sense. The reaction is long drawn out, and ends in an outburst, shouting at the Pandavas and others, accompanied by furious percussion and the clanging of gongs. Sishupala begins to rant against Krishna- here begins the pakarnattam, in which Krishna leelas are enacted – from the Poothana killing to his mischief with the gopis; they were enacted with such relish that for about 25 minutes, no one remembered Sishupala’s anger behind these enactments. Sishupala suddenly comes back to the present with a roar of anger, pointing an accusatory finger at Krishna. Arjuna (Sadanam Krishnadas) rises to defend Krishna, a fight ensues, and Krishna kills Sishupala with the Sudarshana chakra. As Sishupala is dying, he remembers himself as a bhakta and dies with Krishna’s name on his lips. Even this small detail was clearly brought out by Krishnankutty Asan.