Karalkada Shines Light On Folk Art Forms Of Kerala Via Its New Ad | TGA

Karalkada’s New Theatrical Ad Shines A Light On Folk Art Forms Of Kerala That Are On The Verge Of Extinction

Karalkada ad

In times when most of us are oblivious about various folk art forms of India, Karalkada, a company that deals in handwoven fabrics have something remarkable to share.

The new theatrical ad film by Karalkada talks about various art forms in Kerala that are on the brink of extinction.

The ad film shines a light on a few handpicked folk art forms like Arjuna Nritham, Tholpaavakoothu, and Poothanum Thirayum.

We catch up with Sharmila Nair, the producer and creative force behind DocArt Productions, who tells us more about how and this theatrical film was made, and more.

How did Karalkada’s Theatrical Advertisement come about? Could you take us through the whole idea and how did you arrive at the central theme?  

We at DocArt Productions had already done one print campaign for Karalkada six months ago. That campaign was about their Kasavu fabrics remaining the same despite the change. For this, we brought in two ideas. One was the picture of an old woman sitting on a chair chatting on an iPad wearing Bluetooth headphones, and the caption read “Kaalam maarum pakshe, Kasavu maarilla,” which literally translates to “Times may change, but Kasavu won’t.”

The second one was a picture of a transgender woman standing with her boyfriend and the caption went like “Gender has many colours, but Kasavu has only one.”

After the success of these print campaigns, Karalkada wanted us to make a video Ad for movie halls and television. This time we offered them another strategy—an Ad film that talked about conserving the culture and heritage of Kerala. Since Karalkada has a long lineage of preserving and promoting the handlooms we thought something like this would be perfect.

The basic idea was to focus on the endangered ritualistic folk art forms and practices in Kerala. After vigorous research, we found out that Kerala has hundreds of folk art forms and practices spread across all religions, tribes, and castes out of which a few have already become extinct.

Amongst these hundreds of folk art forms choosing what we need was the toughest task. All folk art forms have its own history, importance, beauty, and cultural role and we couldn’t side with any particular art form as everything interested us.

But we finally zeroed in onto three ritualistic folk art forms looking at the practicality, ergonomics and the visual appeal like Arjuna Nritham, Tholpaavakoothu, and Poothanum Thirayum to bring out the essence of cultural tradition.

KaralkadaWhat is the common thread between Karalkada and these art forms? How did you figure that something like performance art would fit seamlessly with a sari brand?

Karalkada, a clothing brand specialised in handloom cotton especially Kasavu fabrics was established in the 1800s. They have their showroom dating over 100 years old in Kaithamukku Junction, Thiruvananthapuram. Since then, they have been an active participant in the preservation of a dying art form like handloom.

They have created a cultural lineage closely working with the handloom weavers who use pit looms (Kuzhithari) to bring out exquisite Kasavu sarees, Kasavu Mundu, and Mundum Neriyathum.

Their history was our greatest motivation to work on a subject like this. We felt that these ritualistic folk art forms would bring out the essence of cultural tradition which Karalkada stands for. The art forms that are portrayed in the ad film are also endangered and marginalised like the surviving pit looms in Southern Kerala.

The ad of Karalkada showcases few handpicked folk art forms like Arjuna Nritham, Tholpaavakoothu, and Poothanum Thirayum. For people who are unaware, could you tell us a little about the relevance of these art forms in the culture of Kerala?

Arjuna Nritham: a ritualistic folk art form practised in the Devi temples in Kottayam and Alappuzha districts. It is also known as ‘Mayilpeelithookkam.’ According to scholars, this is an art form that has emerged from the mix of Arya-Dravida culture.

It is related to the myth of Arjuna where Kunti promised that Arjuna will perform a dance before Bhadrakali after the War of Kurukshetra.

Chenda, Maddalam, and Ilathaalam are used as the percussion instruments along with songs that are being sung in the performance. The songs in Arjuna Nritham are called ‘Kavittham’.

Artists belonging to the Ezhava and Vilkurup community perform this. Arjuna Nritham is an endangered art form with only a handful of people performing it.

One of the exponents performing Arjuna Nritham in our video is Kurichi Natesan.

Karalkada adTholpaavakoothu dates back to the Sangam era. After many invasions and changes across the centuries, puppetry has evolved into many forms spread across our country out of which Tholpaavakoothu (Shadow Puppetry) is practised nowadays in Devi temples in the districts of Palakkad and Malappuram.

The puppets used in this shadow play that mostly narrates stories from Ramayana are made from leather, hence the name Tholpaavakoothu.

Artists from the Shaiva Vellalar community are in prominence amongst the practising group of this endangered art form.

The play is performed overnight mostly in Koothumadom where a white cloth is stretched with the other three portions covered with a black cloth. Behind the white cloth (on a stand) several burning lamps are placed and the puppets are held between the lamps and the white screen to form the shadow.

With songs and narration from ‘Kamba Ramayanam’, the artists move the puppets to narrate the story. The artists who perform this are generally given the title ‘Pulavar’ out of respect which they prefix to their names.

Poothanum Thirayum is a ritualistic art form practised in the Kaavu and Bhagavathy temples by the Peruvannan community in the districts of Palakkad and Malappuram. Another strong belief is related to ‘Kaali Seva’.

This is an acrobatic art form with the performers having trained under Kalari school and perform various acrobatic steps like Chilambattam, Therupparakkal, Kuthirachattam, Muthalachattam, and Vettimalakkam to name a few.

Thira denotes Devi and Poothan denote the Bhootgana of Siva who plays the role of an escort to Devi. Poothan and Thira have different attires, jewellery, and makeup.

The ‘Mudi’ (headgear) of Thira has a hemispherical shape and is made out of ‘Varikkaplavu’ (Jackfruit tree). In the middle of the Mudi there is a carving of Mahalekshmi and on the posterior side, there is a ‘Vyaalimukham’ (dragon face).

Poothan wears a mask which is made of light wood and is very colourful with a tongue sticking out. Poothan is adorned with a lot of jewellery like Karivala, Tholvala, Maarthaali and Arathaali to name a few.

Before the performance, there are other rituals associated with this art form. The festive season is announced by the Poothan. The ritualistic art form starts when Poothan visits various houses and accepts whatever the household members give them as offerings like rice and grains, clothes, coconuts, and more. For Poothan ‘Thudi’ is used as the percussion instrument while for Thira ‘Para’ is used.

Did any of these art forms intrigue you as a kid or when you were younger? Do you have any memories of catching any of them?

My association with these art forms are not very direct as I don’t have any memories from my childhood or so. I have been associated with handloom clothing and handloom weavers. Having worked with handloom weavers for a long time, I have understood how difficult it is to protect these looms and their weaving traditions.

It is in this eye that I look at the endangered ritualistic art forms and their practices as both shares the same stories of struggle and survival.

There is a lot of effort that has to be put from these artists as well as the governments to keep these art forms alive and kicking. The handlooms and these ritualistic folk art forms need our help because some of them are on the verge of extinction.

KaralkadaWhat is the purpose of the ad by Karalkada, and how is it important in current times? 

We at DocArt believe that culture is plural and doesn’t have one single source or narrative. Kerala has hundreds of folk art forms and practices spread across all religions, tribes, and castes out of which a few have already gone extinct.

When a client like Karalkada co-operated with our idea of making an Ad film which didn’t reveal their product directly, but talked about portraying the folk art forms of Kerala, we were delighted to make this Ad film.

We have only taken three art forms. Likewise, there are many art forms spread across different religions, sects, castes, and tribes which need immediate attention from the part of the society and government.

In times when culture and history are being homogenised by giving it one single narrative, we wish this could reach hundreds and they would reflect upon the nature of plurality and merging of different cultures in the past that has made our culture so multiverse.

How is the Indian government helping to restore these age-old forms of art?  

While talking with the artists we came to know that there are certain schemes from the Government that is helping the artists survive. Some of them are organising festivals that promote shows.

But more shows need to take place for these artists to survive as most of them depend on other jobs like construction work and welding to make their ends meet. We feel that if these artists would be engaged in more cultural spaces where they could perform their art form, then it would give them more opportunities.

Watch the video below.

Photo credits: Arjun Sishir.

Video directed by Ratheesh Ravindran.

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