Dressed in a long white tunic decorated with beads and glass, and gold headgear covered in a patchwork of brightly colored stones, the Ottamthullal dancer is almost ready to take the stage.
Just time to practice some of the quivering facial expressions that form a vital part of the act. As this video shows, the Ottamthullal performer is able to contort his face muscles with incredible elasticity, variety and speed.
Ottamthullal is a traditional 18th-century dance from Kerala, a state in southern India. Ottamthullal is one of three types of Thulla dance. In each, the performer expresses the story through gestures. Someone off stage recites verses from the script and a small orchestra provides the musical accompaniment. The main genres of Thulla are political satire, social commentary and humor.
A famous Keralan poet, Kunchan Nambiar, created this art form. Nambiar wanted to introduce more satire into the public arena and the performances are normally at festivals. The characters parody local landlords and other prominent citizens.
Rumor has it that the genesis of Thulla was an act of revenge. According to folklore, Nambiar was ridiculed and dismissed for once falling asleep on stage. An embarrassed Nambiar returned the following night and performed an entire Thulla show that no one had ever seen before. The show he had invented overnight had the audience in raptures.
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