Akhila Sasidharan is the only actress from Mollywood who can perform Kerala’s ancient martial art form of Kalaripayattu
Photo by TP Sooraj
When Akhila Sasidharan enters the kalari (training hall), she goes to the south-west corner called the poothara and stands still, with folded hands, in front of an idol of the Goddess Bhagawati. Then she begins making stretching movements with her arms and legs. This comprises the Kalarai Vandanam (prayer).
Thereafter, the training begins with the Surya Namaskar (Salutation to the Sun), followed by leg movements: circling of the leg, and moving it to the right or the left. Then Akhila does the vadivukal or poses in the form of an elephant, lion, boar, cat, cock, snake, horse and fish. Then it is on to the meipayattu (a combination of leg and animal poses) and, finally, there is the weapons training, using swords, daggers, sticks and shields.
“The emphasis is mainly on body movements, rather than using weapons,” says Akhila. “Like all other classical art forms, the ultimate goal is self-realisation. When you perform, you go deeper into yourself. It is a misconception that Kalaripayattu is only a method to attack the opponent. In fact, it is a means to defend oneself if one is attacked.”
Akhila, who grew up in Saudi Arabia, Oman and Bahrain, saw a Kalaripayattu programme during a visit to Dubai and became fascinated. A trained classical dancer, Akhila realised that a lot of the movements in the classical arts originated from Kalaripayattu. “The basic moves of Kathakali come from Kalaripayattu,” she says. “Through the ages, people have taken from Kalaripayat for different reasons. It is the source of all body movements.”
So, about five years ago, Akhila decided to become a student. What helped was that she was staying in Kozhikode which is where the Hindustan Kalari Sangam is located.
The more she practised the more she felt she was changing. “I became aware of each body part,” says Akhila “I knew what my body was capable of. I also felt a connection to Mother Earth, especially when I performed on a mud surface.”
Akhila's most thrilling moment occurred when she did a Kalaripayat performance during the 100-year celebrations of Indian cinema in Chennai a few weeks ago. “A Kalaripayattu dance is not a choreographed show,” she says. “In fact, it is not set according to music.”
But, as a novelty, Akhila choreographed the art form according to music done by composer Rahul Raj. She used authentic Kalaripayattu movements and weapons sequences. “I avoided conventional dance steps,” she says. “It was exciting.”
After the show, she was complimented by Malayalam film notables like actor Jayaram, and directors Joshy, Kamal and Sibi Malayil. Local newspapers described her performance as 'mesmerising'.
What is unusual about Akhila is that she is the only actress in Mollywood who knows how to do the Kalaripayattu. As adept as she is in the art form she is also a successful actress. She acted with superstar Dileep in the hit film, 'Karyasthan', and with Prithviraj in 'Theja Bhai and Family'. Earlier, she made her mark in a dance reality show on TV called 'Vodafone Thakkadhimi', and was the anchor in the hit show, 'Munch Star Singer Junior'.
“I started receiving film offers once 'Thakkadhimi' was aired,” she says. Unlike most actresses, she is also well-educated. She has a masters in English literature from Calicut University and is doing one in political science from the Indira Gandhi National Open University.
The future looks bright for this young performer.
(Sunday Magazine, The New Indian Express, South India and Delhi)