Malayalam docu-fiction ‘Thevan’ pays tribute to folk artist Thevan Peradipurathu

Directed by Najma Naseera Majeed, ‘Thevan’ captures the life and times of the multifaceted folk artist who had to face caste discrimination

Directed by Najma Naseera Majeed, ‘Thevan’ captures the life and times of the multifaceted folk artist who had to face caste discrimination

“Art forms take shape from the agonies of the human souls…” says director-actor Priyanandan in the docu-fiction Thevan, directed by Najma Naseera Majeed. The work encapsulates the life and times of folk artist Thevan Peradipurathu from Peringode in Palakkad. The 27-minute documentary was released on March 21, International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

Thevan, who belongs to the Paraya community, had to face caste discrimination throughout his life. Although his original name was Vasudevan (one of the many names of Lord Krishna in Hindu mythology), he was never allowed to use that name because he belonged to a “lower caste”.

For the goddesses

A musician and percussion artiste, he performed Malavazhiyattam/Malavayiyattam and Cheruneeliyattam, ritualistic art forms of his community. Malavazhi and Cheruneeli are mother goddesses installed in the homes of Parayas and worshiped by them. Malavazhiyattam and Cheruneeliyattam are performed to propitiate the deities through music and drama.

Najma Naseera Majeed | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Thevan was a recipient of the awards instituted by the Kerala Folklore Academy and Kerala Sangeetha Nataka Akademi, both in 2006. Najma, who works with Pravda Books, stumbled upon his life during her research for a book on art forms of Kerala that are on the verge of extinction. “There are many artists who largely remain unknown. As I learned more about him, I felt that there was a chance that the coming generations may not know about him at all because not enough material is available on him. So I wanted to document whatever is known about Thevan. Instead of fiction, I chose to tell his story about him through the people who knew him, ”says Najma. The 25-year-old is the author of the book, Enthathishayami Jeevithama compilation of interviews with 35 celebrated Malayalis. Thevan is her first independent project as a director.

Thevan’s son and thimila artist Peringode Chandran mentions in the documentary that his father became an artist due to poverty. “He was trained to play the percussion by chenda exponent Neettiyath Govindan Nair Asan, who was speech- and hearing-impaired. Govindan Asan was the uncle of achan‘s friend, Kesavan, whom we now know as Kathakali percussion artist and actor Kalamandalam Kesavan. Achan was happy to get something to eat after the classes. Meanwhile, Govindan roast, who was my guru as well, was alienated by other members of the Nair community because he chose to teach a Dalit,” says Chandran, a recipient of Kerala Sangeetha Nataka Akademi’s award and a visiting professor at Kerala Kalamandalam for eight years now. Chandran’s brothers are also performing artists — Peringode Subramanyan is a Sangeetha Nataka Akademi award winner (2021) for edakka and Peringode Sreedharan is a percussion artiste. Another brother, Sivaraman plays the elathalam.

Najma Naseera Majeed during the shoot of the docu-fiction, 'Thevan'

Najma Naseera Majeed during the shoot of the docu-fiction, ‘Thevan’ | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

When caste comes in the way

“We still face caste discrimination when it comes to performing inside some of the famous temples in Kerala. It is a monopoly of artists who belong to the upper class even though there are qualified artists in other communities,” Chandran adds. He has filed a court case for not being allowed to perform at Sree Krishna Temple, Guruvayur, and the decision is awaited. Younger members in the family are not keen to follow the path of their parents or forefathers due to the caste bias even though they are artistically inclined and professionally trained, as pointed out by Chandran’s son, Prasoon Chandran in the documentary.

Besides being a performer and singer, Thevan played the kuzhal, an instrument he had made. He was also the ‘velichappadu’ (oracle) at a temple. Thevan had received the patronage of Neelakandan Namboothirippad or ‘Aaram Thamburan’ of Poomully Mana in Peringode and even got the opportunity to perform folk songs for All India Radio’s Kozhikode station.

“He was an exceptional stonemason and also used to make baskets and mats with bamboo and rattan. He was the brain behind the famous ‘Thoppikkuda viplavam’ at the school in Peringode. Children couldn’t come to school when it rained because they couldn’t afford to buy umbrellas. So, under my father’s leadership, they made hundreds of umbrellas weaved from palm leaves,” Chandran recalls. Thevan passed away at the age of 84 in 2015.

The docu-fiction, produced by 360degreepictures, is available on the link https://vimeo.com/690303829

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