Vadakke Manalath Govindan Nair
|Other names||Kalamandalam Gopi|
|Occupation||Kathakali Actor, actor|
'Vadakke Manalath Govindan Nair' popularly known as Kalamandalam Gopi, is an Indian dancer who is an exponent of the classical dance-drama style known as Kathakali.
Born as Vadakke Manalath Govindan Nair in the Southern Indian village of Kothachira in Kerala, he completed his formal lessons in the dance from the Kerala Kalamandalam in 1957. He started learning Kerala dance form - Ottan Thullal when he was 4 years old, and later he was introduced to a local Kathakali camp (kalari) run by Sri Thekkinkattil Ravunni Nair by his local guardian. It was at a time, when the kalari got wound up, and his continuation of the study was in doubt; when he got the chance to the Kerala Kalamandalam School in 1951, which became a turning point for this great artiste. He began his career on the Kathakali stage in the 1960s and 1970s, but he had been appointed as a teacher at his alma mater, the Kerala Kalamandalam in 1958, by poet laureate Vallathol Narayana Menon, who had founded the school.
In 1992, Gopi retired from the post as school Principal and he is the only living performer of the art to have been appointed by Vallathol Narayana Menon himself. He continued teaching in Kalamandalam after his retirement, as a visiting professor.
He is considered an icon of this dance performance.
The Government of India awarded him the civilian honour of Padma Shri in 2009.
Gopi is known for the romantic and dramatic portrayal of the virtuous pachcha roles in Kathakali, notable among them being Nalan, Karnan and Rukmangadan. He has also played the choreographically denser roles of Bheeman (in the stories Kalyanasougandhikam or Bakavadham), Arjuna (Subhadraharanam) and Dharmaputrar (that's Yudhishthira in Kirmeeravadham). Gopi is also highly regarded for his portrayal of yellow-faced pazhuppu roles and other styles.
Gopi is a disciple of the award-winning Kalamandalam Ramankutty Nair, Kalamandalam Padmanabhan Nair and Keezhpadam Kumaran Nair, and was trained at Kerala Kalamandalam, near Shoranur. Before that, he had a brief career as a practitioner of the more folksy Ottamthullal, the solo dance form with lyrics by the Kunchan Nambiar, a satirical poet. That was followed by his initiation into Kathakali by a leading guru called Thekkinkattil Ramunni Nair at the Koodallur Mana (a mansion of an upper-caste Namboodiri family) near Kothachira.
By the 1960s, Gopi's male protagonist roles were complemented by Kottakkal Sivaraman, who gained name as an exponent of female roles on the stage. The pair still perform on stage together, although Gopi now also works with a younger colleague, Margi Vijayakumar.
Gopi has also acted (without Kathakali make-up or costumes) in several Malayalam feature films like Vanaprastham.
Filmmaker Adoor Gopalakrishnan made a documentary film of Gopi, entitled Kalamandalam Gopi. The film was shown at the International Film Festival of India in 2000, as well as at other festivals in India and abroad. Journalist Meena (Das) Narayan produced and directed a docu-fiction about Gopi in 2010. Titled Making of a maestro, the documentary explores the evolution of Nair from childhood onwards.