Age is not a restraining barrier for this great maestro. Just three years short of celebrating his centenary, his muscles still have the guts to climb the stage and entice the spectators with the magic of his performance.
When it comes to the matter of performance, Chemancheri Kunhiraman Nair, a veteran in the art form of Kathakali, is full of energy even at the age of 97. Kathakali, a unique dance-drama of Kerala, had its origin in the sixteenth century. For Chemancheri this relentless journey started at the age of 15, when he left his home to join a Kathakali troupe run by Guru Karunakara Menon. In the hands of this disciplinarian-mentor, the talents of Chemancheri were nourished to completion.
After years of practice and hard work, he founded Bharatiya Natyakalalayam in 1945, which was the first school of dance in north Kerala. But he was not content with this, so he started several other dance schools and later in 1983 he established Cheliya Kathakali Vidyalayam in his native Cheliya village, about 30 km from Kozhikode. The institution conducts courses on different aspects of Kathakali and has a full-fledged Kathakali troupe.
Chemancheri's style emanates from a blend of north-south Kerala styles and by incorporating elements of other dance forms like Bharatanatyam. When Chemancheri plays the vesham (role) of Lord Krishna, which is one of the most admired of all his roles, the entire audience remains awestruck.
Recognitions came his way one by one and in 1979 Kerala Sangeeta Nataka Akademi recognised his contributions with an award and later in 1999 with a fellowship. In 2001 he received the Kalamandalam award for special contributions to art and in 2002 he got Darpanam Natyakulapathi award. Mayilpeeli award and Kerala Kalamandalam Kalarathnam awards are some other jewels on his crown.
Despite the age, the maestro's mudras (hand signs) still retains the charm and grace that have been grabbing the attention of Kathakali lovers for several decades.