Ramith Ramesh is a Kutiyattam practitioner, theatre actor, drummer and poet from Kerala. From 2008 to 2016, Ramith trained at Kerala Kalamandalam, studying Kutiyattam, Chakyarkoothu and Sanskrit under renowned master teachers such as Padmasree Sivan Namboodiri and Guru Rama Chakyar.
As a Kutiyattam and Chakyarkoothu performer, Ramith has presented over 250 performances across India, France and Singapore. He has taught Kutiyattam in several theatre companies in India, and has been a judge on the panel for Kerala’s state arts festivals for five years. Ramith’s theatre experience includes work with Ariane Mnouchkine in 2016. He has also worked on two short films as assistant director.
Ramith is a recipient of a scholarship sponsored by a private philanthropist and a beneficiary of the Möbius Fund.
What were you doing before coming to ITI?
I was doing my Masters at Kerala Kalamandalam, studying Kutiyattam under renowned masters, and working with some theatre companies as a trainer and actor.
How did you find out about ITI, and how did you decide to come here?
After nine years of training in Kutiyattam, I thought about experiencing the world of contemporary theatre. I was really curious to explore the differences between these two worlds, so I discontinued my Masters and applied for a theatre course at a university in Kerala. Unfortunately or fortunately, my application was unsuccessful, so I thought my dreams had come to an end.
But one day I was looking for theatre schools and I saw ITI in the list of suggestions on Google. So I searched for the school’s details and when I saw the curriculum I was damn sure this was the place where I should go. And I got to know quite a lot of alumni in Kerala.
A few days later, I saw [alumna] Pooja Mohanraj’s workshop with a theatre company, so I attended her workshop and had a chat with her. After she shared her experience with me, I realised ITI was my destiny.
Thinking back to your early days here, how did you feel then?
I was 12 years old when I first went to kalamandalam to learn Kutiyattam. I was like a newborn who knew nothing about the world of that sacred art, but sooner or later it adopted me in my nine years training there. It wasn’t really very different to be here in ITI actually, as I was almost new to this world of contemporary acting and theatre-making.
Fortunately, the guardians of this school also adopted me as a newborn and made me what I am today. I was conscious and scared in the beginning, considering my unfamiliarity with the language, which also got boosted up when encountering the students from WAAPA, but in a very short time I realised that my fear was reasonless because at ITI we learn to acknowledge differences and respect them. The school’s inclusive environment made me feel like home again.
What has it been like to train here at ITI?
It was like a three-year-long construction work on a building, solely devoted to its foundation.
It was like working on a bare farm to plant seeds, water them everyday and look after them day and night.
It was like deconstructing one’s own self and constructing again from scratch in order to become not only a better artist but a better human as well.
The base is strong enough now to hold a multi-storey building on it.
The crop was good and the harvest is done, and it belongs to the kitchen now where I will create my very own dishes with it.
It was like a three-year-long penance which helped me root myself even deeper. I feel I can grow higher and higher from here on.
Share something you’ve learnt from working with your classmates from various countries.
Acceptance is the word.
Acceptance for each other’s culture, values, perceptions, ideas, beliefs, ways of working, merits and demerits, mood swings, emotions and whatnot.
My classmates have provided me with a ‘vaccine’ good enough for a lifetime to prevent me from being judgmental. They made me tolerant.
Could you share some of the most memorable experiences you’ve had at ITI?
Dying to be reborn everyday while doing clowning with Guillermo. Seeing my batch mates walking like zombies after working for sleepless nights and still looking at each other as clueless as before. It shattered all the ego if there was any still remaining after working for almost two years in ITI, and it made me realise that it will never be enough and that unlearning to learn again is the key to perfection.
Being a choosy foodie, I was terrified to do a food sharing exercise with Beto [former Head of Acting] where everyone had to bring some food to be shared with all the others, to be eaten with eyes closed. I still remember the taste of seaweed that one of them brought.
Walking in slow motion for a whole night for the body pilgrimage with [Wayang Wong master teacher] Besur was unimaginable for me, but it just changed my perception of time. I felt that when you slow yourself down a little, time flies.
There is much more to it, a whole treasure of golden memories full of drama, but it’s just not possible to put it all here in words.
How has what you’ve learnt here changed you as an actor?
I was a traditional art performer for the longest period of time and didn’t have any exclusive experience of contemporary acting. What I knew about acting was observing the master, believing in what they were doing, and devoting myself completely to it in order to achieve exactly the same impact as their performance.
My understanding of acting now includes thinking in it. It allows me to create and develop something new from nothing.
What are your plans for after graduation?
After graduating I am looking forward to a year-long break to spend some time with my family and I will start working right after that, no, kidding.
My wife is an amazing performer too, and I am planning to collaborate with her and other traditional performers and ITI alumni in India.
I wish to start a company to create works in collaboration with both traditional and contemporary performers.
I am also looking forward to creating a workshop programme which could help willing performers to evolve in both disciplines, which could help the performers to develop an understanding of how both of these ways could complement each other.
I can’t think of a better place to suggest to an emerging performer. If you are willing to be open to your own hidden possibilities, if you are ready to explore, if you wish to be exposed to different perspectives, just go for it.
What would you say to someone thinking of joining ITI?
I would say that what I have said above is truly true and I can’t think of a better place to suggest to an emerging performer.
If you are willing to be open to your own hidden possibilities, if you are ready to explore, if you wish to be exposed to different perspectives, just go for it.
Any special words of thanks?
It matters who you connect with, how you connect with people in your life, and how these people change your life. Fortunately, the ones who came into my life brought changes for my betterment.
I feel lighter to say that my cohort has craziest beings of their own kinds. We definitely had violently crazy fun, but also fights and arguments as well. They made this time valuable and worth being here. It wouldn’t have been possible to go through all the highs and lows and rigorous training if they were not there.
The teachers I had here made me wish to be their student forever. They provide a collaborative learning environment here which is difficult to find elsewhere.
The office and management team here have taken care of us as the guardians, and no words are enough to thank them for that.
There are people who have supported our studies here both openly and secretly, for which I will always be grateful, especially Mano Singh and Graciela Magnoni, who have provided me with a scholarship to support my studies, and have also taken a keen interest in my work and taken care in the hardest times of the pandemic.
I don’t come from a family with a strong financial background but in spite of that, my family supported my dreams and allowed me to be myself and pursue my dream.
I thank them all from the bottom of my heart.
Photos by Bernie Ng