For Malayalis living in Finland, home is many aching miles away and yet incredibly close to the heart. Home is also where the mind keeps swerving back to often and where they turn to for inspiration during phases of creative blocks. So when members of the close-knit Finland Malayalee Association (FIMA) were wondering what performance to come up with for India Day, an annual flagship event of the Indian community in Finland, the answers were right home.
A performance presented by the Association nearly two weeks ago at Helsinki brought alive the paintings of celebrated artist Raja Ravi Varma as dancers swayed to the tunes of King-composer Swathi Tirunal. The dance was a blend of Bharatanatyam and Mohiniyattom, and the costumes inspired by the art form of Kathakali. Drawing from their roots, they had presented before the 20,000-odd persons who came to witness the show, a tiny slice of their beloved homeland of Kerala.
It all began with an idea a young woman from Kerala had after watching a dance video with a similar theme. Sanitha Manoj shared the idea with other members of the Association, who responded enthusiastically, and soon they were on the floor practising. Sreedevi Unnikrishnan, an IT consultant, choreographed the performance while also taking part in it, and her husband Unnikrishnan Sreedhara Kurup directed it.
Most women performers of the group had learnt dance during their childhood, but had to give it up at some point later. And they did not quite expect to chance upon it after migrating to Finland. But, FIMA and dancer Gayathri Menon’s classes helped many of them get back on stage, says Vimi Puthen Veetil, former president of the Association. The dancers have staged several performances in Finland over the recent years. Vimi says Gayathri’s classes also gave an opportunity for the expatriates’ children to be introduced to dance.
The India Day team had four mother-daughter duos performing together. Sanitha says performing with her daughter was an experience both “exciting and tension-free”. “She was there in front of me with her excellent memory and in case I forgot steps, I just needed to follow her,” says Sanitha.
Unnikrishnan says the show has had positive responses and the group has received invites to perform at other events. For the dancers, the practice sessions amid their hectic personal and professional lives have brought them closer. Sanitha says they have helped her evolve, learn new things and gain control over life in many ways. “A journey challenging and fulfilling at the same time,” says Sreedevi.