THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Uthara Unni doesn’t have the customary story. She didn’t fall in love with dance as a three-year-old and the art remained elusive to her for long. Despite her lineage, she started courting bharatanatyam much later, during her college days in Chennai to be precise. “My mother, who is an established dancer, had introduced me to bharatanatyam earlier, but I never took it up seriously. In Chennai I rediscovered the beauty of the dance form and my tryst with mudras soon turned into a passion,” says the actor and dancer who was in the city to perform at the dance festival organised by Bharat Bhavan.
For Uthara, it was bharatanatyam from the very beginning and she says no other form has caught her fancy ever since. “After I was properly initiated into this amazing repertoire I wanted to stay there only. I haven’t thought of switching to any other dance form.” Once smitten, she swiftly worked through her dance grades under the tutelage of Padma Subrahmanyam and completed her BFA in bharatanatyam. Training under an eminent guru like Padma Subrahmanyam was instrumental in moulding her art, adds Uthara. “Usually people think there will not be much theory in a dance course. But what awaited us was something different- the vast and in-depth exploration of the art.” She says Padma Subrahmanyam is a real taskmaster when it comes to dance. “She can be very strict and temperamental, but she doesn’t need to refer to any book during lectures. She is like a walking encyclopedia.”
As an artist she doesn’t appreciate monotony and is open to experimentation. “But it shouldn’t be at the expense of authenticity. At youth festivals now we see some odd hybrid forms that cannot be called bharatanatyam. Whenever I go for something new, I always make sure that the original template is intact. I crosscheck each step and consult a handful of experts before presenting it.”
She says it’s her mother Urmila Unni who brings in a dash of freshness to her dance costumes. “She is an actor, dancer and designer rolled into one. I get a lot of compliments for it and all credit goes to her only.” She adds it’s not easy to please her mother who until recently refused to consider Uthara a dancer. “Now she counts me a passable dancer, but getting it out of her was a real task,” she laughs.
The universal idiom of dance is what keeps her fascinated and Uthara says it’s always easy communicating with fellow-artists. “After a performance in Odisha, I was surrounded by some people who were talking nonstop in their language. They were not familiar with Tamil or bharatanatyam, but wanted to express their appreciation. It was the moment I realised that language can never be a barrier between two artists,” she says.
Uthara, who made her film debut with Lenin Rajendran’s Edavapathy last year, is presently taking a role behind the camera. “I have just wrapped up my third short film Paw Prints starring Siddique. In between performances and managing my dance school in Mumbai, I make sure to find time for my other indulgence- films,” she adds.