Cultural Festival

At 8.00 am on a Sunday morning, a crowd gathers close to the Ellaiamman Kovil in Urur Oclott Kuppam.  

The stage, in this case the performance space, is still being set, tightened with screws and rods by the performers themselves, very close to the redesigned fish-market. 

A skeletal steam locomotive takes shape and a car parked next to it doubles up as the sound system.              

This is the Urur Olcott Kuppam Vizha, which promises to celebrate oneness and has delivered on this for three years in a row. The fourth edition of the two-day festival – celebrated on February 10 and 11 – is seeing a number of interesting events organised in the lead up to it.

Prabhu from Parkour Circle explains that the space we are gathered in was earlier cleared of debris and garbage, and levelled with a layer or rubble by the fishermen from the village and volunteers. 

Picture courtesy: Facebook / Urur-olcott kuppam vizha - celebrating oneness

“For almost 80% of the people who came to help clean up or those who’ve come to watch the show, it was their first time. The idea is to break preconceived notions that the village could be a dangerous place. The events are well-thought out in that regard,” he says.

Glimpses from Parkour performance

“And when classicised forms come into shared space, they sort of erase the barriers,” adds Satakshi Nandy, a movement artist and a performer at the show.

Lead by Prabhu, the team that performed on Sunday had a mix of performers – a ninth standard student, an artist, a movement-artist and a dancer, among others. 

The piece in itself was a combination of parkour and theatre, with jumps, flips, movements and actions. A stark contrast from the usual parkour that comes across as an adventurous activity-sport, this piece was a mellifluous combination of varied elements, balanced perfectly on the flexibility of the performer.   

“Traditionally, parkour is performed anywhere in the city and we are used to cleaning our performance spaces. And that is what happened here as well. Usually, people assume that parkour is a very physical sport and has people jumping and leaping from buildings. So the general perception is that the performer has to be physically fit. That is not parkour. There’s a creative side to it. We’ve tried to add the performance aspect to our piece. Parkour is playing by each person’s strengths and you cannot teach everyone the same movements,” explains Prabhu.

“You live through the idea here. As a dancer, when I look at it objectively, the whole philosophy and the principle of the form is about adapting to your natural surroundings. And unlike other traditional art and dance forms, it does not have an elitist attitude of a studio approach. The bond you form and the way you understand and help each other train is what parkour is based on,” says Satakshi.  

She adds that this performance is not the most conventionally super-hyper masculine form that it is projected to be, intimidating women: “If you were to watch videos of parkour performances online, you’ll find that the basic vocabulary disregards the female anatomy. But here it is more inclusive of the individual, irrespective of their body types.”

Titled ‘Indian Steam’, the hour-long performance had people coming from all kinds of backgrounds to watch it. Parkour in its most elemental form promotes such interactions in society, explains Prabhu. The routine had James Bond, cowboys, chases and plenty of slapstick.

The parkour performance was followed by an interactive, music-infused history session on the village. The fishing hamlet, one of the oldest settlements in the city, has been pushed in on all sides by human encroachment.

Did you know that Urur had a Village Officer (VO) assigned to it in the past?

A beautiful miniature of the village had been created on cardboard and the village elders spoke about their trips to the sea, their religious beliefs and the landmarks that defined their village.

Storytelling session with the model

“We have no religion and all gods are one for us fisher folks. And so we pray to Naagoor Aandavar before we begin our voyages to the sea,” explains one of them.

It was a whole other experience for those gathered to listen to the textured notes in his rendition of ‘Naagoor Aandavare, nambi vendinene’.

“Close to the Kanni Kovil was huge expanse of pandanus forest (taazhakaadu) that was later removed fearing prickly thorns. The sand itself shone like silver,” one of them said.

“Right here is our mentor and guide, Arunachala Chettiyar’s palace,” he said pointing to a big building on the model. “It now lies abandoned and I have memories of playing inside as a kid.” 

It is evident, as is the story with every urban space, that the village too has undergone a sea of change. Its limits, now restricted to a few kilometres, have been diminished further by the setting up of places like Thalapakatti.

People now gather around the table set-up with a stove and neatly lined bowls that contain spices. The much-awaited cooking show by Muthulakshmi follows the story session. Spicy Thimila Puttu (stingray steam cake), prawn gravy and dried fish are prepared one after the other and devoured immediately after by the crowds. 

Picture courtesy: Facebook / Urur-olcott kuppam vizha - celebrating oneness

“I run a tiffin centre along with my husband close to Thalapakatti on the main road. It’s called Kumudha Tiffin Centre, named after my daughter,” says Muthulakshmi, who was born in Kalpakkam village. The show has helped Muthulakshmi gain some recognition and she hopes it will help with her business as well.

“I was very shy about cooking in front of people, but when the newspapers wrote about me, I felt encouraged,” she smiles.

The eclectic mix of events has been carefully curated, deftly mixing culture with social issues, thereby allowing the neighbourhood reap its long-denied benefits. 

“The whole idea was to make the market area a cross-cultural space and to help break pre-conceived notions that such places are dirty and people there are unapproachable,” says Niveditha Louis, one of its organisers.

Redesigned fish market

“Last year, we had a similar story session, but this time we made the locals narrate them. As you can see, it gives the story a whole new perspective. I'm also happy that the cooking show has been so well received,” she adds.

Sundaramoorthy, a long-time resident of the area, shares that the festival has indeed helped his village gain the attention it lacked thus far. 

“My village has been ignored and hidden for years. This vizha has helped us gain some attention as a result. People from outside have come to visit our area and, as a result, we've been able to represent and put forward our woes to them,” he says.

As a part of the vizha’s success stories, the village will soon get its drainage lines fixed to benefit close to 700 people in the neighbourhood.

In its four years of existence, the cultural program has been a revolution not just for the villagers. It is evident in the way people have wiped away social boundaries, at least during the period of the vizha.

Varied art forms rubbing shoulders and introducing new perspectives is its inherent vision that has helped reap multifold benefits for the community and its people. 

The vizha began as a platform to bring to the public art forms that were, up until then, shackled in sabhas, enjoyed majorly by elitist crowds. And it has since been breaking down the wall, one brick at a time.