Veena Janardhanan’s voice sounds strained. Putting together a three day dance festival can do that to you. The annual festival she conducts – Sree Yasodha Mahotsav – in Thiruvananthapuram is happening at the Vyloppilly Samskrithi Bhavan, from November 1 to 3.
Veena has been running a charitable organisation called Samudra Arts International for 25 years now, putting together dance festivals, at first in the Gulf countries where she lived with her family and now in Kerala. “We were in Kuwait...we went there because of my husband’s job with a British company. SAI began with many artistes coming into my life, and my wanting to do good things for them,” says Veena, sitting at her home in Thiruvananthapuram. The fest happens in the evening and she has just come home for lunch.
Thiruvananthapuram is where Veena grew up, as the youngest of five children in a family that was too protective of her. “Those days, you’d be taught dance at home, but not allowed to do public performances. I used to crave learning to dance, watching my sister perform, so they arranged a tutor at home. I used to sing and draw, too. The love for the arts began at a very young age,” Veena says.
The aim of her fest is to provide a venue for young talented artistes who do not get enough stages. “I want to promote young artistes craving for stage space, but who are not so well-known. Sponsorship could be difficult to get. But that’s what I want to do,” she says, and somewhere in those words, you hear the young Veena who had once craved – that’s her word – to dance like her sister did on stage. Through the years of organising dance festivals, Veena says she might have felt like getting on stage at times, but that she never did. She is happier when ‘her artistes’ present on stage what touches the hearts of so many.
“Besides, my age doesn’t permit me to do that anymore. I am a grandmother now,” Veena says, laughing. She is clear that the performances shouldn’t deviate too much from the traditional art forms. “I really want the younger generation to know the traditional forms. Music and dance. Once you know it, you can do any other kind,” she says.
At least 5,000 artistes have registered with SAI and Veena has a panel of experts to help her choose performers for her events. In Kuwait and other Gulf countries that Veena has lived in, these performances were always done by artistes from India. “All the embassy ambassadors come there. At the end of the show, they get introduced to the artistes and share addresses and brochures. The artistes are then invited to their respective countries. That’s my aim. Our culture should go to other places.”
In India, however, she invites international artistes from about 25 countries. “I make sure they share stage with an Indian artist. Interactions and exchanges between the artists happen and the Indian performers are then invited to the other artiste’s country.”