Nine grannies from Kochi are breaking stereotypes with fusion margamkali

Their journey took shape when the Immaculate Heart Of Mary Church in Nettoor approached its family units with an idea — a performance for their parish’s annual festival
Nine grannies from Kochi are breaking stereotypes with fusion margamkali

It was in 2016 that seven grandmothers from Nettoor took centrestage for the first time during a church event. The audience set their eyes on the group wearing the traditional Christian attire Chattayum Mundum and vintage jewellery in wonder. Soon, the song Parudaya Mariyame — a famous margamkali number — started playing and the grandmothers began dancing and clapping around a lit nilavilakku.

Within minutes, surprising the audience, the traditional song gave way to the peppy beats of Boney M’s chartbuster Rasputin. The spritely ‘young ladies’ shook their legs to the hit song and since then the group Dancing Grandmothers has been breaking stereotypes.

“It was a fusion performance. It did raise some eyebrows at first, but the crowd soon embraced our vigour. Their acceptance kept us going,” says 78-year-old Rita Peter.

Though the group started with seven people, now it’s a nine-member team. Rita, 77-year-old Baby Antony, 74-year-old Veroni John, 72-year-old Subashini Purushothaman, 72-year-old Chinnamma Xavier, 68-year-old Lucy George, 63-year-old Mary Joy, 68-year-old Leela Paramu and the youngest of the group 56-year-old Molly Johnson, are celebrating and living their life to the fullest.

Genesis

Their ambitions and artistic journey took shape when the Immaculate Heart Of Mary Church in Nettoor approached its family units with an idea — a performance for their parish’s annual festival. These grandmothers who were part of the parish family unit decided to bring some of their neighbours into the group. And the rest, as they say, is history.

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However, the women credit Antony Shine, a 58-year-old teacher at the Little Flower Engineering Institute at Kalamassery, for being the anchor that got them into dancing. Antony, who is Rita’s son, has been choreographing the dance pieces since their debut.

“When the church put forward the need for a performance, I immediately thought of these aged people. It is a challenge to make them execute a synchronised performance. But most importantly, I wanted these elderly women to continue enjoying their lives without getting restricted by the so-called age factor. I got into this thinking when I started being part of the ‘Age Friendly’ initiative of Johns Augustin, a student in MSW from Rajagiri College. The initiative encourages aged people from all walks of life to keep doing what they love,” says Antony.

Antony guides these grandmothers to platforms where dance is a universal language. Often he also tags along with the ladies during performances.

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From orphanages, old age homes and TV reality shows to the stages of Sacred Hearts, St Teresa’s, and Ragagiri, the grannies have become a familiar face for Malayalis, especially when some performances went viral on social media.

Molly Johnson, the youngest member of the group, says, “We even defeated the college students when it came to our energy levels. They didn’t stand a chance!”

The grandmas are still not over the time they got to perform live in front of actor Sheela. “We danced to the tunes of Kanna Unai Kathe during a TV programme, where actor Sheela was a guest. We will never forget that moment. After the performance, Sheela congratulated us for doing what we love despite our age,” says Rita.

Baby Antony points out, “The emphasis was more on enjoying these moments. Our practice sessions mostly involve loads of gossiping and fun. It is always a blast when we all get together.”

The show goes on...

However, the women say, a few years after the group’s debut, some members, including Veroni, Chinnamma and Annie Joshy left the team due to health issues. And considering this aspect, Antony, who is supported by his wife Sheeba, daughter Daya and family friend Febish in choreographing and teaching the members, always makes sure to use only easy steps.

“Except for Rita, none of us have any prior experience in dancing. Most of our maiden performances happened in our late 60s. Because of our physical limitations, sometimes we get grumpy while practising and small fights happen between Antony and his mother,” laughs Subhashini.

Being neighbours, the grandmothers spent a considerable time together. As such, Antony says, their energies match while preparing for any upcoming performances.

“I agree there’s difficulty in training them. Sometimes they forget certain steps, so I give them subtle hints from a distance. But their love for dancing keeps them motivated. And they also cheer each other on,” says Antony.

But, the team says they aren’t performing just for applause. “Our purpose is to spread joy to those often overlooked by society,” smiles Leela.

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