If a celebrity goes incognito for long and suddenly turns his/her active side on in the public sphere, we conveniently call it a comeback. Divyaa Unni tells us well in advance not to. Tomorrow, she is dancing for the Soorya Festival one more time. It has been about 18 years since she last performed at the prestigious festival. “I have been here dancing, always,” she corrects when asked about the ‘comeback’. Barely a few hours have passed after she landed in her hometown in Kochi all the way from Houston to perform at the festival in Thiruvananthapuram. For six days, her roles as a teacher and mother of Arjun and Meenakshi are exchanged for a passionate vocation that satisfies her to the core.
Divyaa’s vacationing back home is mostly cut short. The measured days here are meant for what she calls “taken for granted things” in the past or the “treasured moments” of present. Managing five dance schools in the US coupled with the responsibilities of being a mom means a lot. Three devoted days of performance apart, the yearning to visit the temples of Chottanikkara and Malliyoor tops her bucket list.
“Things that were once taken too lightly are a luxury now. I was brought up in a pious background. Temple visits and festivities were part of our lives. My mom is a Sanskrit teacher and I grew up hearing both parents loudly reciting Ramayana in my childhood. There is a temple in close proximity to my home. When I am here, I make it a point to relish what I love the most,” she says.
At the peak of her career, Divyaa vanished off the silver screen to domesticity and motherhood. Somewhere in between we heard about her establishing a dance school and actively engaging in taking lessons in Indian classical dancing to the diaspora. The family life headed towards splitsville though, she faced all odds and finds herself on newer planes every time as a storytelling dancer, the most challenging of all roles she played both on and off screen.
“Classical dance or music is one way children born to Indian parents in the US get to learn about our culture. While teaching, I have this added responsibility of imparting culture. In future, if my students develop the mindset of their parents, to take their children to learn classical dance, I am responsible,” she muses.
A good part of her classes are spent for storytelling and dancing would come only later. It is a Herculean task for her to dig out all the fables and stories she heard in her days as a kid in Kerala. “They will have questions upon questions. Sometimes I may not remember where exactly I learned certain things from. But they’d be eager to know how I came across a proverb or story. Some pieces of poetry are also the same. Enna Tavam Seydanai Yesoda can easily be deciphered in a sentence, whereas more meaning lies in depth. I succeed only when that is explained to make them connect to the audience while performing,” she says.
It has been the 14th year of her dance school Sreepadam School of Arts. Four centres are located within Houston and another in a neighbourhood town. The short vacations and her absence from cinema are explained.
“I single-handedly offer lessons at all schools. When I am away, and if it extends to a pretty long time, older students of mine would come for help. With movies, I listen to scripts in Tamil and Malayalam. In the end, my commitments, dates or script would clash with each other. It is not that I strictly stay away from acting,” she clarifies. Since most of her hometown visits go ‘unadvertised’, we hardly hear about her performing here. Divyaa had two recent performances in Kerala — one at a temple in Pinarayi and the other at Kottarakara Sree Mahaganapathi Temple. Abroad, she is an active participant in the stage shows curated by Soorya Krishnamoorthy and programmes in the US. Meanwhile, she keeps alive the student side in her, which is “too early to talk about.” Divyaa has a Bharatnatyam recital slated at Co-Bank Towers on Friday.