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30 years of Mega Maalai - Imperial College London’s Tamil Society celebrates flagship event

Imperial College London’s Tamil Society celebrated the 30th anniversary of Mega Maalai, Europes's largest annual Tamil student-led cultural showcase.

The showcase was held earlier this month at the ExCel London, their largest venue to date, and with over 300 performers, the event has reached unprecedented heights, delivering a spectacle of dance, music and fashion.

For three decades, this flagship event has continued to exceed expectations, serving as a beacon for Tamil culture whilst also championing charitable causes. All of this year's proceeds will be donated to The Little Things, a charity that works to provide medical equipment to poorly funded hospitals. Their 2024 goal is to establish an eye clinic at the Mullaitivu District General Hospital.

This was the first time Mega Maalai was hosted by a female duo, Shankeya and Paddu, introducing each act and keeping spirits high throughout the show.

The evening commenced with a mesmerising performance by ‘Iyam’, captivating the audience with a blend of classical and Carnatic instruments, and contemporary vocals. With a name inspired by an ancient Tamil term meaning ‘music with instruments’, choreographers Laksan and Sharan wove together traditional melodies with a modern twist, performing a variety of nostalgic renditions from Tamil cinema.

Choreographed by Gavin, Haresh and Asvina, fashion act ‘I’ dazzled the audience with a vibrant performance, showcasing a stunning array of South Asian garments and accessories sponsored by SejKin, Dravidian Drapes, Trinity Divine, Studio47 UK, and Doorium Jewels.

The first dance act to take the stage was ‘Alter Ego’, choreographed by Sambath, a group comprised entirely of first year students marking their first appearance on stage for many of the team.

The next act was ‘Natpe Thunai’, choreographed by Vidu and T. Vidu explained the name and theme of their piece to the Tamil Guardian: 

“Friendship has always been so important to me and my co-choreo T and as we’re best friends it was the best name to pick for this act. Sharing the MM30 stage with this team was a special one as it was more like a big friendship group dancing together.”

The performance was packed full of unique, unexpected scenes, featuring multiple costume changes and a diverse array of props. Co-choreographer Vidu elaborated on the thought process behind these concepts: 

“Everyone played a part when it came to props, formations and ideas. Key moments like the masks, gloves and swords were something me and T wanted to utilise in a performance for a long time but never got the chance to.”

Vidu and T went on to explain that “Mega Maalai is a show which allows our Tamil community to admire all the different talents that are hidden and pushes everyone to put their craft out more. Especially in our community where pursuing something different and out of the norm is an anomaly, shows like this are a huge stepping zone. The show gives insight to how we need to balance our life and our passion. There’s always something we take out of this experience that will be helpful in life later on.”

With his project ‘Vidusan Cinematic Universe’ loading, Vidu explained his aim of setting the tone of the universe, hoping the audience would connect to it through his Mega Maalai performance.

Gracing the stage for the second time, ‘The Notorious Empire’ fused bhangra, classical dance, kuthu and street. Choreographers Kabilan and Sruthi took inspiration from anime, a popular television and film style, to create a performance following the storyline of a fight between siblings for the throne to a kingdom. The co-choreographers told the Tamil Guardian:

“We initially had an idea of creating a dance performance based on ninjas and samurais, with a story set in a kingdom. We knew we can wanted to showcase something different whilst still having the “Notorious” touch to it. As we were developing the story and characters, we thought each character could be related to an element which is a theme often seen in anime. With the help of Merubala on our background visuals, we were able to put together an anime multiverse performance.”

Co-choreographer Sruthi stated:

“My favourite part of my MM experience was teaching bhangra! No one in our team had done it before, so I was really glad that our dancers got the chance to learn a completely new style. Massive shout out to Praveen, Kaven and Rajeen too for helping us out and making an unforgettable set.” 

Sruthi reflected on her memories participating in previous Mega Maalai performances: 

“Choreographing the finale with Kabz and Praveena felt so amazing as they were both my first Mega Maalai choreos for Notorious.”

A key moment in their performance included a traditional Chinese lion dancing across the stage. Kabilan shared:

“My favourite part would have to be the lion dancing segment! We wanted to do something that the Mega Maalai stage has never seen before!” To make this idea come to fruition, Kabilan explained how he had to reach out to a professional (@ukkungfuhunggar) who trained 2 of the dancers to create the lion dance.

“We believe MM provides us with a huge stage and opportunity to showcase our talent passion and creativity. It has an incredible outreach and performing on stage to a crowd like that is always an incredible experience. With it being the 30th year Imperial Tamil Society really pushed the limits and being apart of a extremely talented line up was an amazing experience! It also allows help raise money for amazing charities and bring awareness to important issues," the pair told the Tamil Guardian. 

Taking inspiration from an ancient Tamil word ‘Yāathrā’, meaning ‘a sacred journey’, the next group performed a piece blending live music and classical dance. Choreographers Nithi and Shangavi used the power of storytelling to portray the emotional story of Leo, a recent Vijay film.

Co-choreographer Shangavi explained the motivation behind the piece: 

“Bharathanatyam dancers can all agree that until recently bharathantyam didn’t have the same level of hype in the university dance scene as kuthu or street. We’ve all been to arangetrams and heard the comments from people that ‘the footwork’s cool’ but the rest was ‘boring’ or ‘too complicated’. And I realised it mainly comes down to people not understanding the story that’s being told. So for MM30 we wanted to take bharathanatyam’s gift of storytelling and break the norms of what bharathanatyam is assumed to be. We wanted to replicate an arangetram but in a new light, so we had 10 extremely talented live musicians to accompany our dancers. I’m so proud of the recent rise in Bharathanatyam representation, especially in MM30 and it’s an honour to have our work play a part in that this year.”

Shangavi described the challenges of working with live music and dance: 

“I think it’s underestimated just how hard it is to play to live dance/dance to live music. There was always the question of ‘what if the musicians and dancers aren’t in time with eachother?’ To avoid this we created a backing track with dialogues/base/sound effects to which the musicians and dancers both practiced to so everyone can keep in time. We also made sure the musicians knew what the dancers were dancing on stage and vice versa so that everyone knew what lyric correlated with what move. This helped hugely on stage and I’m so proud of all of yāathrā for pulling it off!”

“Mega Maalai is a huge platform that has given so many young Tamils the opportunity to showcase their art over the years. As a dancer, MM has allowed me to learn new styles of dance under extremely talented choreographers in the Tamil dance scene. As a choreographer, it’s given me the discipline and the opportunity to work towards a final goal. I’m honoured to have been chosen to choreograph for the 30th anniversary. From auditions to show day, I’m so grateful for all the lessons the process has taught me and I hope this to just be the beginning of my choreo journey.”

The following act was by ‘The Officials’, a dance performance choreographed by Ahinth Vijay. The performance blended street and kuthu, taking inspiration from Kollywood actor Vijay’s signature dance moves.

Ahinth stated:

“Initially I didn’t really have a concept in mind, I just wanted to pull off a performance-based showcase but after teaching a couple of routines, I randomly got the idea of doing a concept based on the behind the scenes of a movie set! I love Tamil Cinema as that’s what got me into dancing in the first place. Everyone’s aware that I’m a big Thalapathy Vijay Fan, so the concept itself was applied onto his songs too!”

Ahinth expressed his difficulties in having to balance the challenge of including international dancers on the team:

“The hardest part of my performance was doing formations and allocating things to certain dancers because it’s very hard to coordinate 30 dancers. Getting all the dancers available on the same day is near impossible! But I still persevered and managed to get everyone together in the end which I’m so grateful for!”

“Mega Maalai is a stage for anyone. It’s an opportunity to showcase your skills in dance, choreography, music, singing and many more! Dancing on that stage gives you a sense of adrenaline because you do it for yourself. It’s the time and place where Tamils get together, creating amazing performances to inspire others! MM2020 was my first ever MM as a dancer which was with HEADLINE. Now 4 years later, I never expected to become one of the choreographers in MM’s 30th Year Anniversary of 2024, with my own team - The Officials! A dream come true and the beginning of a new journey! Truly blessed.”​

Solo choreographer Swathe successfully used a unique doll concept for her performance ‘Agham’, in which she amazed the audience by dancing blindfolded. 

“This year at Mega Maalai, I chose the concept of dolls coming to life when the toy store is closed. One of the main reason behind this theme was that dolls are something which could have the element of “control” and have very structured choreography which could seamlessly work with Bharathanatyam. The element of “eerie” came from themes which I believe have not been explored as much on stage performances, hence how Agham’s concept came about," Swathe said. 

“The only challenge I faced as a solo choreographer was my sense of panic when things didn’t go the way they did. But this was overcome by dancers in the team offering to take partial workload off of me and making sure we were all on task.”

“Platforms such as Mega Maalai provide opportunities for people to showcase their talent as a union and come to appreciate the immense support within the Tamil community which is at times underestimated and underappreciated. From my own experience, the 25th Anniversary of Mega  Maalai was my first ever university dance program after coming into University with hopes and dreams of excelling in my dance passion and being able to get that into of confidence 5 years ago, I’m proud to be able to call myself a solo choreographer for Agham for the 30th anniversary. Therefore, platforms such as Mega Maalai could be someone’s gateway to their dreams and goals in life.”

In a powerful performance blending street and kuthu, choreographer Janusha presented ‘Sambavam’, meaning ‘incident’. Inspired by popular Netflix show, ‘Money Heist,’ the performance followed the storyline of a hostage situation and a burglary mission, recreating scenes from the show. The piece included an impressive tutting sequence with torches spelling out “Sambavam.”

Telling the story of a feud between worlds, choreographers Chloe, Absara and Nitharsan fused together classical, street and kuthu dance styles, creating ‘Maayam the Galaxy’. Nitharsan shed light on how the idea was formed: 

“Initially when my co-choreos and I met up, we wanted to create something unique that hasn’t been done before. The girls actually thought of the idea of Maayam the Galaxy, the idea of showing different worlds in space. Then we thought of a simple storyline showing two different worlds clashing. Our main focus was to make sure every routine brought a different element and uniqueness. This year was a bit more challenging for myself as we had to choreo in a way that classical, street and kuthu would match but honestly working alongside them both made the choreography process much easier and we hope we did our justice.”

Featuring a variety of complicated props, such as wings and prison cells, Nitharsan explained:

“The hardest challenge was the use of props and costume changes. With the idea we had, we went all out this year, so if one thing messed up then the whole act would fail, so we had to make sure everything was timed perfectly and organised.”

“Mega Maalai is a perfect stage for youngsters to improve and show their talent, especially 30 years on running the show they have been getting better. I started of my choreography career with Mega Maalai and it has created such a big platform for myself. The main focus is to bring the young talents together and giving them that opportunity to grow and perform in front of thousands of people," Nitharshan said. 

Visit Imperial Tamil Society's Youtube channel to watch the performances. 



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