Lending a Bollywood twist to La Dolce Vita
Cochin Herald|January - February 2021
A planned vacation to Italy turned into an unexpected twist of fate for Ambili Abraham. This is the story of Italy’s whirlwind romance with Bollywood dance and how she was at the centre of it all.
Deepthi Sreenivasan

The year 1999 was coming to an end, the world was at the cusp of entering a new millennium and countries prepared themselves for the vicious yet uncertain Y2K bug. Italy too was gearing up to face a virtual uncertainty, something quite alien to comprehend back then. Around the same time, a young dancer from half the World away travels to Italy. Her idea was a swift vacation and then to return home to India. But fate had something different for her. Amid the Y2k frenzy the pasta-loving, wine bibbing Italians learnt something new - Bollywood dance thanks to Ambili Abraham. Born in Aizawl, Mizoram, Ambili is the embodiment of India’s diversity. “ My mom Miriam Abraham is from the North-East and my dad Abraham T K is from Kerala. Though I was born in Aizawl, I did my schooling in Kerala, Delhi, Mizoram and Kolkata. So, in a way, I know a lot about our different traditions and cultures and that helped me develop knowledge about the different kinds of dances. I have travelled so much within the country, I could say the whole of India is my hometown,” she says as she goes down memory lane.

Grandma mia!

Ambili’s tryst with dance started when she was fairly young and for that she thanks her grandmother. “My grandmother, Joy Abraham, is the reason I started dancing. I used to be very shy and reserved. When I was five she forced me to dance because I was not interested in taking part in extracurricular activities in school,” she says with a chuckle. Dance is something that helped shape her as a person, she says. “It has always given me strength, courage and respect.” Ambili says she still looks back at all her dance performances from her school days “ I remember we had so many teachers who taught different kinds of dance forms and I can still recollect a lot of the things I've done, even some of my costumes. It all had such an impact on my life.” Her first stage show was when she was just five years old, a group dance. These experiences eventually led her to take up formal training in Bharatanatyam at the age of ten. A proud ex-Teresian, Ambili has had the opportunity to participate in many dance competitions during her college days at St Teresa’s College, Ernakulam. “I dedicated the most important parts of my life to Bharatanatyam and while I was in Delhi I also got to learn the basics of Kathak.” Her knowledge of two major Indian classical dance forms along with her understanding of folk dances helped her become a versatile dancer.

A life-changing vacation

Ambili went on a vacation to Italy with her family in 1999, she planned to return. “But then life just changed, that was destiny and I stayed back.” Sounding elated she says, “So I have been doing stage shows from the 2000s and started teaching here too around that time. This is the 20th year of my dance career in Italy and I think I should be celebrating it!”

How it all began

Ambili’s first show in Italy was in 1999 for a cultural programme organised by the Indian embassy. One of the viewers in the crowd, an event manager, who was organising a festival for Asians, approached her and asked if she would be interested in doing more shows. While she had no plans of taking that offer and thought of returning to India, she eventually agreed to do the show.

Ambili had the biggest revelation about Italy after she started receiving more proposals for bigger shows. “I needed more dancers and started searching for good dancers. That is when I got to know that Bollywood was absolutely alien to Italians, nobody knew anything about Indian cinema. It was a surprising fact for me because I could not imagine that Bollywood that is so well known everywhere was still a foreign subject in Italy.”

This got her curious. “I was curious about checking what exactly the Italian crowd knows about Indian culture. I just wanted to see the reaction of the public after watching an Indian dance, because after a very small survey I found out that while a few people have performed Indian classical dance forms, there was nothing about Bollywood!”

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