Traditional dance, cooking, martial arts: Migrant workers showcase skills for talent competition
SINGAPORE: Logistics handler Maruthaiyan Kumaravelu, 35, grew up watching his mother cook.
The Indian national developed an interest in cooking as a young boy at the age of 7, after helping her out in the kitchen as she asked him to grab different spices as she put the dishes together.
He stopped cooking after he went to college. But after moving to Singapore for work and living with five other roommates, having other people around who liked to cook sparked his interest again.
Over the last four years, he has become the chef among his friends, and they all enjoy his food. They often request his briyani, and crab or chicken curry, especially on special occasions like Deepavali.
He now shares a flat with just one housemate. Before leaving for work, he cooks packed lunches for both of them, which they bring to work. On Sundays, he dabbles in snacks and desserts.
"I love cooking to please others, and to make other people happy," he said, adding that even friends who are picky about food say that his cooking is very good.
"I don't know what I've learnt since I've come to Singapore, but I've definitely learned how to become a really good cook."
Mr Kumaravelu is just one of the 20 individuals from Tamil Nadu in India who are vying for the top place in a new migrant worker talent competition held in Singapore.
The competition is part of Tamil variety series Chill Pannu Maappi!, which is commissioned by the Ministry of Communication and Information and produced by Cosmic Ultima Pictures.
The series was made for migrant workers in Singapore and the final episode will air on Monday night (Jul 5).
Migrant workers were invited to send in video submissions of their talents, and the show received more than 600 submissions, said executive producer of the show S.S. Vikneshwaran.
Out of all these submissions, 20 participants were shortlisted by award-winning actress Aishwarya Rajesh.
"That was also really a pull for them, because a lot of migrant workers actually adore her a lot," said Mr Vikneshwaran, adding that many of them relate to the rural village characters she often plays.
The reception for the show and the competition segment has been "pretty good" so far, he said, adding that both migrant workers and Singaporeans enjoy the series.
"They seem to love the idea of being able to connect with familiar faces that they know from back home. They enjoy the dance, the songs, their favourite so far has been the stand-up comedy segment, which features some sensational comedians from Tamil Nadu."
The competition saw submissions including those of singing, dancing, playing instruments, said Ms Soffy Hariyanti, director of MCI's campaigns and production department.
There were also some unique entries featuring martial art forms and folk dances, she added. The top three winners with the highest number of likes and views on the @sg4mw TikTok account will take home S$1,000, S$500 and S$300 respectively.
For Mr Kumaravelu, he hopes that his version of a dish he grew up eating will nab him a top spot. His submission was an instructional recipe video for needlefish fried with a thick paste made of dried chilli, pepper, garlic, cumin seeds and ginger.
He chose to use needlefish as it is also a popular choice used in his village located by the sea because it does not have many bones and can be caught fresh. The style of cooking is also reminiscent of dishes from his hometown.
As he often visits Tekka market and the stores along Serangoon Road, he also noticed that many migrant workers in Singapore buy this fish.
"I thought I would choose this so other people can also learn and try it out," he said, adding that those who want to try the recipe can also use Spanish mackerel or rockfish.
He chose this particular style of cooking because in big cities, many chefs at home opt for pre-made or mass-produced spice powders.
With his video, he wanted to highlight that in the more rural parts of the country, ingredients are used from scratch. For example, many spices are pounded into powders or pastes by hand with a mortar and pestle, he added.
These spices are not processed, with no added colouring or flavouring. "I wanted to use this style to show that it's healthy and it can be very delicious," he said.
Another shortlisted participant is Mr Ganesan Sandhirakasan, a 33-year-old who teaches Taekwondo. His submission was a demonstration of Silambam, a traditional martial art form practiced in India since 4th century BC.
He started practising martial arts at the age of 12. At the first Silambam World Championship in 2010, he won the silver medal for India.
"(I decided to take part) after seeing the advertisement (for the competition) on the website. My workplace was closed during the COVID period," he said.
"I wanted to use the time usefully on something. Therefore, I choreographed (a demonstration of) the Indian martial art Silambam."
He made the video with the intention of making the martial art form known to more people, and to encourage others to keep fit, he said.
"It takes concentration, fitness, and practice to perform a continuous sequence of Silambam. Learners benefit from both physical health and mental health," he added.
He has lived in Singapore for the past seven years, and has taught Taekwondo here for the past five.
As for Mr Vignesh Sathish, whose video of him performing a traditional dance known as the Karagattam was also shortlisted, he taught himself the dance as a child while watching professionals perform it in festivals.
The dance is an ancient art form that involves holding a heavy pot above your head and dancing with it. It is typically performed in temples or for South Indian festivals. The dancer should not ever drop the pot.
As a child, Mr Sathish started learning the dance using a plastic pot he had at home, and eventually took part in school performances for 10 years.
Soon after, his neighbour in the village where he lived noticed his talent and invited him to perform with his troupe that travelled to neighbouring villages to dance.
Two years after coming to Singapore, he joined a dance crew and has performed on stage and on TV with them three times for the Pongal festival or Deepavali. He often joins the crew for practice after work.
The 27-year-old has worked in Singapore for four years, handling administrative work for a cable laying company.
For his video, friends from his dance group came over to help him prepare for the dance. He wore a costume from a previous performance with the dance group, and they helped him apply makeup and film the video, which took about an hour.
When asked why he chose to perform the Karagattam, he said: "Now there are so many dance forms, and people tend to go towards the modern dance forms.
"I wanted to use the opportunity to show something that's more traditional," he said, adding that even though the Karagattam is a traditional dance form, many people still admire it and like to watch it when there's a chance.