The UAE’s Keralite expatriates are currently celebrating this year’s Onam season less cheerfully than before, mainly because of reduced support from sponsors.
Many major sponsors of yesteryears have either withdrawn totally or have reduced their sponsorship budget. The dismal economic scenario and increased cost of food products have also dampened the spirit of Kerala’s main festival
Onam feasts, festivities, games and stage shows have been lined up by a number of community associations, college alumnis, companies and some labour camps over the next two months.
Says K M Abbas, President, Sir Sayyed College Taliparampa Alumni: “Last year, we could easily celebrate Onam for 1,500 people. The budget for a feast of 20 items was about Dh 10,000. Totally we spent about Dh 25,000. United Malayali Association spent more than Dh 10,0000 because they fly in chefs and singers from Kerala for their programme. Entertainment is an integral part of Onam celebrations and this year not many organisations could raise funds because the main sponsors have withdrawn or have reduced their funding.”
Abbas added that many Onam programmes will see fewer participants this year. “Catering companies have increased the menu price by Dh5 to Dh10 per head, upsetting the total budget. Therefore we have to be satisfied with just 500 guests as against 1,500 last year.”
However, the Onam mood prevails in established and budding new radio stations that vie with each other to offer a sumptuous Onam feast and a range of games and entertainment programmes for their listeners. Companies and shopping malls targetting the largest expatriate community in the UAE are also ready with their special Onam offers to capitalise on the festive mood, though Onam celebrations are over in Kerala.
Celebrities, senior diplomats and even artists who dress up as ‘Mahabali’ are fully booked for almost two months. “For the next two months, Onam programmes have been booked for every weekend. We celebrated Onam last Friday,” said Biju Abel Jacob of the Periyar Pravasi Federation. He said another expatriate association, the Angamaly NRI Federation, will also have Onam celebrations.
Several radio stations are vying with each other to celebrate Onam on and off the air with guests selected randomly by their RJs. Radiome, an FM radio station, organsied special Onam programmes involving 250 selected listeners. “For a Malayalam radio station, Onam provides an occasion to meet some of our listeners,” says Kris Iyer, Head of Programming, Radiome.
Onam celebrations at India Trade and Exhibition Centre Sharjah included a floral carpet, procession of Mahabali, tug of war etc. The Onam feast was prepared by chef Pazhayedathu Mohanan Namboothiri who was flown in from Kerala by Kolam Restaurant. Most Indian restaurants and hotels like Tharavadu have bookings for weekend Onam programmes.
Onam is a season for serious marketing by companies targeting Keralites in the Gulf which include a sizeable entrepreneurial classes with purchasing power. Despite the economic downturn, some sponsors are still available.
“We will resume our ‘Onachanda’ (Onam market) next year. This year, the response has been good for our focused Onam publications,” said Habib Rahman of Benchmark Advertising, a marketing and event management company that has organised many Onam programmes and events in the past. “Onam is time for new marketing campaigns in the Gulf,” he added.
“Radio stations are manned by radio jockeys who are not visible to listeners and Onam offers an opportunity for them to interact with listeners. We have selected 101 listeners through various competitions on the air. There were many programmes and a sumptuous feast at Tharavadu restaurant,” said Nidhi Sudhan, Programme Head, Gold FM Malayalam Station.
“Most of radio listeners don’t get to know their RJs. We organised the Onam programmes to give a chance for 101 listeners through on air contests about Onam. This is the second year that we are having an Onam feast and RJs interacted with listeners,” she added.
Asianet Radio, Radio Asia and Super FM 94.7 had their own versions of Onam celebrations on nd off the air.
Two rival college alumnis, Federation of Kerala Colleges Alumnis (Fecka) and All Kerala Colleges Alumni Forum (Ackaf), are also organising Onam programmes, second only in size to the programmes of United Malayali Association (UMA), an umbrella organisation of several Keralite community associations.
“It has been difficult to get sponsors, but our programmes will be as colourful as last year. We will have about 2,000 guests,” says David Thomas, President, Fekca.
Ackaf is also organising an Onam feast for a few thousand guests and has roped in many celebrities for its programmes.