Who are we ?

That's a secret we never know. Sometimes we have the shape of water. To blend in anywhere, anyhow. Sometimes as rigid as ice. Unbreakable, strong and cold. Sometimes delicate like steam. Hot, burning and in the air. If just H2O has so many forms, why can't humans take so many forms? We may be a poet one day, a dancer another day, a writer one day or a homemaker another day. We have different roles. But deep down, who are we? We are nothing but Artists. As Pablo Picasso said - Every child is an artist; the problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”

Karthikathirunal Utthara Unni Raja is an award-winning, trained and professional Bharatanatyam dancer from Kerala and a member of the UNESCO International Dance Council. She is a passionate writer and an accomplished film-maker who has directed short films, documentaries and music videos. She is also a film actress who predominantly works in Tamil and Malayalam films. She heads a dance academy called Temple Steps in Kochi, Kerala. She has also made appearances as a host for several TV shows.

As a dancer

Being the daughter and disciple of Urmila Unni, Utthara started learning Bharatanatyam at a very young age from her mother.

She holds a degree in B.F.A. Bharathanatyam from Sastra University under the special guidance of Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam and a master’s degree in M.A. Bharathanatyam from Tamil University.

Although she began her training in Vazhuvoor bani, she was trained in the Pandanallur bani as she grew up. She later developed a style of her own having explored her tutelage under various Gurus. She is currently learning under Smt. Saikripa Prasanna. Apart from Bharatanatyam she is also training in Karanas from Smt. Vithya Arasu and pursuing diploma in Nattuvangam from Dr. Guru Bharadwaj.

Utthara has given several solo concerts and conducted various workshops for Indian and foreign audiences in countries such as Greece, Germany, Nepal, Thailand, UAE, Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, Bahrain and Kuwait. She has performed in more than 300 stages around the world. She regularly performs in the Natyanjali festivals held at Chidambaram, Kumbakonam, Thirunallar, Nagapattinam, Mayavaram, Thiruvarur and Thanjavur every year. Some of her significant stages include International Dance Council as part of UNESCO - Greece, Deutsch Indische Gesellschaft - Germany, Abtei Munsterschwarzach - Germany, Siam University - Bangkok, Soorya Dance Festival – Trivandrum, Krishna Gana Sabha - Chennai, Narada Gana Sabha - Chennai, Mylapore Fine Arts – Chennai, Sangeeth Natak Akademi – Trissur, Nishagandhi – Trivandrum, Ernakulam Shiva temple, Guruvayur, Mookambika temple, Vyloppilli Samskriti Bhavan – Trivandrum, Times Sanskruti Arts Festival - Mumbai, Swaralaya Samanvayam - Palakkad etc. 

Utthara is the director of the dance school "Temple Steps" situated in Cochin. She has received several awards in the field of dance and is a member of the UNESCO International Dance Council. 

“Dancing is a psychological state of mind induced by a magical incantation. You transform into a character and evolve as an artist. Sometimes the involvement is so vivid that you forget it’s a form of entertainment; that you’re a performer and it’s just an act. When the Sanchari finishes and your Nattuvanar gives you a cue for the next Jathi, you realize you need to come back from that trance and then you wish you could have lived that moment a little longer.” 

As a film maker and singer

Having graduated in B.Sc. Visual Communication and mastered in M.A. Communication, Utthara's directorial debut was through a horror short film Randaam Varavu featuring her mother Urmila Unni. The film won her five awards for best direction. She later directed a supernatural short-film featuring Urmila Unni and Devan called Ninth Month. She was praised about her writing and film making skills in her next short film Paw Prints featuring Siddique. The short film is about canine love and explores the special relationship between a man and a dog. Utthara is a well-known animal welfare activist. She has also created music videos and documentaries. Utthara Unni is an acclaimed singer and has released a music album titled Pathirapontheril. She recently directed a music video Venalmazha, in which she rendered her mother’s poetry.

As an actor, model and TV host

She made her debut in the Tamil film Vavval Pasanga (2012) directed by Suresh. Her first Malayalam film Edavappathy directed by Lenin Rajendran and shot by Madhu Ambat also featured Manisha Koirala and Siddharth Lama. Utthara portrayed dual roles of Vasavadatta (a famous character from Kumaran Asan's poem Karuna) and a modern girl Yamini in the parallel story of the film. Her performance was critically acclaimed and won her the Kerala Film Critics Association Award for the best upcoming actor (debut). Utthara started modelling during her school days and has worked with many Indian brands such as Dhathri Real Slim Oil, SriKumarans, Bhima Jewellers, Emmanuval Silks, Asianet Broadband, Golden Lotus, Milco, P And N Ceramics and many others. She had the privilege to model for a German brand Ground Zero which used to be represented by John Abraham. Utthara has also hosted several TV shows such as Mambazham in Kairali TV and Autumn Leaf in Amrita TV.

“Cinema will always remain as my first love. The crazy, undiluted, raw love at first sight. But dance is what I’m married to. It’s my commitment, my religion, my dharma. Dance is the reason that gets me out of bed every single morning.”


Having finished her schooling from Bhavan's Vidya Mandir, Girinagar and Mar Thoma Public School, Cochin, Utthara graduated in B.Sc. Visual Communication from S.R.M Institute of Science and Technology, Chennai and did her master's degree in M.A. Communication from M.O.P. Vaishnav College for Women, Chennai under Madras University. Utthara also graduated in B.F.A. Bharathanatyam from Sastra University and post graduated in M.A. Bharatanatyam from Tamil University.

Personal life

Utthara Unni is the daughter of A R Unni and renowned Malayalam actress Urmila Unni. She was born into the Royal family of Thiruvalla Nedumpuram Palace. Malayalam film actors Samyuktha Varma and Biju Menon are also her family members. 

Utthara is married to businessman Nithesh S Nair and they have a daughter named Dheemahee.  

“Happiness means home. To feel loved, to feel important, to feel comfortable and to be at peace. It’s the little blessings in life that we take for granted. It’s always there and hence we don’t realize how precious they are. A tree’s beauty lies in its branches but its strength lies in its roots.” 

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