Thursday, June 27, 2013

The World Is The Stage, Life Is A Performance

Applause. Standing ovation. Extreme silence. Darkness. Loneliness. Sadness. Applause.
India is a place where performing arts are done in abundance. Be it a snake charmer at a fare, a fakir lying on a bed of nails, the old Indian rope trick done in forts, a "magician" making himself fly on the streets with a cloth around him and a monkey with a drum as an assistant or a man eating swords and breathing fire.
Performances in the country have always been at a plenty. Of late, the charm of the snake charmers has begun to die, the rope trick has a fallen rope, the nails on the bed of the fakir are sharper and the only things monkeys do is torment housing places by breaking flower pots and stealing banans.
However the influence of the west is ever present in the world of performances in the country. Be it one act plays, be it a one man play, be it English stand up comedy or be it what I do, magic and mind reading. Yes the snake charmers and fakirs still exist, but the audiences are more open to "modern" forms of performances.
As a performer of an evolving and what I like to believe is a modern art, nothing makes me happier than to have an enthusiastic audience. But as it is famously said, the life of a performer has more ups and downs than a girl on a period. If you're a performer, I strongly believe you would relate to the remainder of this post, if you're not a performer and you're reading this AND have a friend/family member who is a performer, learn to accept that he/she has two lives.
The moment I step on stage, the world changes and becomes prettier. People seem nicer. Problems in life are thrown off and all the love, hate and other emotions are transferred onto performances which makes them seem better. Then there is applause which sounds better than any instrument, there are people's faces, which look prettier than people anywhere ever have and there are appreciative words which sound more poetic than anything Wordsworth ever wrote. But what follows is the strangest feeling a person can have. The extreme high of performing and hearing that applause is replaced by the silence of your room. You don't have the energy and the mental state to talk to people, television is boring, the computer beats you at FIFA and the coffee doesn't taste right. The high of being surrounded by cheering people is replaced by the low of being alone in a very familiar place which begins to feel like a deserted compound. 
However, this strange feeling can teach life lessons which being a hard earned billionaire can't teach you. It teaches you to learn how to be happy in a darkened room with no forms of life around you, it teaches you that when you're in a crowd, even your own shadow leaves you and if you can be happy then, you'll be the most successful person there ever was. 
Apart from that any performer who hasn't been booed of stage at least once in his life isn't a performer. He or she is an enthusiast. I've been booed off stage by 500 people, nothing, no person leaving, no injuries, no defeats can make a performer sadder than the sound of boos echoing around a theatre. But in what I've been told is a psychotic way, it's a strangely enriching experience. Being booed of stage teaches you how to handle rejection better than anything ever can. If you work in a company, usually you have appraisals where someone tells you how you're doing at work. I don't have a boss, I do my own appraisal. Or my audiences do it for me. Once in a while, your boss or manager will tell you that you're not doing well. That's one person, one time in one room with no one around. To have five hundred people reject you at the same time in front of each other makes you handle rejection. No girl turning you down, no deal not going through, no person disapproving of you after that can make you feel as bad. 
And of course if you still feel dejected, the hate for rejection, the love for a person and all the other emotions can be transferred into the performance, all the emotions can be thrown off stage which when done properly is followed by applause. Then standing ovations. Then extreme silence. Then darkness. Then loneliness. Then sadness. Then applause. And life becomes a performance.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Of Butter Chicken, Of Performances.... Of A Stereotypical World



"The secret impresses no one. The trick you use it for is everything." - The Prestige
We live in a world of stereotypes. Not just for different castes, regions or religions but for performers and professions as well. Being a magician the most common thing I get to hear is "Go on then, make my wife disappear" which is followed by the man (in some creepy cases woman) looking at me waiting for me to laugh along even though they're only the 2848687584867th person to say that to me.
The second most common thing I get to hear is, "What are you doing in my living room?" Though I doubt that has much to do with me being a magician.

Last five years, I've convinced myself living with the fact that I do not stereotype people or things unless I want to crack jokes on them. That was until last week when I attended the Saffola Masala Oats Foodathon (bloggers meet) event which had the celebrated chef Vikas Khanna attending. I heard Masterchef and my mind started stereotyping. Ham, Roast Meat, Cheddar Cheese and people in suits drinking rare wine started playing in my head. I got there and was served Tindas with Badaam Milk mixed with Oats. So much for wine and cheese. 
However it so happened that to my surprise, the tindas and the badaam milk turned out to be pretty good. More than the food and the drink what I couldn't help but notice was a completely new form of performances. Cooking. Vikas Khanna, stood on stage and spoke about food with love, cooked with love and charmingly distracted people from what he was doing with the food by putting on a show for them. His secret was talking, his talking was what was being used to cook and make people like me somehow like Tindas. The secret would impress no one. The trick he used it for was everything.

New areas of performances continue to arise, new stereotypes are born with them. True magic, lies in being different. If you're in a band, you're expected to be growling, playing hard rock or metal music and are expected to be in your late teens or in your early to mid twenties. It's not supposed to be your main profession and it's common knowledge that you smoke weed before going on stage. Being in a Sufi band is branded "uncool."
If you're a painter, you're expected to paint either portraits or sceneries of snow capped mountains, streams and the sun. If you're a stand up comedian in India and you don't crack sexist jokes or husband and wife jokes you're just a man standing on stage trying to talk and making unimpressed people laugh.
If you're a magician, you're expected to make things fly, make people's wives disappear and take rabbits out of hats. Being anything else is "uncool."

Dare to be uncool. Dare to be different. Dare to be in a Sufi band, there was a time when metal was uncool and we had something called Iron Maiden being born. Dare to paint something like Da Vinci's Vitruvian Man. Dare to be a stand up comic who does bits of humour on topics the audience gives on the spot, dare to be a magician who doesn't use a deck of cards.
Dare to be Saffola and Vikas Khanna who make you have Tindas and Badaam Milk and somehow make you like them.
BUT never tell anyone how you got where you get, because the secret impresses no one, the trick you use it for is everything.
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