An MSN India Exclusive | January 2009.
Psychic Entertainer Nakul Shenoy talks to Harsh Kabra
Q: What inspired your foray into the world of magic?
NS: I have always been inspired by the Mandrake The Magician – the legendary magician comics character developed by Lee Falk. As far as I can remember, Mandrake has always caught and inspired my imaginations, and I have been “gesturing hypnotically” at people! Even today, I read and follow the Mandrake comics as he epitomises the “real magician” to me.
Q: In which year/at what age did you begin? How?
NS: At the age of five, I was taken to a big magic show by my grandmother and uncle. I am not too sure, but I think it was PC Sorcar Jr’s Indrajal. I only remember two effects from this show – some steel rings that linked magically, and a lady that changed into a lion! As soon as I went home I started parading myself as a magician.
Then my dad got me this Magic Kit, a box of tricks that even kids could do. I read the booklet therein and started performing for family. This amassing of magical knowledge mostly from magic books continued till the age of 15, when I gave my first public show. It has been a good 15 years since then, entertaining audiences worldwide.
Q: What trainings did you receive? How did it help?
NS: I have not received any kind of formal training on magic or the allied arts. My knowledge and skill comes mostly from the variety of magic-related literature I have read over the years. I have always loved books and to read. I sometimes feel I am in Magic today only because I read… read Mandrake The Magician to start with, and later loads of magical books!
I have however taken some formal trainings in Hypnosis, and I am a communication specialist by education. These and other skills that I picked up and honed through the years are helping me tremendously in my shows today.
Q: What were some of your innate attributes that helped you develop this skill?
NS: Heh! I think I answered this to a certain extent already. I would say it was my love of reading which introduced me to Mandrake the Magician, and of course my innate need to communicate and connect to people.
I have been fortunate to be gifted with a pleasant personality that comes across as likeable and approachable to people. Also, I have been quite interested in the English language – be it writing or public speaking. All these have been silent but strong influencers to enable what I do today – influence my audiences with a rather unique form of magical entertainment.
Q: Was it easy to take your first steps into the world of magic? What was the reaction of your parents and peers?
NS: Let me see. I don’t think anybody around me thought I would do as well as I have. I mean the family. They all thought it was something curious, an interesting hobby akin to the various others I was interested in at the time be it Stamps, Coins, Stickers, not to forget Books! Then when the day came for me to perform publicly, there was a certain reservation, as they thought perhaps it was not what children of respected families did. But that changed drastically soon after the first show.
This is not to say that they did not encourage me. If not for the unselfish and wholehearted support of my family members I would surely not be half of where I am today. They bought me anything I asked for – books, tricks, you name it.
So yes! The family supported me throughout, and even now it is my grandfather who is my biggest pillar of strength, who encourages me to be the best – the best in the world.
Q: Over the years, how have you evolved as a “magician”? (in terms of skills, acts/performances, audiences, etc)
NS: I began with conjuring effects with ropes and cards, and the regular magic effects that people get to see in children’s shows. By the time I reached college, I was doing big stage shows presenting illusions where I was vanishing and producing people, and the like. I had a troupe of 10 people and we were presenting a variety entertainment show of sorts, with magic, juggling, talking doll, and more. I was also doing combined shows with my friend and master magician Prahlad Acharya.
Somewhere along the line I realised this is not the kind of magic that I wanted to be doing. I wanted to be a real life Mandrake. A magical person who could read minds, project thoughts, and influence people by gesturing hypnotically. About a decade back, I began to perform at corporate venues, for audiences largely comprised of adults, and began evolving my show more to what would hold their intrigue. Slowly but surely I began to evolve to what I term as “real magic” and in time moved over completely to the genre of psychic entertainment – presenting phenomena like mind reading, thought transference, and telepathy.
Q: What all has it taken for you to dispel the myths and misunderstandings and bust stereotypes about magic in India?
NS: Magic is all about mystery and things not normal. Historically too it has always been pitched alongside arcane rituals and witchcraft, and continues to remain one of the most misunderstood of all arts. Add the Indian cultural context, and magic goes hand in hand in our thousands of years of civilization. Shiva, Indra, Krishna, all connote Maya and Indrajal. Our scriptures, our myths, legends and lores are all interspersed with magic and illusion. Bring in aspects of astrology, telepathy, and astral thought projection, and we are only getting started!
It is rather difficult to separate all this cultural understanding from the audience’s minds, and so it is natural that I am approached after each performance with myriad questions on the lines of: can you read my mind, can you tell me what the future holds, can you bend metal, and what not!
The objective of my current shows is to make my audience think. I make it clear I do not have any supernatural powers, but I present psychic phenomena in a way that makes them all stop and take notice. Whether a believer, a skeptic, or a neutral observer, they are forced to look within and reconsider their beliefs.
Q: In this age of the Internet and breaking news, how do people perceive magic? Is it still mere entertainment or children’s stuff for most?
NS: The internet age has been a mixed bag for the mystery entertainers. On one hand, it has made it extremely easy for us to connect and collaborate with colleagues the world-over and pursue our magical interests to an extent never possible before. On the other hand it has also trivialised the performing art part of the magical craft, with most magic secrets being available now at a click of a button, even for the remotely interested. So safeguarding the secrets has been a revised challenge.
And that has a tremendous bearing on perception too. When people think all magic is explained with a click of a button, it is not good at all.
Most of the magic one gets to see today are predominantly the children’s entertainment variety. But some of the evolved and accomplished acts are now becoming mainstay in the corporate entertainment arena.
Q: Please tell us about your acts and their objectives?
NS: My current act is based on the premise of a modern day mind reader – a person who can read minds, project thoughts, and influence people via verbal and nonverbal suggestion. These skills, coupled with a trained memory and a bit of hypnotism, enable me to play this successfully for psychic entertainment. As mentioned, I make it clear I do not have any supernatural powers, but I go on to present psychic phenomena as if I do. This makes my audiences, whether corporates or visiting foreign dignitaries, sit up and take notice, to re-learn to question and to think critically.
Q: How do you select acts for a performance? What is the rationale behind this choice? Does this selection vary from performance to performance?
NS: I like to see it as playing a character… a person who can read minds. So in my shows – mostly of 45 to 60 minute duration – I presents various acts of reading the audiences minds. I also give the audiences tips and tricks to body language, suggestion, influence, and memory development, all in a highly-interactive and entertaining way, as I continue to read minds and amaze the people.
The rationale and selection is different from regular magic shows. Here I am reading minds, so there is no problem of repetition or selection. I am reading various minds, and I am reading different things.
What is of utmost importance is that my audience is entertained, and is never humiliated, and always goes home feeling happy, relaxed and rejuvenated — having experienced some psychic phenomena!
Q: What goes into planning such a performance?
NS: Tough question that! Well, I am not doing tricks here. So what goes in has to be the effort continuously put in to understand people – understand how they think, how they will react, how to influence them, what can go wrong and when. Every little detail that goes in that makes the minutes in front of my audience a magical and unforgettable experience for each of them. Everything that goes in to create that perfect magical moment!
Q: How does this medium spur innovative thinking or creative application? How is this medium different from the other media used for that purpose?
NS: Magical entertainment – and I mean all genres of magic here – have a kind of pull and influence that no other media can match. For starters it entertains and connects with everybody – all ages from all strata of the society. Among this, the psychic entertainment genre has tremendous potential for spurring innovation and creativity as it deals with the powers of the mind.
In Blink, Malcolm Gladwell discusses the aspects of intuitive thinking and learned instinct. My show deals with similar aspects, and has elements that can be learnt and developed by anybody seriously interested. As a matter of fact, many of my regular corporate clients have asked me to conduct trainings or join their sales teams to try and understand the needs of their clients better and serve them better!
Q: Please describe some of your acts and tell us what their takeaways are. How exactly do they help the audience defy common sense and look beyond the obvious?
NS: This is difficult. Magical entertainment per se is all about defying common sense and look beyond the obvious. I like to play along varied themes of chance, intuition, power of the mind, educated guess, instinct, and of course influence and persuasion. These are typically groomed to play to the client’s specific requirements and provide a lot of learnings and experience for the audience.
Q: What kind of reaction do your performances receive?
NS: Can I just say pleasantly surprised? (Laughs) Well, my audiences are mystified, baffled and entertained all at the same time. Most of the time they are being told how I am doing it, yet have no idea how what happened, just happened! They treat it with utter disbelief, but can’t disbelieve it too for they have just witnessed and experienced something paranormal, something truly psychic.
Q: What differentiates your brand of magic? Do you need to do anything special to first overcome scepticism and disbelief among your audiences?
NS: The basic difference between my genre of performance and all other forms of magical entertainment is that it is not a visual form of entertainment. True, the audience sees me, they see everybody else, they see whatever little is used in the shows. But the actual magic or I should say psychic phenomena is in their minds… the experience of the people whose minds are read is like no other.
But for this to happen, I need to connect to my audience, I need them to trust me with their thoughts. It is not about one-upmanship or upstaging anybody. It is about clean magical entertainment… magic in its purest form.
Q: Which are some of the top corporates you have performed for? Are there instances when you did many more performances for them based on the feedback your maiden performance elicited?
NS: Most of my clients are Fortune 100 and Fortune 500 companies, who have come my way based on good feedback from another event. I have had the good fortune to entertain the likes of Apple, Microsoft, Wipro, Infosys, GE, APC, HSBC Bank, ICICI Bank, and many more prestigious clients both in India and internationally. I have been fortunate enough to get continued repeat business with many of them.
Q: Please provide some of the most power-packed testimonials you have received to date.
NS: The standing ovations I get at the end of a show are the best testimonials to any performance. I also like to rate my show based on my audience’s feedback, and I must thank them for providing me with frank thoughts and views on what they felt about my show and encouraging me on. It is very difficult for me to rate the testimonials as each word received in feedback is equally important to me.
Here’s a sampler of some of the testimonials received (many more on the website) to best communicate the audience reaction to my shows:
“It’s ridiculous! Simply ridiculous!! How can you do that?”
– Ranjit Barot, Music Director
Was it magic or was it some sort of psychic?”
– Venkat Iyer
“That was wonderful! The more I see you perform, the more I want to know how you do it!”
– Air Marshal B K Pandey, IAF
“His magical shows won great laurels from senior foreign dignitaries visiting India. His oratory skills endear him to one and all. His shows being of very high quality, his presence became almost mandatory on all major occasions…”
– Wing Commander S K Mittal, IAF
“No… I don’t think it is paranormal powers, but I have no idea how you did it!”
– Dr Madhav Rao, Parapsychologist
Q: Why are you now moving from corporate audiences to general public? What do the takeaways of your performances hold in store for them? In other words, how would they help them?
NS: I have been performing these shows titled “Beyond Magic” for over six years at prestigious corporate gatherings the world-over. All through I have consistently received the request from many that experienced my show, that they wanted their friends and family members to also witness and experience the paranormal – the way I present it.
Being exclusively offered only at the corporate circuits, I unintentionally kept the show out of reach of the common folk. This is the primary reason I presented a special public show at the Chowdaiah Memorial Hall in Bangalore in January 2009. Now I am looking to carry out an all-India tour, and make the Beyond Magic show available to the people across the country.
I want all those who are interested to witness it, and experience it, and take home the same joy and learnings that people in the corporate events have hitherto been privy to. I am really excited about this upcoming tour as this is the first time that psychic entertainment would enter the public entertainment circuit in India.
Q: Do you think magic has received its due in India? Where do we stand vis-à-vis the rest of the world?
NS: India is a country rich in culture and arts. And we keep complaining that our appreciation of the arts regularly takes a back seat. Similar is the case with magic. The world acknowledges Indian itinerant magic as one of the finest genres and the most challenging. But in India, these street performers – the jadugars – are seen akin to beggars. This is a despicable situation.
Then there’s the other world of the stage performers. While the scene here is not as great as the counterparts in foreign countries, it is not too bad either. The better performers are quite ahead of the game, and are highly appreciated in the professional circuits. But yes, there’s always a great scope for improvement, a scope to actually try and be the best.
Q: How do you see the situation in India changing? What needs to be done to encourage magic and “magicians”?
NS: My answer to this is also two-fold. Anything and everything possible should be done to safeguard the itinerant street magic of India. The government and private cultural organisations need to do all in their power and beyond to ensure one of the oldest art-forms of the world survives.
With regard to the other magicians, I do not think there needs to be anything done. Of course, every now and then magicians too ask for special accordance and facilities, but I think the government has already done a lot of things to support the magicians, including providing an exemption on commercial tax in Karnataka. But yes, the itinerant and street magicians need all the support and encouragement they can get – for they deserve more.
Q: Is magic a viable career option?
NS: Absolutely! It is just as serious as you would treat any other career. The problem is most performers do not vie to get to the next level. They are happy doing the same old run-of-the-mill effects with the same old storylines. This reflects on the people’s reactions too, for they think if you have seen one magic show you have seen them all. And sadly, they are not too far from the truth.
So it is in the hands of the magician to create that magical moment for his audiences, and if you are willing to work on your act and your show, you can easily be one of the top entertainers in the industry. You have to work on it, like you would in any high-paying career of your choice.