Nakul Shenoy is a mind reader. He has been performing onstage as a magician for about a decade now. But he’s moved from being a magician to a psychic entertainer, who reads body language and psychological cues that gives him insights about the human mind.
A mild-mannered, regular guy, who’d pass off as a techie or your pleasant next door neighbour, he certainly doesn’t exude a magical aura. But then, as he casually picks up your pen and turns it into a wobbly, curved, thingamajig, while you look on alarmed, you may just change your mind. The pen, handed back to you in reassuringly solid state – just as a plastic Reynolds ballpoint should be – is not really a big deal, you realise. Because, by then, he already has written down in his iPhone which one of the three menu cards on the coffee table you’ll choose from and guesses correctly where your rings are, despite your best attempts to be subversive and engage in a little psychological countergame of your own.
Shenoy, 32, considers himself a corporate entertainer first, rather than a public performer and to a lesser extent, a trainer for corporates as well.
Shenoy, originally from Udipi, did his masters in Mass Communication from Manipal and moved to Bangalore in 2000. By then he had already been performing on stage with tricks and props, as a magician. “I did the whole nine yards — cutting people in half and making things vanish,” he reminisces softly. “I had grown up on a steady diet of Mandrake the Magician comic strips and I wanted to be Mandrake. That’s what pushed me towards magic,” he says. Of course, a magic kit bought by his father, from Bombay, helped hone the skill and by 15 he was already performing for the public.
But his goal was something else entirely. “I want to be Madrake himself, the magician who uses just psychological techniques to do his magic, sans any trickery or props or slights of hand,” states Shenoy. This dream led him to read up as much there is to read about psychic entertainment. His background in Mass Communication helped here as he was already on familiar turf where behavioural psychology and non-verbal communication was concerned. He turned his attention towards influence and persuasion, memory and psychological profiling to develop his own version of psychic entertainment. He reads the minds of people in his audience and as he says, “I simply play the role of a master influencer and persuader.”
So how often does he get it right on stage? He laughs aloud as he reads the suspicion in the question and says “less than half the time.” But he explains the process carefully: “When people are put in the spotlight, they behave predictably. Nobody wants to stand out in a crowd. So an anonymous guess in the audience, say about a flower, would yield maybe 10 choices. Ask them to come up on stage, sit under the light and announce it for the audience — chances are they’ll say something very average, like a rose.”
At his corporate entertainment shows, Shenoy takes this a few notches higher, telling people about persons they may be thinking of, events they may remember, choices they might make and so on. Though you idly wonder if it makes him an uncomfortable friend to have around, he assures you: “I try to switch off as much as I can. I hone my skills by people-watching in airports and coffee shops and other public places.” For his less frequent training workshops, he teaches people to read behaviour and provides psychological tools for dealing with group situations. “This is stuff that’s out there. People know about it, but they never practise it enough. Something as simple as making a person laugh before one broaches a difficult topic. Or basic psychological exercises that help rapport building. But my heart is in entertaining adults, not training them,” he says.
Shenoy did his last public show about two years back, in Chowdiah Hall in Bangalore. Now, he’s poised to do a country tour with one show each in 25 cities across India. But he does hold his first love, magic, very close to his heart. He goes on to explain: “Magic helped me become a confident performer, a far cry from the acutely stage-shy kid that I was. I believe every child should be taught magic, because it helps them be confident. You know something that the others don’t. You can do something wonderful, that the others can’t. It’s magic.”