It was the summer of 1994 in Bengaluru. A family friend, who also happened to be a magician came home and showed a couple magic tricks that had Indushree’s jaw drop with excitement. Little Indushree was engrossed and wanted to recreate the whole thing. Within minutes she was able to replicate the magic trick. It was the turn of the magician friend to be in awe, and he taught her some of the tricks he knew. The eight-year-old had already begun her learning. 

A year later, Indushree saw a stuffed monkey toy at a magic convention. The monkey, which had a smiling face, could serve as an exciting character to be with her when she performed her magic. For INR200, it appeared to be a steal. That puppet changed her life as it became a constant partner for her during the days when she had to practice hard. She really did not have any guru to teach her, so she had started observing others and learning on her own.

Occasionally, with the finesse of a toddler, she used to perform magic tricks at small functions. The path she wanted to go on was pretty clear.

Indushree may well have inherited the skill of performing arts in her genes. Her father had been a painter and loved drama and theatre. Her mother’s passion through her professional life had been singing and it helped that she was a music teacher. Having seen her parents excel at different forms of art, it was little wonder that Indushree was always been interested in doing many things. She played the flute, mouth-organ and keyboard as a kid, and learnt to perform magic, drama and mimicry. She would later grow up to get a professional degree with specialisation in painting.

“I used to observe other magicians perform and learnt some of the tricks from them. That is how I became a magician and then, a ventriloquist,” Indushree, India’s first female ventriloquist says.

Heard of that art?

Ventriloquist? For the average person, naming the art form is quite a mouthful. It is an extremely difficult performing art. The job of a ventriloquist is to change their voice in a manner that it appears to be coming from somewhere else. Puppets help one to connect with the audience and it is the puppet’s voice and its comments that mostly regale the audience. The skill is in making inanimate object appear as if it is talking. The questions and the answers that the puppet seems to be speaking are actually the voice of the ventriloquist, which makes such a show popular with the masses.

The challenge of the ventriloquist is to keep their mouth seemingly closed, while speaking for each of the characters that they are portraying. If the audience can figure out that it is the same person talking in different voices, the thrill of the show is over.

Indushree had been performing since she was about eight years old. As she grew, the idea of being a ventriloquist caught her imagination. Since then, it was always her favourite activity to perform before the mirror. She would practice for hours on end and slowly the finesse of the art began manifesting in her performance.

It was not just about being the ‘master of one’ at the shows. She had to learn to speak in multiple different voices and make sure there was some humour thrown in so that people could be entertained. Writing a script and sticking to it was critical and occasionally, singing also helped.

‘Dinku changed my life’

If there is one image of Indushree that can always be found, it is with Dinku, the puppet that travels everywhere with her. When she got the puppet in 2007, she did not like it and had to make some changes to its appearance to make it look more endearing.

Sometime in 2008, Indushree got a call from the United States, inviting her to be part of a show. Her performances with Dinku, the puppet, were now making a name outside the country too. But Indushree had not got her passport ready and the opportunity was missed. That gave her the idea that the message from Dinku could be taken outside India too, and since then, she has travelled to a number of countries after the first visit to US in 2010.

There are eight puppets that Indushree has in her repertoire, but if there is one that she has to choose as her favourite, it has to be Dinku.

“People may not know my name but they can recognise Dinku anywhere and talk about him. He speaks the language of the people and that is why he has been so popular,” Indushree reasons.

Dinku and all the puppets are an intrinsic part of the family because but Dinku seems to be the first among equals, with a presence just about everywhere. As Indushree says, he is like the annadata or the bread earner for the family. When she recently bought a new car, Dinku was the first one to enter the new vehicle. Her home is called Dinku Mane, which in her mother tongue Kannada translates as ‘Dinku’s Home.’

Little wonder, there are several social causes that Dinku gets associated with and ensures that his voice is heard – environment, pollution, health, traffic and others. In one of the incidents, people around Stella Maris School at Sankey Road in the city they decided to protest against the cutting down of trees by the municipal authorities. Dinku lent the might of his voice against the move. The municipal authorities decided to shelve the plan!

Hard work up the ladder

It did not happen all at once, though. For Indushree, getting to the big stage meant a lot of hard work had to be put in. One of the first breaks she got was when she performed for a cable network in Bengaluru. She used to play the roles of a policeman, politician or some other popular figure while the puppet would ask her questions. All of this would happen in Kannada, the local language of the state. The programme was such a hit that it continued for three years without a break!

That helped her get a break at Mysore’s Dasara festival, where, along with several cultural programmes, new artists and performers are given a platform so that they can be noticed. It was a proud moment for Indushree as each major local newspaper found space to appreciate her art form and dedicated space for her performance. She later did a one-year show on Zee Kannada which got her further acclaim.

“I wanted to be perfect. At that time, I was not. So, I really had to work hard to become better and closer to being perfect. The challenge was to make inanimate objects come alive,” Indushree quips.

With experience having made her near perfect now, the invites are pouring in from several countries. This summer she is off to New Zealand and Dinku will have the opportunity to make some new Kiwi friends.