Mask Magic

S. Suresh’s fas­ci­na­tion with magic has found ex­pres­sion in the many masks he wears.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - FRONT PAGE - By JADE CHAN jade@thes­tar.com.my

MAGIC held such a fas­ci­na­tion for S. Suresh that he jumped at the chance to learn the an­cient Chi­nese art­form of face-chang­ing ( bian lian) when the op­por­tu­nity came along.

“I love to en­ter­tain peo­ple, and magic al­lows me to do just that. It’s great to make peo­ple smile and laugh,” said the af­fa­ble 20-year-old who also dab­bled in lion danc­ing dur­ing his time with the Ti-Ratana Chil­dren’s Home in Desa Petaling, Kuala Lumpur.

Not­ing Suresh’s keen in­ter­est in magic, Ti-Ratana Wel­fare So­ci­ety vice-pres­i­dent Tan Thim Huat sug­gested that he learn the art of face-chang­ing, and got in touch with a Chi­nese face-chang­ing mas­ter from Sichuan, China.

“I went for an in­ter­view with Mas­ter Men Wei, who hap­pened to be in Malaysia at that time. The in­ter­view was nec­es­sary for the mas­ter to eval­u­ate a per­son’s po­ten­tial and in­ter­est,” said Suresh, who is of In­dian-Chi­nese parent­age. “Mas­ter Men agreed to ac­cept me as a stu­dent when he saw my po­ten­tial. The fact that I’m halfIn­dian made me unique, too.”

Suresh un­der­went six months of in­ten­sive train­ing, dur­ing which he learnt the ba­sics of mask-chang­ing – such as walk­ing, pos­ing and body pos­ture – from his mas­ter.

“The train­ing was re­ally tough. It called for a lot of ini­tia­tive and in­ter­pre­ta­tion on my part. There were times when I felt like giv­ing up, but I per­se­vered,” said Suresh, who had to make a daily two-hour trip via pub­lic trans­port to train at a stu­dio in Cheras, KL.

“My care­givers at Ti-Ratana, as well as my mother and sis­ter, gave me a lot of en­cour­age­ment and sup­port.”

Though each of Mas­ter Men’s stu­dents had to cough up RM12,000 for a face-chang­ing course, Suresh was given a fee waiver due to his cir­cum­stances. He only had to pay for the cos­tume and masks which were im­ported from China.

“I use nine to 10 masks for each per­for­mance. Ev­ery mask has its own char­ac­ter­is­tics and ex­pres­sion. A red mask could rep­re­sent anger, while a white mask may de­pict cun­ning. How­ever, it is up to the artiste to make his own in­ter­pre­ta­tion of each char­ac­ter.”

“Mas­ter Men stressed that a face-changer’s poses and abil­ity to in­ter­act with the crowd are im­por­tant,” said Suresh, adding that his mar­tial art and dance skills gave him an edge.

He re­veals that his preper­for­mance rou­tine in­cludes prac­tis­ing proper breath­ing tech­niques, med­i­tat­ing, warm­ing-up ex­er­cises and not eat­ing heavy meals to en­able him to stay fo­cused. He also has to en­sure that he is well-hy­drated be­fore and af­ter each per­for­mance.

Be­sides reg­u­lar prac­tice, Suresh fre­quently ob­serves other mask chang­ers and opera per­form­ers in or­der to de­velop his skills and en­sure that he does not du­pli­cate their move­ments.

Suresh is proud that he is Malaysia’s first In­dian face-chang­ing per­former, and gets a thrill each

Un­masked: At the end of ev­ery show, Suresh re­veals his face to the au­di­ence. On the right are some of the many masks that he uses in his per­for­mances. – Pics by YAP CHEE HONG / The Star

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