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