A career in magic & reading minds
About The Writer: Nakul Shenoy
Nakul calls himself a mind-reader and is in fact a professional magician who makes a living out of not only performing magic shows, but also reading minds, understanding how people behave etc and using that knowledge to help companies and brands better their products/services for the end user.
He has been a magician for about 20 years now, having performed all over India and abroad with more than 500 shows to his credit. He has performed for a range of audiences –from elite exclusive groups consisting of CEOs and corporate honchos to a mass audience of 10,000 and more.He has rubbed shoulders with prominent celebrities and as already mentioned, he has been consultant to popular brands in the area of communication and technology, helping them understand user behaviour.
An unusual profession, you might say, but Nakul can convince you that everyone should learn a magic trick or two which, by extension, also includes reading minds. He feels it is a skill that gives you great confidence, helps you break ice socially and helps you connect with and understand people much better. You see, end of the day, it’s really all about human psychology and the science of probability in the context of human behaviour.
Nakul is in fact coming out with his book, ‘Smart Course in Magic’ published by HarperCollins to help people with their journey in magic.It will be hitting the stores this month.
Read on as Nakul shares his journey of how he got into this exciting, if unconventional, profession and what makes it so rewarding….
Why I chose this career path
I came into magic because I got fascinated by the character Mandrake when I was 5 years old. In fact, till I was about 15 or so I used to walk around thinking and imagining I was Mandrake and behaving like I was him. I love interacting with people and knowing them. For me that’s the prime. So whatever I do or have done over the years, be it in the area of technology or communication, it’s been about that. Magic helps me do that.
How I got into it and trained myself for it
I gave my first public performance when I was 15 and it was in ’94-’95 that I started performing magic professionally. From then on till about 2001 I was doing regular magic shows. That is, I used to make things appear and disappear etc and then I loved to create stage illusions – producing people, making people disappear, cutting them up etc. But at some point of time I got disillusioned with all of that and I decided to explore more. You see, I have a Masters degree in Communication and I sort of trained to be a journalist. So I decided to apply that to magic and do something different. For example, there’s a field in magic called Psychological Entertainment, which deals with the people’s minds and behaviour, for e.g. you can read what’s in people’s minds and influence them. So that gave me a chance to play a real life Mandrake because I knew hypnosis and I knew magic. By using the skills of persuasion I created a stage character called the Mind Reader. So that’s essentially what I do. The last 12 years or so have been a journey in perfecting the required skill-sets – to be Mandrake. I’m not there yet. For me perfection would be getting people to behave and see the way I want them to, like Mandrake. Most of the skills I use today are trained and developed, and not in-born or intuitive though you do develop some sort of intuition over the years. I trained myself to perform magic, learnt to hypnotise people, to read body language, to memorize and remember at a rapid pace. Also in addition to my academic training in Communication, I have trained myself in behavioural psychology, persuasion and influence.
Like I said I love interacting with people and knowing people. So whatever I do or have done over the years, be it in the area of technology or communication, it’s been about that. I’m not an engineer. I did my B.Com and then earned my Master of Science degree in Communication from Manipal University. I have always been keen to understand how people behave, how they use technology. And then I have this other side to me which is a performer and that’s where the magician in me comes into play. The mind reader that I play is a combination of many aspects. It’s not just the persuasion, it’s not just the magic tricks, it’s not just the hypnosis or the memory. It’s about everything put together, and these are my tools. Like a scientist or a mathematician has his tools, I have my tools too. In fact I look at myself as a Communication Scientist and what I really do is experimenting with people. There is a lot of psychology involved there. It also involves playing with a lot of probabilities and controlling people . At the end of the day I would say my main career is performing magic and everything else has been on and off. Magic is something that has always stood by me and will stay with me till my last breath.
Challenges and how I overcame them.
When I was a kid, till I was about 15, I was literally scared of crowds and have actually run away from facing an audience. But with magic I gained confidence and soon enough I became the de-facto emcee in college. Also, initially my family did not really think I would seriously take up magic as a profession although they did encourage it as a hobby and a lot of money was spent on buying me books, video tapes etc (I’m self taught). They felt I had to have a proper job. You see, today everybody talks about mind readers and so on, but when I started it was unheard of.
My family thought it was possibly a passing fad. They didn’t really think I would make money from it. But once I started performing and the local media started going gaga over me and I became a local celebrity, my family looked at it quite differently. Yet I must say there has always been this expectation from me to have a regular job. So I do get involved with work projects for companies. But I make sure they are projects that are interesting to me, which means they have to be about understanding people. So it’s been quite a journey. People ask me if I do magic for a hobby. I tell them, no, I do magic for a living. Everything else I do is a hobby. So that’s how I look at it.
I have not had to solicit shows or do any kind of advertising in the last 20 years . It’s all been word of mouth. And over these years I have had chances to travel and work with my idols. I have always believed that I can achieve anything if I put my mind to it. I am a huge believer in destiny but I do believe that destiny is in my hands. I had always wanted to be a magician and I made sure I became one. The dreams kept changing only in terms of the scale of recognition and I have realised them one by one. I think I just need to have a new dream now and have a new set of challenges.
My role models or people I look up to in my industry
I used to watch videos of people like Max Maven, David Berglas, etc, and I did not understand them because at that time I was a big fan of magicians and illusionists like Paul Daniels, David Copperfield, and of course Mac King. Yet I was intrigued by what Max was doing which was more about psychology and he became a role model. In fact, when I look back I now realise I have always had at least one mind-reading type effect even during my first magic days. Today I am lucky to have personally met and get to know Max Maven and other idols well.
Achievements and memorable incidents
For me the biggest achievement is being friends and working with people I have looked up to or read about in books or seen videos of, the people I have already mentioned. They know me and respect me for what I have done and that I think is my biggest achievement. Meeting, and spending time with these legends of magic has been biggest boon. Performing for a specific people of people has also given a high. For example, I had the opportunity to perform for Mr Azim Premji and his team and that has been a high point in my career. The other memorable occasion was when I went on stage at a PAN-IIT event. The event was delayed and I went on stage at about 10.30 p.m after the performances of legends like Siva Mani, Louis Banks and Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia, who had already received a standing ovation. I went up after them so late in the night telling myself I had to get a standing ovation too. It was a daunting task, especially after their show. But when I did get it, it was an unmatched experience. There have been many such highs, but these two are worth mentioning at this point.
Advice to kids who want to pursue magic and their parents
I would surely recommend magic or entertainment as a career and if not as a career, then surely as a hobby. No other skill-set can give you the social confidence to make friends or break ice. In the corporate circles too when I do workshops, I ask people to learn at least five magic tricks. I know people coming from difficult circumstances, financial and otherwise, and making a brilliant career out of magic. There are thousands of people who are successful because of magic in spite of coming from poor or challenging backgrounds. In my own case I have gained so many connects because of my performances. People remember me and I have grown to know top people from the corporate world because of this one skill that I have developed. Also, there are a lot of magicians who have chosen to have another career job – what we call the Day Job. Magic is their Night Job or their ‘Super hero’ job, like Batman. And in their day job, they are much ahead of the crowd in skills-sets simply because of their night job, which is magic. Learning a magic trick can change your life immensely. If you practice and put in effort then it gives you great confidence. In terms of performance, I think it was Churchill who said, “When you go up on stage, think that the audience does not know anything and only you know all about the subject.” In the case of magic it is true. You don’t need to lie, you ARE the only person who knows how to do it. But if you don’t perform well then you will be ripped apart on stage. Remember that. And put in the effort to put up a magical show.