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Captivating Audiences

Text by: Ankita Jain
wow photo file © Ram Tandukar 

WOW talks to a woman with a great sense of humour and a grander heart Seema Golchha

Seema Golchha has two interesting companions on stage: puppets named Jack Denial and Granny. While Jack Denial cracks most of the jokes and is witty, Granny is a 90-year-old lady who loves makeup. These puppets are the Mumbai born ventriloquist’s creations and have found expression in entertaining diverse audiences.

Seema started practicing ventriloquism in her early 40s after a Toastmasters event which helped her discover her skills. “The year was 2011. I had a performance in one of the Toastmasters events and I decided to do comedy with an added feature through the art of ventriloquism,” says Seema, who received a standing ovation.

A self-taught artist, Seema practiced day and night to master the dying art of ventriloquism. “I made sure that when my character talks I do not move my lips in order to make it look real,” she adds. Well, when she first took it to the stage, it wasn’t flawless. “I made a lot of mistakes. I mixed up voices, I forgot my lines, but overall it was an overwhelming experience,” she recalls.

Comedy has always been her thing. Prior to Toastmasters, she started with kids at home. “We lived in a joint family and I had a good audience of 5-6 children every evening. I had my little show for the kids after dinner called ‘What a witty show’ back in 2008-2009. Then I didn’t know what ventriloquism was or how it worked. No one from my family is a magician or ventriloquist,” she shares. Though she started with basic jokes and hand puppets, today she deftly brings to life multiple characters and a spread of infectious laughter.

Before getting into the shoes of a ventriloquist, she was a homemaker and later joined her husband’s business. “I was looking after the stores. But somehow it wasn’t me. I was more like a bridge between the upper level and the staff. I did play a role but I couldn’t fit in,” she says.

In an era where people get easily influenced by social media or YouTube videos, Seema keeps her English script relatable and clean. “I do take a couple of ideas from established ventriloquists, but I have to relate to my audience here so I make my own script and put all my hard work into it. I also tried what people across the world do but that’s not me. I have created my niche with my own set of jokes and characters,” she says.

Seema did a solo performance recently with three characters on stage, two of her puppets and herself. “If there are two dummies, that means there are three characters. I would handle two puppets on either hand. Each hand would handle five or six manipulations — for the eyebrows, eyeballs, lip movement, or head movement, involving over five levers. I would also have to work on three different voices with their actions, and reactions, apart from remembering the script. During the show, the puppet on my right had British accent while the puppet on the left had an Indian accent and I had my normal accent. It was a 50-minute performance in two parts,” she explains. “And that’s not all, one must also ensure the other puppet, and myself, react in some way, while one puppet is talking,” she adds.

From an audience of one kid to 800 people, Seema’s journey has been long and fairly arduous. Recalling her performance for one kid in Gurugram, India, she shares, “I was doing my trial kid show in Canvas Laugh Club in Gurugram. It was an afternoon 2 pm show and only one kid had registered and bought the ticket along with her mother. So, I had one kid in the audience and I performed half an hour for this kid. To fill in the space I invited all the backstage people to join in and began the show.” Also, she was the one to open the show for Zakir Khan when he performed in the capital. Besides, she has once performed for an elderly audience aged between 65-90 years in Mumbai. “It was an impromptu gig in Hindi-English. To make them laugh was the proudest I ever felt being an artist,” she smiles.

However, her highlight remains her eight-minute performance in the United States during her visit early this year. She performed for 125 people who were witnessing ventriloquism for the first time. “I got into Gotham Comedy Club NYC. It was an open mic on a Tuesday night and I went second on stage. It was nerve-wracking. I felt like it was my first ever performance on stage. Also, the challenge for me was the audience who were entirely American. The artists over here when they go abroad perform for a selected community like the Nepali or Indian since it’s relatable,” she shares. Despite the challenges, she was well appreciated by the producer and owner of the event. Further, her happiness knew no bounds when she was informed that the legends of comedy, Jerry Seinfeld and Jay Leno were also performing the same day on the same stage. “I have always seen them in posters or videos. Watching them live on the same stage was nothing less than a miracle for me,” she says.

During her stay in the States, she also looked around for a course on ventriloquism and found nothing suitable. “Upon finding nothing relatable, I enrolled for improvisational theatre, often called improvisation or improve. It is the form of theatre, often comedy, in which most or all of what is performed is unplanned or unscripted: created spontaneously by the performers,” she says. Today she conducts workshops in the capital on improvisation for Toastmasters. “The workshop is designed in such a way that it not only targets comedians but also people from all walks of life. It concentrates on thinking impulsively,” she continues.

Appreciated on every performance, Seema is also criticised for her clean script. She says, “I am not comfortable using abusive language in my script. I believe when I am not true to myself, I can’t pull it off.” Further, talking about the challenges the art faces in the country, she explains, “It’s a two-way process. Artists have to come up with good material rather than borrowed jokes and on the other hand, the audience should also give due respect to the artist and the art.” She emphasises that comedians can make a living out of it only if they do 100% justice to their work. “Today, there are many stand-up comedians and the genre is been appreciated but the fact that they are not paid enough drags them to look for other jobs as well.

The changes are there but it still has a long way to go,” she highlights.

She feels there is huge potential in the country for the art form to grow in the coming years. “Many don’t understand the kind of hard work that goes into ventriloquism. Having said that, I see that stand-up comedy is taking on a different scale and people are looking forward to something new, and the interest in ventriloquism is growing as well.”

Besides, being an entertainer and comedian, she has done a couple of talk shows where she managed to inspire people sharing her life story through platforms like TEDx and the StoryYellers.