Gothic booty on a string
There is a new street artist in Bengaluru and he looks nothing like anything you’ve seen. He’s about 20 inches tall and all skeleton, no flesh. He makes up for his skinny appearance with his black tuxedo, punk hairstyle and, yes, his dancing skills which he wields to rock and blues music, even EDM. Tap dance, he does it without missing a beat. Talk about swagger, he’s got plenty of it, to GM. He’s also hilarious. Sometimes he sends his legs for a walk, while his upper body remains on the ground, tapping his fingers and sweeping the show from side to side.
Meet Macha, a puppet straight out of a Halloween party scene, who captivated crowds flocking to Church Street in Bengaluru on weekends. Well, technically he’s Masha 2 because there’s Masha 1 too. This one comes in a witch costume, yellow shorts, and red bulbous eyes. You can see Machas and his puppeteer Chandru Shekar R having fun on a sidewalk in front of a cafe, located between Brigade Road to his right and the MG Road metro station exit to the left. They dance to progressive music and freestyle songs punctuated by artists on the good old guitar, but also exotic instruments like the Australian didgeridoo, the African djembe and the Jewish harp.
Machas, their master and these musicians in their twenties are not a group, but a band of buskers who come together to jam, improvise and entertain the audience. And they do it well.
Having attended these concerts, I have seen passers-by stop and turn in circles, marveling at this little skeleton man and recording his street shenanigans on their phones.
It’s not the first time a puppet has taken on new-age music, but it’s not common either. Fragile Rock, for example, is an emo puppet group from America, made up of rock musicians and puppeteers. A video of a ‘naked’ puppet in red shoes carrying a guitar and banging her head at Rod Steward’s Young Turks had more than half a million views in 2014.
This Bengaluru show happened by accident. Himal, a Nepalese national who works as a freelance videographer-editor in the city and who sings and plays guitar nearby, begins: âAfter the lockdown was lifted, I started street on Brigade Road and Church Street. . One day, the owner of the cafe where we play now, called me and offered me his space to do concerts. I chose to play outside because it would attract more audiences.
Soon he found company in another busker named Byraa. He is a multi-instrumentalist from Bengaluru who leads a vagabond life. Next is Milan Sharma. He is a bassist from Sikkim who had started selling tea in the region as the pandemic took away his shows.
The group grew to four when Shekar, another busker in search of an audience on Church Street, began to animate his Gothic puppets to the tunes and rhythms they were dropping. It happened around November and listeners have flocked to it ever since.
Macha’s backstory is more intriguing. It was born out of a horror movie script that Shekar wrote, but failed to find producers. âSo I decided to transform the characters in this film into puppets. I feel very satisfied to play in the street. Unlike a live performance, the audience can watch the puppets up close and I can see how much they appreciate it. It’s another thing that I don’t understand their language beyond ‘Good Job’, âthe 42-year-old said humbly to Kannada. But street performances are never without risks. The other weekend a child was seen heckling Masha 2 with a corn and bouncing on the strings. âThe kid was trying to compete with Masha, but I managed to keep him together,â he recalls.
Considering how skillfully Shekar controls these Mashas from head to toe, it’s hard to believe that he started making puppets just three years ago. Yes, puppetry is a secondary activity. The class 5 dropout works as a tailor, but hopes to become a filmmaker someday.
So what’s the next step in the Masha mania? âI want to get permission from the authorities to perform at Cubbon Park and Lal Bagh,â Shekar says. âI also want to make one that will go with the rhythms of the djembe (a goblet drum from West Africa). I get goosebumps listening to it, âhe says.
As for musicians, Byraa joined new buskers on Church Street while Himal and Milan stayed. But, what remains constant in their concerts is this gaunt street dancer who gives a new charm to street music.