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The art of ventriloquism

Ventriloquism is a performance art where the ventriloquist (sometimes called a puppeteer), projects his or her voice to an object to make it sound as if the object is speaking and not the performer. A ventriloquist does this by learning to manipulate the sounds of his or her speech and by learning to speak without moving his or her lips.

Ventriloquism is a mind trick, first and foremost. The ventriloquist uses a prop in the form of a dummy, using his or her voice and to maneuver the mouth of the dummy. Doing these tricks, the audience or the viewer believes that the sound comes from the dummy’s mouth, when actually it comes from the ventriloquist’s mouth.

Ramdas Padhye is the one and only professional Indian ventriloquist, puppeteer and puppet maker who have performed his widely acclaimed ventriloquial acts in India and abroad during the last 40 years. He inherited the art of ventriloquism from his dad, the Late Prof. Y. K. Padhye who was the pioneer Indian ventriloquist who used ventriloquial dolls in his acts since 1920. At the age of eight, Ramdas performed his first professional ventriloquism show with his father and thereafter made prolific use of vent and other puppets in stage performance, films, radio, television and advertisements. His puppet was even used in the Marathi film, ‘Zapatlela’ which was a hit in Maharashtra.

After his marriage to Aparna, he and his wife gave traditional Indian puppets and ventriloquial doll the technical edge by promoting them to international standards without losing their Indian identity and universal appeal. Ramdas Padhye has a son who is also into the show business and assists his dad and mom whenever they perform on stage. On May 27, 2012, Ramdas Padhye became the first person to represent India in the world puppetry festival in Chengdu, China. The week-long festival featured a total of 74 puppet theatres representing different countries.

Ventriloquism is an ancient art of projecting or ‘throwing’ the voice so that it appears to come from a source rather than the mouth of the speaker. Egyptian priests have used it to fool people into thinking that stone gods could speak. The Greeks and the Romans thought that it was the work of demons. They believed that the sounds came from the stomach. This belief persisted for many centuries. The word ‘ventriloquism’ comes from two Latin words, ‘ventri’, meaning ‘stomach’ and ‘loquis’, meaning ‘to speak’.

Today, we know that the stomach plays no role in ventriloquism. The performer throws his/her voice by using his/her tongue in a particular way and modifying the sounds by the use of the muscles of his/her throat and palate. Ventriloquism was first practiced around the 6th century B.C. Many historians have concluded that the act of ventriloquism originated as a means to communicate with the dead. By communicating with the stomach, it was believed that information could be passed from a human being to the dead from beyond the grave. Historically, necromancy (study of dark magic) was illegal in many places around the world and anyone found practicing ventriloquism was sentenced to death.

According to British journalist, Angela Mabe in her report: “Ventriloquism: A Dissociative Perspective”, ventriloquism made a comeback during the 16th century A.D. as a form of amusement in England, and by the 18th century, it was a form of entertainment in both Europe and North America. Although popular, many people have believed that ventriloquism was a supernatural gift rather than a talent. Today, it is a form of entertainment. As a budding ventriloquist, the first thing you need to learn is how to speak without moving your lips. It sounds hard, and it really is. The vowel sounds are the easy part, so let’s try that first.

1. Close your mouth.

2. Relax your jaw.

3. Now only very slightly part your lips, rest your bottom lip against your teeth just a bit to keep it steady.

4. Say the vowels – a, e, i, o, u. First, say them very slowly. Then a little fast, and then add accents of all kinds.

The rest comes with practice and it’s almost like learning to speak all over again. Just remember to relax your jaw, only very slightly part your lips, and the rest will come automatically.

Jubel D’Cruz

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