Downtown

All play, all work

Freddy Koikaran  

Freddy Koikaran makes an observation, when I bump into him after what seems an aeon.

“You haven’t changed one bit. You don’t seem to have put on any weight since I last met you,” Freddy tells me.

He has made my day and I want to return the compliment. “You haven’t changed one bit either. You don’t seem to have shed any weight since I last met you,” I say.

The next instant, I hear a deep bass guffaw from Freddy that threatens to shatter the glasses in the room. He is in the creative business and he knows the value humour can bring to it.

For many of the creatively-inclined in Chennai, Freddy is a theatre man and they tend to miss the other facets of his personality.

They cannot be blamed. He has appeared in the media from time to time, primarily as a theatre person.

“Over the last 25 years, I have been part of around 100 different productions in Chennai,” says Freddy. Now, after a five-year-long break from producing his own plays, he is back with “Jesus Christ Superstar— Stripped!” which will be performed at the Museum Theatre in Egmore on September 10 and 11.

However, besides the stage, he has other irons in the fire. He’s an HR professional.

“That’s what puts food in the tummy,” he says, patting his stomach.

He’s a voiceover artiste and a musician too.

“As I have many creative commitments, I have given my enterprise an all-encompassing name — Jumpstart Creative Consultancy,” explains Freddy.

Freddy seems to have admirably brought various interests, which sometimes appear to be disparate parts, into a cohesive whole. All these interests seem to be feeding on each other and growing robust.

“Music was actually my first love, and then I got fascinated with theatre. I combined the two through musical theatre,” says Freddy.

Further illustrating the point, his exposure to theatre helps him in his HR profession, where he largely functions as a trainer effecting workplace behavioural changes.

“From the beginning, I have been drawing upon theatre for my training work. I use theatre as a methodology for my behavioural training work,” explains Freddy.

At every turn, serendipity has been shaping Freddy’s life and career.

“I was working at Music World from 1998 to 2000, handling operations for them in Chennai, and part of my job profile involved career development of my team. This eventually led to a full-time career in behavioural training,” says Freddy, who works for a handful of clients and has a main client he is on a retainer with.

“The thing about training is — as my good friend Paul Mathew (a Chennai-based behavioural trainer and theatre person) once said — no one ever gets into it deliberately; most people become trainers by accident, as I did. What I enjoy most about behavioural training is being able to share what is often simple logic and common sense, and seeing the change in people almost instantaneously,” says Freddy.

As one surveys how Freddy has gone about developing his various skills, the quality of persistence comes to the fore, all the time. He seems to have a knack for spotting opportunities and holding on to them. This ability showed up early, at college.

“I did my undergraduate studies at Sacred Heart College in Thevara, Cochin, where I’m from. In the final year of my studies there, one of my English lecturers suggested that I drop in at his theatre club when they met on a Sunday. So, I went there and met a group that was having a rehearsal. I asked the group what it’s name was, and someone said, ‘The Living Theatre’. I was pretty sure my lecturer had said ‘The Little Theatre’ but I assumed I had heard it wrong, and I joined this group. In the end, I discovered that there were actually two groups, one of them having been formed after my lecturer had an argument with someone, and, I ended up in the rival group. Oops! I worked for about a year with The Living Theatre, and then education brought me to Chennai.”

The bright creative ideas Freddy had — in music and theatre — began to crystallise when he joined Madras Christian College in 1994 for a one-year post-graduate programme in journalism and mass communication.

“I ended up acting in two plays— Tennesse Williams’ The Glass Melangerie and Robert Anderson’s Tea and Sympathy —in a span of 10 months with the living legend, Prof. Rajani. That experience really helped open my eyes to a whole new world, and once I left college, I looked for every opportunity to be part of theatre in Chennai,” explains Freddy.

Thanks to creative projects at MCC, his paths crossed with those of sterling personalities in the field of music and arts, and these connections and the inspiration derived from them would later help him on his path.

Olive, written by an MCC student John Mathew, who was associated with the Students Sea Turtle Conservation Network, focused on the Olive Ridleys visiting the Chennai coast. This play was staged by the students of MCC. Through this project, I connected with Timothy Madhukar, Jim Sathya and Saroop Oommen,” says Freddy.

“Following MCC, I ended up working with almost every group in the city at that time, and eventually set up Stagefright Productions, along with a friend, the late Roshni Menon. With Stagefright, I got the chance to stage shows of my own and I focused on musical theatre,as well as comedies. Short plays was a format that I used often, keeping in mind the limited space and time we often had. At that point of time, theatre was a not a lucrative option, so I never looked at it as a full-time occupation.”

Music has been an abiding passion for Freddy, and he developed an interest in it, on faraway shores, in Canada, where he spent the first 17 years of his life.

“My first performance as a singer was in my school’s variety show. When we migrated to India, I started a band in college, with the principal’s sanction. I met a host of musicians during the five years I lived in Cochin; many of them are still my friends. The high point came when I was part of the University team that represented South India at the National Youth Festival in Nagpur. We participated in the Western Group Music competition and beat other universities from across the country. Since then, I have sung professionally for a few films, and have lent my voice to many animation films. I was lucky to get the opportunity a few years ago to voice the parrot in Disney’s Aladdin (Part 2), in Telugu and Tamil. I have sung for albums and advertisements as well. I have performed many a time at The Unwind Center, when it was at Nelson Manickam Road.”

As Freddy was born and raised in Montreal, he has a North American accent, which has been a source of income for him.

“With this accent, I managed to do a lot of voiceovers. Many of those who don’t know that I had lived in Canada assume that my accent is ‘put on’,” reveals Freddy.

He is often asked why he has not gone back to Canada. And, whenever this question comes up, he offers a ready answer.

“Where would I get the opportunity to act on stage, sing on stage, be a compere, sing for films, act for films, do voiceovers, do dubbing for animations, be a radio jockey, be a model for ads, work in advertising, work in retail, work with a corporate, indulge in hobbies like theatre and long-distance riding, and get to meet new people every day? And most importantly, if I had gone back, how would I have met my wife, Neesha, and be the proud father of Mark today?”

Freddy and his family are living in a happily-ever-after home in Gandhi Nagar, Adyar.


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Printable version | Jul 31, 2021 3:12:07 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/downtown/All-play-all-work/article14620068.ece

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