When K Gokulnath points his finger at her, 10-year-old Andrea Varghese walks to the corner where gymnastics mattresses have been piled. She picks one out and proceeds to contort her body in ways unimaginable.
A student at Gokulnath Unique Talent Academy (GUTA), a flow arts school in Chennai, Andrea is one of the few left at GUTA who doesn’t yet have a Guinness World Record to her name; her father Varghese Joseph informs us she is practising daily to change the status quo. Her target? Try to achieve the maximum number of backwards roll whilst staying contorted!
GUTA is the brainchild of Gokulnath, who is an actor-performer-filmmaker-dance and stunt choreographer all rolled into one. Since March 2020, Gokul, his team of trainers at GUTA (which he operates in Arumbakkam and Virugambakkam in the city) and their students have together set 16 Guinness World Records. “You could say this [records] is becoming a USP for us,” he smiles.
His academy in Arumbakkam is on the first floor of a commercial building on Valluvar Street, a few paces down the road from Jai Nagar Park near CMBT bus terminus. The students include a four-year-old girl who Gokul points to and says, “She can give us 30 push-ups easily.” The world records the students have set range from ‘Most rotations of a hula hoop on one feet whilst in head stand position in one minute’ to ‘Most juggling catches on a balance board in one minute’.
The 36-year-old Gokul started GUTA in 2018, and for a while had aligned it with that of choreographer Kala’s dance studio in Anna Nagar. In February 2020, he moved to the space in Arumbakkam. Lockdown began soon after.
“A student pitched the idea [of attempting world records] during lockdown. I found that there were several categories in flow arts that could be attempted and completed within a minute. These were also part of their lessons, and so doing this was helpful in retaining the students’ interest [during lockdown],” says Gokul, a prominent face in television. He and his team train students in various flow (circus) arts like hula hoops, rolla bolla, poi spinning, juggling, silambam and even trapeze.
Gokul’s interest in flow arts, he says, started as a college student. His exposure on TV — Gokul was the runner up in season three of Kalakka Povathu Yaaru , which was won by actor Sivakarthikeyan; he had also taken part in shows like Naalaiya Iyakkunar and Maanada Mayilada besides appearing in films like Ambuli 3D , Magalir Mattum and Airaa among others — also helped.
“My work on TV took me to 26 different countries where I met many street performers and from whom I took classes. I had also attended workshops on circus arts both abroad and in Goa. But in Tamil Nadu there is very little interest in flow arts,” he remarks.
With 16 records in the kitty, GUTA is planning to recruit parents as well in their pursuits. Last week, Gokul enlisted the help of parents in a world record attempt — passing a hula hoop along a human chain of 100 people in under five minutes; an attempt which was unsuccessful. He, however, insists he will redo the attempt until he gets the desired result.
Says Indu Sukumar, whose son Adhav trains at GUTA and recently attempted to set a record by climbing a fleet of 50 stairs whilst hula-hooping, “The children are more interested in such activities. My son is now into juggling as well. He is also preparing to give the (aforementioned) record attempt a second try.”
And for some like Mithun TS, who works in the IT industry, coming to such classes helps him meet like-minded parents and bond over their kids’ gymnastics abilities. “It also keeps the child occupied especially at this time when online classes happen,” he adds.
For the children, flow arts has earned them recognition — among classmates and teachers in school. The ones with records to their name are afforded the long end of the rope when it comes to academics, if it helps with their practice.
For Gokul, this is becoming a way of life. He says, “My next record will be with my wife. We will be making the largest origami heart for Valentine’s Day.” On February 4, however, the Guinness World Records certified Gokulnath and his partner as the new record holders in the aforementioned category, having made an origami heart that measures 3.82 metres x 3.35 metres.
Gokulnath can be contacted on 7338827800.