Mum but not mute, the art of Mime is both potent and accessible. Mime is silence, but silence is not mime. Without using words, Mime is an art form comparable to an arrow, which gracefully, forcefully and swiftly conveys an intended story, message or feeling to an audience. The wonder and miracle of mime comes from the Artiste’s ability to hone the entire body to speak like a mouth, and when performed with grace and panache, there’s no mistaking the message portrayed by the Artiste. Since each muscle and curve of a mime’s body is intended to convey a message, most Artistes of this craft have muscled that are chiseled to perfection!

According to legendary mime Artistee Tony Montanaro, “Mime is an eloquent and efficient delivery of a mood or a message in which the body is the primary instrument.”

Origins of Mime Although historians and Artistes have often tried to identify the beginning of Mime, it is believed that Mime was simply the earliest form of self expression. Mime existed before the creation of language in primitive times and simply began with the first movement of a human expressing a need, a desire or a response. Instead of fading into obscurity when the spoken language was developed, mime became a form of entertainment. The earliest written records of mime in the West appear in the Greek theatre of the Dionysus in Athens. The principle mimes were known as ethologues, and the scenes they would perform would teach moral lessons.

After the fall of the Greek empire, the Romans created irreverent spectacles out of mime, which were then banned on stage by the Church during its heyday. Mime flourished once again in the Middle Ages in the market places of Italy where street performers combined it with acrobatics. In those times, other Artistes like dancers, poets, actors and singers, all used Mime to further their own brand of Art. As they gained popularity, mime Artistes began wearing masks which enabled them to ridicule government and political institutions to spread social messages.

The Impetus Like all forms of Artisteic expression, Mime too was given a boost when governments and Kings wanted to silence the makers of public opinion and Artistes had no choice but to portray their message silently. Louis XIV (the King of France), for example prohibited the popular Italian stage performers from speaking on stage, giving rise to Artistes who became adept at expressing their meaning through facial expressions and gestures.

In the 19th century, mime evolved into a pure slapstick routine that was meant only to entertain, which underwent another transformation after World War II by Marcel Marceau, who created a stock character Bip—a browbeaten peasant with dreams of grandeur who presented serious messages.

Mime Artistes Extraordinaire Some of the most well-known figures in Western Mime are Jean-Gaspard Deburau, Etienne Decroux and Gilles Segal. Charlie Chaplin’s comedic escapades too, involve elements of mime, bringing it to public notice.

Mime in India India also has a rich heritage in mime, with classical Indian musical theatre being foremost in its use of this art form. The performers in this theatrical tradition presents a narrative through stylized gestures, an array of hand positions, and mime illusions to portray different characters, actions, and landscapes. Recitation, music, and even percussive footwork sometimes accompany the performance. The Natya Shastra, an ancient treatise on theatre by Bharata Muni, mentions silent performance or Mukhabinaya.

In Kathakali too, stories from Indian epics are told using facial expressions, hand signals and body motions. Performances are accompanied by songs narrating the story flowed by the actors performing the story without background support. Closer home, mime was an essential part of Andhra folklore, which trickled into mainstream Tollywood. Comedians in Telugu movies have incorporated mime in their mimicry routine. Rajender Prasad is considered a great mime Artiste in South Indian films, who learnt mime in film school along with legendary mainstream actor Chiranjeevee. Kamal Hassan is considered the master of mime in the Indian Film Industry.

Drawing from this rich tradition of Mime, Madhu, with years of practice and dedication, specializes in Mime—controlling his body’s every movement and twitch—and performs across India and abroad.