WHEN you make a reluctant trip to the dentist, it’s usually your teeth that get to be in the spotlight. Well, it appears some of our dentists enjoy the spotlight too. Part-time entertainers, they are nurturing a fan base for something besides fancy root canal and gum treatments.
Between singing, band-hopping, metal-growling, stage-acting and slinging a mean guitar, they sat down with us for a quick show and tell. Believe us, the dentist-by-day, rockstar-by-night routine isn’t easy. It’s just that behind those white coats, there’s a rockstar in some of these docs, and they are not about to sacrifice either their passion or profession.
First up there’s Yohan Chacko, known equally for his pink lungi on a YouTube video to his finesse with little patients. He is equally popular with his interns. ‘‘I advise my students to learn to eat with chopsticks. It really bumps up your motor skills,’’ he confides. Then comes Mark Thomas, whose thoroughly engaging Shrek at a recent show took many of us by surprise. And last, there is Shalini Selvarajan, a musician who has managed to fit in both practice and performances into her busy schedule. So, the next time you meet a dentist, strike up a conversation to see if there’s more to your friendly neighbourhood molar-puller.
Molars vs music. It’s a see-saw ride with ‘dentist for celebs’ Mark Thomas. By day, he’s an implant surgeon at the tony Acharya Dental Clinic in Nungambakkam.
My muse was dentistry but it is good to have something that keeps you fired up. Mark is hugelytalented and sings divinely, but you can’t go aheadequally in both fields. Dentistry is a knowledge-based profession, while music is a fine art. The trick lies in seeking the right balance— Dr Vijailakshmi Acharya, dental surgeon
By night, he’s a rockstar. Metal, musical theatre, playback singing and of late, even a dose of mixed martial arts! Apparently, if there’s one thing this dentist can’t stand, it’s monotony. So instead of picking one single career, Thomas juggles a handful. Or with all that molar action, should we say ‘mouthful’?
You last saw him on stage as Shrek in Jeffrey Vardon’s musical but if you’re up for it, do try one of his heavier, no-decibel-limit performances with his band, Wolf’s Lair. ‘‘We’re working on our first album. It should be out in February next year,’’ he lets on. And if all this isn’t impressive enough, he’s also versatile enough to take on playback singing in the Tamil film industry. Remember Makkayala Makkayala from Vijay Antony’s Naan?
Here’s how this dentist finds the time to get on board just about everything with a tune. For starters, he tells us, ‘‘I live on five hours of sleep.’’ Once his job at the clinic is done by 7 pm, it’s usually time for play practice. This goes on until 10 pm. ‘‘And then studio recordings for movies usually happen at midnight,’’ he adds. One would imagine that rushing across the city from clinic to practice to recording can be a big drain on energy. But Thomas is ready with his secret potion for stamina at the end of a marathon day. ‘‘Whiskey-soda,’’ he smiles.
(Location courtesy: Sir Mutha Venkatasubba Rao Concert Hall, Lady Andal School)
Patients turn into groupies. Apparently, that’s what happens when you have a hot guitar girl for a dentist. ‘‘Sometimes, I even end up singing to them while I’m on the job,’’ admits Shalini Maria Selvarajan. This is followed by an evil laugh. ‘‘They can’t tell me not to… I’ve got their mouths wide open!’’
When she began her practice in 2011, Selvarajan had no idea that she would be juggling a white coat and a girl band. Then Colour Chaos came together. She recalls, ‘‘I would play a lot in church and on and off with friends, but it was after my band Colour Chaos kicked off two years ago that we started doing regular gigs.’’ Luckily for Selvarajan, the band is acoustic (which means there is no need for a jam pad) and it has all of two people! ‘‘So there isn’t as much planning as you would think,’’ she explains. Practice usually happens after her evening shift at Dr Prasad’s Clinic in Kilpauk if there’s a show coming up. And the 26-year-old adds that she makes sure she’s not on duty the day of a performance.
So what happens if there’s an appointment that can’t be moved? Selvarajan says so far, she’s been pretty lucky. ‘‘Would you believe that I actually had a patient who read in the paper that I had a show the next day, wished me luck and requested to change his appointment date on his own?’’ she smiles. And if that isn’t enough, it turns out that several of her patients make it a point to go to her shows! ‘‘Yeah, this happens a lot,’’ Selvarajan lets on. ‘‘One world just merges into the other.’’
Much like her latest song. Spending so much time in a doctor’s office, surrounded by surgeons, molar action and cavities, it seems her lyrics are starting to take a cue from her career. ‘‘My latest song is about life’s ups and downs,’’ she tells us, and adds, ‘‘It wasn’t until I looked at the title again that I realised the job has really rubbed off on me — it’s called Brace Yourself!”
When folks walk into Yohan Chacko’s office, the first thing they look for is what sort of facial hair he’s sporting. ‘‘It usually depends on what role I’m preparing for,’’ he laughs.
We’re not sure how he does it, but this dentist does so much more than examine teeth. Singer, actor, adventure junkie (think everything from marathons to kite surfing), cartoon dubbing artist… let’s just say this doctor manages to make time for a lot more than most people can fit in a bucket list.
I blow up a glove and get my kid patients to draw a smiley face on it with a marker. Then they get to take home their new friend, and it makes them look forward to coming back, rather than be afraid about their next visit— Dr Yohan Chacko
However, before he opened his own clinic on Nelson Manickam Road, Chacko was in a bit of a quandary. ‘‘It was a toss up between music and dentistry, and I wasn’t sure which one to pick,’’ he remembers. But his mother offered a great piece of advice. ‘‘She said, ‘Let dentistry be your bread and butter, and music, your jam’,’’ he smiles. ‘‘And I think, without realising it, that’s what life has become for me today,’’ he sayss.
Eleven years of dentistry later, and averaging 11 plays a year — this dentist-actor is unstoppable. Over the last four years, he’s worked with nearly all the theatre groups in town. And while you might have caught him on stage as a power-obsessed Tuglaq (Madras Players) or as Fagin from Oliver Twist (Boardwalkers), most recognise him best from his pink lungi on YouTube for a certain song titled, I am a Malayalee. ‘‘Not many people know this, but almost everyone in that video is a dentist,’’ Chacko tells us with a laugh. Currently doing the rounds is a song about root canals that he sang impromptu while giving a lecture at a student conference. ‘‘Right now, it’s just an MP3 file, but I’m planning a video soon,’’ Chacko promises.
So having a creative side definitely makes life more interesting. But here’s the question — could it help you be a better dentist? Our friends with dental forceps nod ‘yes’. This may come as a shocker to those who go by the textbook 24/7. But we’re told by seasoned professionals that getting handy with the right musical instrument can actually improve one’s precision on the job. Says 33-year-old dental consultant, B Vijayagopal, “In my early days, I was a gold medallist and ahead of a lot of people, especially when it came to practical exams.’’ His secret? He played the flute!
Apparently, a task that took most students in his class two hours to do, Vijayagopal would breezily wrap up in under 40 minutes. ‘‘I think practising an instrument that made me use by hands and fingers all the time, helped me up my hand-eye coordination and motor skills without realising it,’’ he explains. In fact, Vijayagopal recalls how, while still a student, ‘‘I did a cavity filling as part of an exam, and my patient called me later and told me that her family doctor couldn’t believe it was done by somebody still in college.’’ So that’s one of the lessons this dentist-lecturer-consultant carries along wherever he goes. At the moment, the wind in his flute seems to be calling on him for more concerts, especially with the Margazhi season underway. And as of last year, cavities have been left behind… for how long, he isn’t sure.
Barely eight months into her job, and dentist Anusha Rajendran gives us a different spin on what a handy hobby can do for you. ‘‘I was big on the drums in school and college,’’ she laughs. ‘‘I would even carry my drumsticks with me to class and tap on the desk, which made my teacher very mad…’’ What Rajendran did not expect was that drumming would help with a tooth extraction. How, one may wonder incredulously. ‘‘Stamina,’’ she smiles. And possibly stronger arms, we think.
By Sonali Shenoy