A recent viral video of 24-year-old flow artiste Eshna Kutty hula-hooping to AR Rahman’s Genda Phool in a sari has made her an instant social media star. She has received accolades far and wide, and has also hit the 100,000-followers mark on Instagram. Success, however, did not come overnight to Kutty. She has been practising and then teaching hooping for ten years now while trying to validate her performance as a profession. Kutty spoke to Scroll.in about her journey and her future plans. Excerpts from the interview:
What have the past few days been like for you?
I am grateful for all the attention that has come to me in the past few days, although I honestly don’t think I have been able to articulate myself very well. This has been a lot to process – had it been a gradual affair, it would have been sinking in a bit at a time. But, on the positive side, I am very grateful.
Tell us about your introduction to flow arts and movement therapy. How were you acquainted with the concept, and what was it that intrigued you to keep going?
I got acquainted with hula-hooping after I watched a YouTube video many years ago and felt like trying it. But it was only after a few years of teaching myself how to hoop that I realised that it is actually part of flow arts. Flow arts is a broader term for a number of activities that include juggling, slacklining, acro yoga, poi etc. I tried my hand at a bit of juggling and slacklining too while learning about flow arts.
It has all been a process: for the first five years, it was just me in my room, teaching myself how to hoop. For the next five years, I was searching for my community – other hoopers and flow spinners in the country. I realised that Goa is one place where you can always spot a juggler or a hooper on a beach. Just watching and observing them made me realise where I want to be.
As for movement therapy, I am a student of psychology and I did my graduation at Lady Shri Ram College from the University of Delhi. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to get into clinical psychology. Movement is something that I find cathartic and hence I continued my education in dance movement therapy.
I think the two amalgamate beautifully. They also relate to how I teach hooping – I don’t teach from the perspective that this is something that will make you thin or strong, it’s more about being comfortable in your own skin and about being happy and living in harmony. That’s also why my programmes are called hoop flow instead of hula hoops – it changes the connotation.
Why do people want to learn hooping, given that it is still not very popular as a profession, or even as a hobby, in India?
This was just one video that went viral, but my previous work is also on the same lines. I’ve never really been the person who flaunts perfect moves – it’s more of bloopers, behind-the-scenes, and me just messing up because I don’t want it to feel like this is impossible or this is something that is not meant for the stereotypically unfit body.
Hooping itself feels like something that is very welcoming and something you can do without being put in a box where you feel like you need to be a certain way to be able to do it. It doesn’t have that level of competition either, that’s why people get drawn to it, and when they do try it, then it’s pretty much all the experiences I mentioned earlier – it stops becoming something people do with the idea of looking for fitness and becomes more about having this time for yourself where you can just goof around for hours and let your inner child come out. There’s a certain kind of playfulness attached to it.
Tell us a bit about the struggles of having to conduct classes online during the pandemic, and what keeps you and your students motivated.
Honestly, the struggle wasn’t as much as it would have been had the classes been offline, because I am always travelling. I never really got around to taking regular classes because I never spend long periods of time in one place, and even if I did it would not last longer than, say, two months. This is why I used to take one-day workshops in different cities if I got invited. My student base is scattered across different countries – online classes were on my mind even before the pandemic, and my website was all set up for it.
I know for a fact that had the pandemic not broken out, I would have postponed conducting classes online because it is tougher. Forming human connections offline is so much easier, a lot more planning goes into doing that online.
That apart, the one good thing to come out of online classes was that I was able to tackle a global audience where it didn’t matter which city the students come from because they can all meet in that one hour in a Zoom room together. That really helped because even though my students couldn’t meet one another, they were coming into this space together while being thousands of miles away. Right now I have a student base of 200 in my very intimate tribe group and they are very close to one another.
Was your Instagram post also a way to express solidarity with a hooper who was allegedly harassed recently?
I wouldn’t say it had a major role to play, but yes, it was a motivation. I would have put out the video a week later had actor Samyuktha Hegde not been harassed for hooping in a public space. That incident ignited a fire, and it felt like the right time to put out this video. “Sari flow” had been on my mind for many months, but the incident pushed me to act on it as soon as possible.
I feel like this video went viral for a lot of reasons: primarily because it wasn’t exceptionally funny or sexy – it was just a very spontaneous one. It had quirky elements like shoes and pyjamas that appealed to people, and it also featured a hula-hoop and people haven’t seen much of it.
Where do you go from here? Has this social media recognition made you consider a change of course in how you structure your classes and hooping activities?
In terms of the content I create, it will still be me practising because I wouldn’t want to change myself, now that people suddenly know me. In the end, they are coming for me and not this new person that I might become.
As for the courses, our waitlist for the next programme was already very high, even before the video went viral. We were anyway thinking of switching to self-paced courses where people can just buy a package and watch it in their own time so that they wouldn’t have to join a class at a particular time. This will help us cater to a larger audience, and now that plan has strengthened even more.
It is all very coincidental that we had already planned to shift to self-paced classes and they are going to be released in the coming few weeks. Although now, because of how viral this video was, I will try materialising everything I had planned for the end of October to be done by the middle of October. I have also been working on the branding of my company which has been going on for two months now – it’s happening all at once.
Will we see “sari flow” become a more recurrent trend in your videos? What are your future plans?
Now that this video has gone viral, I will try and give people a breather before I post more on the same theme. Of course “sari flow” will be recurring, but I don’t want to overkill it right now. I had initially planned on doing videos on this theme for an entire month, but now that this video has gone viral and it wasn’t even my best, I am assuming that people might have overseen it. The future “sari flow” videos are going to be crazier. In the meantime, I will still post my usual content.