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In Conversation With Manick Sorcar

Ranjani Saigal

Manick Sorcar (formal name Prafulla Chandra "P.C." Sorcar) is an Indian American artist, engineer, and entrepreneur based in Denver, Colorado, USA who is a graduate of Indian Institute of Technology (BHU) Varanasi. Son of the legendary Indian magician P.C Sorcar, Manick combines his electrical engineering skills with his innate passion for lighting and the arts to create new forms of art in a variety of media. 

His animated films, all based on children's stories from India, have won prestigious awards at international film festivals and been broadcast on the Public Broadcasting Service for 18 years. He shot to fame in the nineties when his Deepa and Rupa: A Fairy Tale From India, India's first animation mixed with live action, received the Gold Plaque at the Chicago International Film Festival in 1990, and The Sage and the Mouse won the Gold Medal at the International Film Festival of New York in 1993.  

Sorcar is the first Indian-American to receive the ILDA Artistic Award twice from the International Laser Display Association. The first was in 2006 for his Enlightenment of Buddha, which mixed live-performance with life-size laser animation and three-dimensional visual effects on stage and won the First Place at the 2005 International Laser Display Association award contest. The second was in 2008, for his laser-art Reflection, which also won First Place for laser photography at the 2007 ILDA award contest.

Sorcar is the president of Sorcar Engineering a Denver-based electrical engineering and lighting firm, which did the lighting design for the Denver International Airport concourses, sport centers in Japan, and several Saudi Arabian palaces. As an author in the field of electrical engineering, he has written several popular lighting design texts. He received his M.S. in Electrical Engineering from the University of Washington and his B.S. in Electrical Engineering from Banaras Hindu University (now Indian Institute of Technology (BHU) Varanasi).

Sorcar has received a number of honors, including the Bharat Samman Achievers Award at the XXI Annual Meet NRI Divas 2011 of the NRI Institute in New Delhi. In 2011, Jadavpur University opened the Manick Sorcar Laser Animation Laboratory. Sorcar donated laser lab equipment worth more than USD $100,000 and introduced the first laser animation course at the university as a special application of lighting for degrees in illumination engineering.

Sarcar was in Boston presenting a laser-animated tale of the life of Swami Vivekananda.  He talked to Lokvani about his life and work.

What is it like to be the son of a world famous magician? How did that influence your work and interest?

While for the world my father was a famous magician, for me he was really just a father who cared much about his children. He used to travel for nearly nine months of the year. When he was home he used to regale us with tales of his travels to distant lands while also checking in on our homework. 

Early on he noticed my skill in the visual arts and allowed me to create a backdrop for one of his shows. My work got noticed and that gave me a huge impetus to pursue my art. I was very taken particularly with lighting for that was the perfect intersection of art of science.  I started doing lighting for my father’s shows.  I think that is where my artistic journey began.

How did you father choose a career in magic? What was his specialty? 

Magic was in our family for almost seven generations.  My forefathers pursued it as a hobby. My father was the first to take magic which was at a street level and  elevate it to the level of the stage. His specialty was that his work was completely grounded in the Indian culture. The story, the magic, and the costume every thing came from our Indian heritage. 

You are an electrical engineer by training. How did you move to make lighting such a part of your profession? 

This was sheer luck. I had completed my master’s in electrical engineering at the University of Seattle in Washington.  I was going to New York in search of an electrical engineering job. My bus stopped in Denver where I saw an ad for an electrical engineer with an artistic flair for lighting in a paper at the bus stop. I cancelled my ticket to New York and went for an interview for the job. It was a contractor who was looking for people to help design lighting for projects. It was a perfect fit and I got the job. I became a partner at the company and the later when my partner died become sole owner of the company.  

As I continued to design lighting for commercial projects, I continued to work on artistic projects at night.  From painting to cartoons and animation my work spans a wide range and I have been fortunate to get national and international recognition. 

How did you discover this art of using laser for shows? 

I was always fascinated with lasers. I started experimenting with them slowly.  My first attempt was a short piece called dancing with my soul where my daughter, a great dancer is the central character. The tale tells of a conversation between the dancer and her soul. The dance of the soul is depicted using lasers. I realized that we could use lasers to create art.
Why did you choose to use laser to tell the tale of Swami Vivekananda?

I am very proud of my Indian heritage and I would love to tell stories of our heritage to the world. Indian Americans particularly need to be connected with their heritage. Swami Vivekananda is an inspirational leader for the world. His words are always an inspiration to me.  By using this unique approach one is able to attract the younger generation. This makes us bring our tale to a new group and that is very exciting to me. 

All over the country the show has received appreciation.
If people want to learn this art where would they go? 

There are no universities in the US that teach the technique. Jadavpur University in India now has a degree in this particular field. People can learn lighting from professional lighting companies.

Any special message for our readers? 

I would encourage the young Indian Americans to learn more about the Indian leaders and their own culture. It can help shape them into great human beings. 

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