The neighbourhood's favourite Santas
There are three, not one Father Christmas in town.
The Santa who respects consent
Pravin Tulpule 58, ex-naval officer Resident of Kharghar Plays Santa: At malls
Make-up can do wonders. Even turn an authoritarian military officer into a jolly Christmas gift-bringer. In 1994, when Pravin Tulpule was Lieutenant Commander with the Indian Navy, he was posted in Tamil Nadu. A tightly knit group of 15 families in the navy colony was looking for Santa.
"I was always the entertainer, so when I was asked to wear a costume for the kids, I was game. But, I was only 33 and fit. I had to tie a pillow and create what was a badly-shaped tummy. With no costume, I borrowed a red ladies nightie and jacket, and used cotton for a beard." Tulpule's entry on a fire engine, which the officers had hired and converted into a Santa carriage, was a hit. When he moved to Mumbai in 1995, he continued the tradition. But it was in 2002, after leaving service, that he thought he should play Santa because "people trusted me with their kids". First, he showed up at home parties thrown by friends, and as word of mouth spread, he gradually began getting paid gigs.
For the last six years, Tulpule has visited Thane's Viviana Mall as Santa. And he is yet to figure how to be convincing, protect children's fantasy without cheating them. "Sometimes, they ask me questions I don't have the answers to." But he makes up for it by being warm and sensitive. "There are rules. I don't pull their cheeks, or run behind them with chocolates, it scares them. I don't plonk them on my lap. If they ask for a hug, I ask if they are accompanied by an adult. Only if the parent allows, do I go ahead with a bear hug," says Tulpule, who is a TedEx speaker and gives motivational talks on the art of happiness.
Tulpule spends over an hour getting into character because "nobody wants to take a picture with a shabbily-dressed Santa". During a performance that typically lasts six hours, Tulpule changes his gloves three times. His big Christmas gigs this year are between December 21 and 25 at Viviana Mall.
Number of years Pravin Tulpule has played Santa
The magic-spinner who won't stop
Kevin Fernandes 33, events manager Resident of Malad Plays Santa: At corporate and charity events
In 2001, when he was 14, Kevin Fernandes was picked to be Santa at his Jogeshwari church. "I was the plump kid wearing glasses, so I seemed to be the obvious choice," Fernandes, now 33, tells us. An active participant in church activities and plays, he was instantly game. He'd make the round of all homes in the neighbourhood to wish the families a merry Christmas.
Two years later, Fernandes landed a job at an events agency since his family was pinching pennies to make ends meet. "I thought I will offer some help. So I gained a BCom via correspondence, and worked as a clown when I was hired by event management firms. I was asked to play Santa, and I jumped at the chance. That one season, I played Santa at 45 corporate shows across the city."
Ten years ago, he and friend Ravi Bhatt, both event management professionals, started Rising Balloon Events in Andheri. While the duo has hired others to play Santa for their events, Fernandes himself continues to play Father Christmas when he gets the chance. "Even today, it's a high to get into the costume!" On some days, Fernandes performs for as long as eight to 12 hours at a stretch. "I grew up listening to tales about him, and now I get to create the same magic. Why would I stop?"
He is used to getting unusual requests, and says he has ridden a horse and taken the balcony from the terrace to make a surprise entry. "But of all the crazy acts I have pulled off for clients, this is the maddest," he says, jumping onto a BEST bus in full Santa garb on our request.
The gender bender Father Christmas
Mary Ann Scott 60, former special education teacher Resident of Thane Plays Santa: At St John's church, a home for the aged, and colleges
An actor is known by talent not gender. Mary Ann Scott has rebranded old Saint Nick into a modern version, and has played a convincing male Santa since 1969. It was her father who enrolled her at Nirmala Convent Boarding School in Mysuru at 10. Since she was a chubby child, she says the nuns picked her for Santa's part that year.
"I loved playing the old man, and continued even when I took to teaching at Sophia School in Bengaluru." As a special education teacher who worked with children with disabilities, affection came to her naturally, and helped her become a favourite with the kids.
"Around 1980, I got married and moved to Thane. As I started working as a special education teacher at St John the Baptist School and College, I realised my energy was needed here too. For almost 38 years while serving this school and church, I was their Santa every Christmas."
Scott also performs at the church-run senior citizens' home, and other schools in Thane. "A few years ago, the Lion's Club requested the school to send me for their event. They didn't know I am a woman. When I met the organisers in my Santa avatar, and shook hands, they finally found out my grip wasn't strong."
Being a female Santa comes with challenges. When Scott's late husband was around, envious of how she'd go around giving everyone a warm hug, he would accompany her. "While I kept away from the men, I did a little masti with the women. I would hug them, throw chocolates at them, or blow a kiss.
Mary Ann Scott with students of St John the Baptist School and College. Pics/Sameer Markande
They'd give me a look that said, 'Shameless!' I'd then change out of the costume and go meet them and ask for a kiss back!" It has been 50 years playing Santa, and Scott continues to be popular. When we ask how she gets Santa's deep voice right, she clears her throat and does the perfect, "Ho, ho ho!"
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