Double or nothing: What makes these creative duos so successful?
Solo success is hard enough. But partnerships are tougher. Three duos tell us why their creative collabs have been worth it
What has four arms, four legs and two brains?
Any creative duo that has been in a long-running partnership.
In a world that celebrates solo wunderkinds, lone wolves and single-origin success stories, duos are a rare and necessary thing. They’re proof that collaboration can take ideas farther. They’re testament to the power of combined strengths. They show the world that if you can divide the effort, you can multiply the effect.
Two-person teams aren’t always easy. Individual skillsets don’t usually fit together like pieces in a jig-saw puzzle. Temperaments clash when there is no third-party to mediate. Decision-making is tough when there’s no hierarchy. Not all creative journeys are headed to the same destination.
Brunch asked comedians José Covaco and Cyril D’Abs; artists Jiten Thukral and Sumir Tagra; and Bengaluru fitness coaches Swetha Subbiah and Tanvie Hans (of Sisters in Sweat) what it takes to be a part of a power duo.
Jiten Thukral and Sumir Tagra
Artists. Working together for 20 years
Jiten Thukral and Sumir Tagra met in Chandigarh in 1997, but started working on projects together only in 2002. As artists, they’ve created paintings, sculptures, installations, interactive games and videos under the name Thukral and Tagra. “It’s double force. Everyone needs a companion, don’t you think so?” asks Thukral.
They’ve exhibited in Vienna, Tokyo and London, had residencies in Copenhagen and Bern, designed a watch for Rado, and organised virtual studio sessions with Apple.
Their style is colourful, playful, silly but never stupid. Take their most recent show, Arboretem, at Nature Morte Gallery in Delhi earlier this year. It featured a series of paintings, inspired by trees, that glitch and fold onto themselves, repeating, while other details dissolve into pixels. It’s a nod to lives lived online and offline, and the increasingly porous boundaries between them.
The duo’s approach is more see-saw than jig-saw. “We both are juggling many projects at a time. So one takes the lead and the other follows to support it,” says Tagra.
They’ve made mistakes along the way, tread on each other’s toes, stumbled together. And when there’s conflict, one surrenders, letting the other take over. “We’ve realised that we switch roles of taking chances and playing safe,” Tagra says. “Jiten is more intuitive as a person but I am more logical. There is a lot of emotional judgement too. We don’t know where it sits but the work is only processed further if it fits well in the heart.”
They’ve been friends for 20 years too. “The friendship works because it’s like one person has a map and is navigating, and the other is driving,” says Tagra. “The destination is unknown, but together, we cross milestones. We don’t feel that our work and social life have any divisive line, since it’s not a job. Besides, feeling lonely is the worst thing. We have heard it’s lonely at the top. So, it’s great to have someone with you, professionally.”
Swetha Subbiah and Tanvie Hans
Founders, Sisters in Sweat. Working together for six years
Bengaluru fitness coach Swetha Subbiah, 37, and Delhi footballer Tanvie Hans, 32, met during a Nike campaign in Bengaluru in 2016. The following year, an inebriated friend asked them to organise a football session for women in their mid-30s one weekend; they thought nothing of it and obliged. They booked a sports arena and designed a 90-minute session. “We weren’t expecting more than five women, but 17 turned up,” says Hans. The women requested them to do it every weekend. Around 18 months in, they were catering to more than 300 women.
Subbiah and Hans had discovered a surprising gap in a crowded fitness market: Sports-loving women looking for a safe space to work out and chill. They established Sisters In Sweat in 2020 and now organise football, basketball and touch rugby matches for more than 3,000 women.
“It’s the combination of our skill sets that has made Sisters in Sweat what it is,” says Subbiah. Responsibilities are clearly split between the two to make decision-making easy. “Swetha and I figured out early on that I am the creative one and she is the more practical one,” says Hans. “We each have our own areas of expertise, and seldom step on each other’s toes.”
Two heads are better than one, they say. “My creativity has its limits, but when you combine multiple people’s minds and creative thinking, you have a much broader canvas to work with. We want Sisters in Sweat to cater to girls and women of different ages with different backgrounds across the country,” says Hans. Subbiah, completes her thought: “So we both need to understand each other’s working styles better and adjust accordingly. We push each other forward by learning from each other’s individual working styles.”
Are they friends? “Over the years, we’ve found a balance between being friends and being professional partners,” says Subbiah. “It’s work in progress.”
José Covaco and Cyril D’Abs
Comedians. Working together for 10 years
Growing up, José Covaco, 41, and Cyril D’Abs, 43, attended the same school in Bandra, Mumbai. They only got acquainted in the 2000s when they both began working at a radio station while in their early 20s and bonded over the game Counterstrike. “The first day I met José at work, he gave me attitude,” says D’Abs, laughing. “But our outlook was similar. We were both on the same level of stupidity.”
They’ve turned that stupidity into a roaring, guffawing success on YouTube, the short-lived video platform, Vine, and other social media. Covaco has 446k followers on Instagram and is the face of the duo, while D’Abs, with 49.3k followers does more of the content planning and makes occasional appearances in the videos.
Their first videos, make in 2013, were just for fun, to fool around with new social-media platforms. “There was constant encouragement, along with this bond of creating content together,” says D’Abs. “We’d call each other up and ideate every day.”
They still do. But 10 years on, they’ve learnt that effortless-seeming comedy is hard work. “Having similar temperament is crucial,” says Covaco. “We’ve both worked hard, put in crazy hours. So, if we disagree, and express it honestly, we come up with a solution or are done with it one way or another.”
It helped that they were friends first. “If we had a work relationship first, it would have been a little more awkward and less honest,” says Covaco. The two are happy letting each other shine, knowing that if the other has a good joke, it’d be silly to ruin it just to get an upper hand. They do admit to being competitive with technology, so disagreements are more likely to be over who has a better mouse or TV screen, than who wrote the funnier line.
“In an age when 90% of the content you see has been done before, it’s great to have someone to bounce ideas off of. And two people together, being real is also something that keeps us grounded,” Covaco says.
“With Jose, it’s just easy. It’s rare to find someone who (and don’t take this to your head, Jose), is as relaxed and as easy-going as he is,” smiles D’Abs.
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From HT Brunch, March 18, 2023
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