Remember those black posters hand-painted with fluorescent-neon colours for advertising these exciting magic and circus shows in town? ( 90’s kids will probably be the last to remember them ). I came to notice one such poster sticking on the walls of lanes and by-lanes of the city of Dehradun, where my family currently resides. It was an advertisement for The Great Royal Circus, which was running its shows at the Parade Ground of Dehradun.
Note: It is a long post, like most of my other posts. So, bear with me if you would 😛 If you can’t remember the kind of poster I’m talking about, check this out: https://www.pinterest.com/anne9199/circus/
It had been a long, long time since I had visited a circus, long enough to not to have any memories of it. Circus was a sort of fantasy world for me that I had watched in old movies and heard about in stories. It wasn’t really an entertainment option for me as I was growing up, thanks to the multiplexes and water parks and gaming zones in metropolitan cities.
It provoked my interest, this age-old poster design, inviting me to catch a glimpse of what may not be there soon. I went to the venue next day and took a nice front row seat for 200 bucks. Here is my entry into my digital diary, as I was sitting at the reception, waiting for the show to start :
“The sun is the usual merry Doon self. I see a fifty odd crowd of people gathered here, waiting to enter the gates to watch the The Great Royal Circus in its full swing. Hindi songs from 90s are blaring out from huge speakers at the entrance. The entrance is colourful with separate entries for different class of ticket holders, my fortunate self being the Royal Circle ticket holder.
There are windows of canvas around the entrance tent walls showcasing their collection of emus, camels and horses.
I enter the performance tent to find a great place full of colours red blue and yellow.
The Great Royal Circus is written in glittering gold powder in the centre where thick heavy red curtain blocks the view of back stage.
Several props, nets, lights etc can be seen around the stage. There’s massive huge aluminium ball hollow from inside kept at a corner.
It isn’t the most organised or cleanest of settings, but I feel as if I’m going to enjoy my experience here.
Loud and big, desert coolers and floor fans are blasting cool air all around. The crowd has started filling in. It seems more than a fifty now. They seem excited as well. Especially the little kids. 😀
Ina mina dika is playing right now. An apt song 😀
I smell fun in the air!
The bell has rung and a tune plays like it does during the entry of the king. I don’t know what it’s called.
A live band is performing from a parapet above the stage.”
I hope you get the idea of the atmosphere there with this.
The seating arrangement was regular plastic chairs arranged in concentric circles around the stage. The stage was huge along with the camp though. I guess enough to fill 400-500 seats!
I watched the show, with a small popcorn tub in my hand and by the end of it I was a smiling satisfied consumer of this vintage and precious part of the entertainment industry. It was an amazing show, and I was thrilled by their performances.
Next day, I took my camera and went to the circus venue again, way before the show was to start. I talked to the managers there and got permission to shoot the show. Although I wasn’t allowed to shoot their living camps, so that was a bummer.
Even so, I made myself at home there quickly; thanks to the very good-natured and helpful people there, especially the live band people who I mentioned earlier. I got free run of the stage, so between my shooting sprees, I would talk to some artists the musicians and enjoyed their stories.
One of the clowns there, whose name was Krishna Bhakt ( isn’t that an interesting name 😀 ) was an eager to talk, jolly old fellow. He told me about his home in Bombay, his three children, sons working abroad and the girl studying in Bombay. He showed me their pictures and I was honestly surprised to see that it wasn’t much different from our own lifestyle! He also told me he owns a Canon DSLR and likes to click pictures. Like Dayyymn.! XD
I asked him why he’s in circus then, if could be living a comfortable life in Bombay?
He said, “Circus is my life and my lifestyle. I ran away from home after quitting school and joined the circus. I am a clown since then and I love and enjoy my life here.”
Major Myth Broken : Circus performers (artists) aren’t necessarily poor.
I shot some acts, I shot backstage and I shot while having conversations with people there, and I really loved it all. The artists, and other people associated with the circus live in tents around the stage. Each group have their own space, women artists have the privacy of tin walls. Each community of performers have their own space, even so, there is harmony between the people.
I won’t write much about the acts and performances here, except that they were fun, awe-inspiring and entertaining. Rest, you can judge from the photographs. 🙂
I conversed with one of the managers of the show, Salim Khan, who was a circus performer himself in his younger days, but had to stop because of an injury during practicing a cart-wheel. Here is some of our talk :
Me: So, till when are you planning to run the show here?
Salim Khan : Usually, we run the show for a month, but it can be extended on public response. But sadly, the craze and fever of circus which once ran wild among city folk and rural folk alike; is now gone. This circus probably wouldn’t last much longer. it is expensive to run and maintain, and there’s no interest of audience or support from the government. How are we to survive?
Me: Since this is a travelling show, how does it affect the lifestyle of the people associated with the circus?
Salim Khan : We have a nomadic lifestyle of course. However, it isn’t much different from the normal lifestyle of any other person. We live together, raise families, cook our own food, go shopping and to movies, practice and perform. and we carry it all everywhere we go. Most of us however, have to stay away from their families and visit them during off season.
Me: How much are these artists paid?
Salim Khan: That depends. They are paid per month or per show. Usually we have 8-9 shows in a year and we also have away tours sometimes, though not so much now.
Me: Why do you think this decline has happened? Apart from the rise of various other entertainment alternatives?
Salim Khan: Well, there are a lot of reasons. It is expensive to run a circus, especially a travelling circus. For artists to perform and keep performing for a long time of their lives, they have to start practicing from the age of 3 years; otherwise the flexibility washes off. They become more prone to injuries. And injuries mean an end to their performing career. Since we can’t employ children below 14 years of age, they don’t practice, an hence, the number of performers grows less.”
Salim Khan: Animal tricks used to be a huge, major attraction of the circus, but since that is also banned, we can’t do much. The newer generation children aren’t told about the tradition and history of circus. Nor are they taught in schools about it. The Government offers us no support and barely recognises us as an industry, let alone an art form. The local newspapers just write 1-2 articles putting our woes forward. Its ends there. No one takes notice.
I can’t object against the ban on child employment and using animals as entertainment objects. That is definitely wrong. But is it a crime if children are trained in acrobatics and other performance arts alongside school education as extra-curricular activities. I know employment is an issue, but at least they can be in practice and maintain their interests till they are of an age to decide for themselves?
The performances need to be innovative and changes need to be made into the system. With so many young, aspiring acrobats and martial arts performers in our country, why isn’t the government looking towards promotion and restoration of the circus industry which can provide job opportunities to them?
I think circus is a dying art, which needs to be preserved, restored and maintained. For us and our future generations to appreciate and enjoy this art form, a legacy.
If you guys are in Dehradun and have some time to spare, do check the circus out. I hear it’s still running there. 🙂