CHENNAI: Nine decades of being in the show business is no mean feat, especially for the circus industry folks who have had tough times of late with decreasing patronage. However, for the promoters of the Great Bombay Circus (GBC), who are back in the city after a gap of four years, remaining in the business is about keeping alive their forefathers’ legacy.
K M Dilip Nath Nair, one of the promoter partners, told CE that circus continues to draw major crowds in metropolitan cities.
According to him, performing in cities like Delhi, Bengaluru, Indore, Ahmedabad, Nagpur and Kolkata are profitable, but Chennai remains ‘the biggest market’ for circus shows. “Multiplexes and malls make people bored,” he said. The industry has seen hardships and obstacles with the most recent one being the ban on making animals, including elephants, perform. However, not having animals cuts down operational expenses, he said. “It is only when we tour the smaller cities that the problem of not having animals in the show crop up. For the common man in a rural area, circuses continue to be synonymous with performing animals,” he said.
While the GBC has survived without animals for the last 18 years, it has been hiring gymnasts and performing artistes from Ethiopia, Tanzania, China and Russia in order to offset the loss.
Biniam Gebremichael, who is a hat juggler, and his three friends comprise the Ethiopian performers troupe. Gebremichael himself runs a performing arts troupe back home and believes that he stands to gain by performing with the GBC. “We are like one big family here. Unlike in home, we get to interact with artistes from other countries and this helps us learn,” he said. But Gebremichael, like a few other foreign performers, is yet to discover the occupational hazards of performing in India, which according to Nair, extend beyond the confines of the performing arena. The cold-blooded murder of a mafia don by his rivals, midway through a GBC show, springs to his mind.
“We have to pay to put up a police battalion outside our tents when we tour troublesome locations like Patna, for instance. When such incidents happen, the shows are called off. Recently, when a political leader fell ill and passed away, we were pressured into cancelling our shows. We incur heavy losses and there is no one to compensate us,” said Nair.
With recent stipulations mandating promoters to insure and pay decent wages to performers, the profit meter does not read great, said Nair. But hardships will not matter much when the pain is all about putting up a good show.
(GBC is performing on the SIAA Grounds until the first week of March. It will have three shows at 1, 4 and 7 pm with tickets priced at `100, 200 and 300.)