Innovative acts and external recognition through accolades could help catapult the circus industry to newer heights

Circus is not only a medium of entertainment but also an art form. It takes years of practice, commitment and innovation to put together a show that truly entertains the audience across age groups. In our previous articles, we touched upon circus as both entertainment and a form of performing art and what it took for people to achieve great heights within the industry. Perhaps the circus is one of the rare art forms that has gone through such hardships in India. Even when some classical dance forms experienced disrepute or lack of popularity, there were patrons who made sure to revive the art forms. Sadly the circus did not enjoy such luxury in recent times. 

Still, there were some good times in the world of circus, where the industry enjoyed some moments of luxury, extravaganza and pleasure. A century ago, when the circus entered the Kerala soil, what a rousing reception it received! How colourful, how entertaining and how wonderful were the acts in those days. Those were the most modern visual spectacle to all those inside the tent.

When audience rules

Let’s not forget circus was among the rare shows that displayed live entertainment. It was theatre without a formal script. And it was also an era that enjoyed outdoor entertainment as only a few households had television that ran two government-run channels. This is in stark contrast to what we are witnessing in the entertainment industry. Today’s audience prefer to watch spectacular stage shows organised by the MNCs and corporates or sit within the confines of four walls and view movies, browse through television or even play games with someone on the other side of the globe. Simply put, to keep up with other mediums of entertainment, the producers of circus shows today will have to make use of the most modern multi-media techniques and the latest digitised light and sound equipment to satisfy the taste of modern audiences, who are aware of technological progress. The people, in general, are interested in composite programmes of cheering groups displaying dance acts at celebrity cricket matches, Olympic sports and the grand finale of the so-called reality shows.

Awards and accolades

It is very sad that the most outstanding circus artistes of India never received any notable accolades such as the Academy awards or Padma awards or such coveted rewards till today, whereas many singers or dancers or film artistes or theatre practitioners are consistently being recognised through these awards. So is the case with civilians, police and defense personnel. The circus being stuck in a time warp, is unable to reinvent itself, and perhaps this is also partially why the accolades are eluding the industry.

For starters, the circus companies should read the writing on the wall and rise to the occasion. Keeping the originality, texture, and spirit of their items, presentation before the spectators should be modern in all respects. Under these circumstances, the initiative taken in this respect is a redeeming feature and therefore it should be tried out again and again. Sherith, son of Chandran, the proprietor of the Grand Circus, also supports this view whole-heartedly. However, the proprietor of Grand Circus Chandran who was also a previous manager of different circus companies never wanted his sons to become circus artistes for obvious reasons and therefore encouraged them to pursue academics.  

Carrying forward the legacy

Chandran’s viewpoint of not letting the circus become a family legacy is proof enough that the industry holds little opportunity compared to its IT counterpart. And this is the general tendency of ordinary middle or upper middle class persons. Despite their lucrative jobs, Sherith and Shenyil, Chandran’s sons still hold deep passion to improve the circus industry and roots and spend a few days at their father’s circus camps and look forward to spending their holidays with the circus artistes. Their mother Savithri, also a former trapeze artiste, is not only the main trainer of Grand Circus, but also the mother of all in the tent for all practical purposes. Savithri who joined the circus at the age of eight, left active circus feats and returned to Thallasseri to look after her son’s education when he was hardly four years old. In 2000, when Chandran purchased Grand Circus, she joined the circus camp again. Until 2010, she was active in the ring as a performer.

Photo courtesy : Priyanka Pathak

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Abhilash Pillai is the Professor of Acting and Direction and In-Charge of the Cultural Exchange Program at the National School of Drama NewDelhi and Executive Director of the Asia Theatre Education Centre (ATEC) Central Academy of Drama, Beijing, China. Pillai has collaborated with both international and national theatre production and initiated the first-ever collaboration in India connecting NSD and the Grand Circus, Kerala.

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