There was a time when childhood was incomplete without the romance of circus. The travails of Gemini, one of the premier circus troupes, tells the story of its decline.
Multicoloured posters are plastered on the city's walls well in advance. Autorickshaws fan out to every nook and cranny of Palakkad, a bustling little town in Kerala, announcing the arrival of Gemini Circus.
However, the approaches to the circus camp wear a rather deserted look, a big change from about a decade ago when die-hard enthusiasts would make a beeline for the venue. Synonymous with circus in this part of the country, Gemini — among the largest and one of the few that fought the odds to remain in business — presents a picture of ruin, shorn off its past glory.
The decline of the circus has made it tough for even celebrated companies such as Gemini to find suitable replacements. Of its 300-strong workforce, only a few hail from Thalassery, which once presented circuses with the lion's share of its performers. Newer forms of mass entertainment, the policy of banning performances by untamed animals, the proscription on using kids to showcase daring acts, the dearth of open urban spaces to set up camp and the apathy of neighbourhoods towards the seemingly ‘lowbrow' or subaltern form of entertainment have threatened to ring the death-knell of the great Indian circus.
Empty chairs greeted the artistes in Palakkad recently; years ago, there would have been packed houses and an audience watching with bated breath. Slapstick routines and clowns no longer fascinate computer-savvy urban kids. Pretty trapeze girls no longer ignite the fancy of young men. Once a sought-after career for runaway kids like Gemini's Nepal-born Roshan, few teenagers want to land a job in a circus troupe now. If the arrival of a circus company was reason enough for a locality to burst into celebration, hardly anyone seems to bother these days. While plodding on to make ends meet, companies like Gemini dream of an image make-over, adding a dash of novelty to the routine to stay in the reckoning. After all, the show must go on.