“Circus owners have been trying to adapt to changing circumstances”
While Navchandra Singh, 35, and his team of Manipuri martial arts performers lost out in a popular reality television talent show, they got a call from someone they did not expect: a circus owner.
Much has been written about the slow death of the circus in India, but circus owners have been valiantly trying to adapt to changing circumstances. For instance, Star Circus, which is currently holding shows in Puducherry, has got Singh’s team on board. “We have been trained in martial arts since our childhood. We have also spent some time teaching martial arts to children in Delhi. We learnt under the same guru and formed a team,” says Singh.
The Star Circus, based out of Bengaluru, has been running shows for around four years and has artists from Russia, Uzbekistan, Nepal, Manipur and West Bengal. They have held shows in Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Kerala.
At the circus, there are artists performing the single-point trapeze act and there are some juggling a variety of objects including pins, bottles, hoops, hats and balls. Somersaults and acrobatics are in plenty and tightrope walking is made to look easy. Singh performs some lethal tricks including slicing cucumbers placed on his team members while being blindfolded. There is also the globe of death with two motorcyclists zipping around and a few tricks by a group of pomeranian dogs. Dexterity and balance are of course, key to most of the acts.
One of the highlights of the circus is the mesmerising ‘aerial silk’ act where Giora, an artist from Uzbekistan, climbs a suspended fabric and performs aerial acrobatics, swirling, spiralling and swinging in the air. In the final act, she uses the fabric to depict wings, much like Tinker Bell from Peter Pan.
“Ever since we have had restrictions against using wild animals in the circus, the audience for circus in India has dwindled. Children do come to a circus to watch animals. We cannot use elephants of late as well,” says Star Circus manager K.P. Unni. He has been in the circus field for almost 35 years. “Earlier, I have travelled to shows overseas in the Gulf region where animals where transported by ship and artists took the flight. In Russia, circuses and artists are backed by the government and financially supported. Here, we only get exemption on entertainment tax, all other expenses have to be borne by the management,” he adds.
With three shows every day, the artists have to start practice at 6 am to be ready for the day. Giora says her particular act took three months of practice.
“While I find it very hot here, the crowds have been good. I have performed in China, Kazakasthan and different places in India, says Aksana from Uzbekistan who does the juggling act. Uzbekistan, a former state of Soviet Union, has a rich circus tradition and Aksana studied at the circus college there. She says she plans to see the sights and sounds of Puducherry once she finds the time. On being asked about whether she likes life in the circus, she says, “This is our life and of course we enjoy it.”