Rambo Circus’ sell-out online show

“I received so many messages saying ‘I miss you’; paintings, cards and phone calls from children across India. I didn’t know so many children knew me. I called my son in Kerala and began to cry,” says Biju Pushkaran, a clown with Rambo Circus. He is overwhelmed by the response to their maiden online show ‘Life in a Circus: Save the Circus’ that was held on September 25.

Last week, in an innovation triggered by the pandemic, Rambo Circus went virtual. A month before this digital show, a fully made-up Biju, complete with a bulbous red nose and wig of golden hair, performed in an empty big top for the first time along with 30 other artistes in a one-hour scripted and directed show.

‘Life is a Circus’, relayed eight times over the weekend, was a sell-out. The response has left its ideators and artistes both overjoyed and surprised.

Biju has been the clown at Rambo Circus for 21 years and was hoping to represent India at the Monte Carlo International Circus Festival this year. However, COVID-19 led to the cancellation of the festival as well as the first leg of Rambo Circus’ scheduled launch at Airoli in Navi Mumbai. “We had put up the big tent and our artistes were getting ready. But the lockdown halted everything. We were stranded there with 100 artistes from different parts of India. Many of the senior ones wanted to go back home. With the help of the local police and corporators, we managed to send 40 people back but the others had to be looked after,” says Sujith Dilip, one of the proprietors of the Pune-based circus company, adding that it was one of the lowest moments in his career: “I was concerned with how to protect the health and livelihood of the artistes.”

He goes to talk about his plans to upgrade the circus this year. He was negotiating with a Moscow-based company to introduce Russian acts, with an Italian firm to change the architectural landscape of the big top and the seating arrangement and with a German firm to introduce technology-driven acts like holograms and mechanical animals.

This was when Dinesh Shetty of Production Crew and Navneeth Mohan and Saurab Khurana of LaQshya Live Experiences came up with the idea of a digital circus. “We were figuring out ways to help artistes and performers and get entertainment going in these tough times. We thought of the circus, which was scheduled to come to town,” says Navneeth, adding: “The circus is already a dying art form and the present generation do not know how much fun it is. We wanted to bring it to them in these times of isolation.”

Dinesh discussed the concept with the artistes, explaining the alterations required for a digital show. “We wanted to tell the audience about the challenges faced by the artistes during the pandemic and by the art form itself. We scripted a story and directed it,” says Dinesh. Dance choreographer Rahul Saxena choreographed the show and Vipul Roy narrated the story of the pandemic-affected circus.

As a senior artiste, Biju recalls that he was sceptical about the idea. “But I encouraged the artistes to take up the challenge,” he says. The tent with a capacity to host an audience of 1,200 was put up with the help of 30 artistes and supporting staff.

Dinesh says that help from industry vendors poured in. “As it was not a live show, we had to amp up the effects,” he says. After a week of diligent rehearsals, the final show was staged.

When the lights came on, a gamut of aerial acts, ladder balance, juggling feats, clown comedy and more unfolded. Popular acts like The Wheel of Death, a daring stunt on rotating rings could not be staged as it requires manpower to put up big equipment. Trampoline acrobatics were missing as well since specialist artistes had returned home. Three Ethiopian artistes who could not travel back to their country added their distinctive acts to the show.

For Rambo Circus, founded in 1991, this was a watershed moment.

Biju remembers the strange feeling of entering the stage to no applause or “shouts of hi joker”. “There was no standing ovation, no noise. I froze and could not perform; but sir told me that thousands are watching me through the screen.”

“This show was done under difficult circumstances. It is for a social cause and the response has been great. We got congratulatory messages from people from as far away as in Dubai and Australia,” says Sujith. Biju adds, “It looks like our hard times are over.”

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Printable version | Oct 25, 2020 5:55:33 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/pune-based-rambo-circus-went-online-last-week-with-a-sell-out-show/article32733645.ece

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