Theatre

Making people laugh is one of the toughest jobs, says Biju Nair

The struggle and tireless optimism of Biju Nair who left his home three decades ago is a testimony of the cliché: ‘The show must go on.’ Biju left his home in Kerala and worked as a guard until he managed to find a footing in Rambo circus and is now seen as the voice of this ailing industry. “Making people laugh is one of the toughest jobs,” says Biju, who recently appeared on Sabse Smart Kaun? on StarPlus.

Gone are the days when circuses displayed the feats of animals. Where the monkeys rode unicycles, a bear drove a motorcycle and ferocious animals were tamed by the whip of the ringmaster. Today, it is more like a song and dance show with elements of magic and comedy thrown in. “Just like the animals that used to grace these circuses, the circus industry has become endangered,” says Nair who has spent his life wearing multi-coloured dresses and funny caps.

Being the only Indian to appear on the cover Planet Circus magazine, not once but twice, Biju alias Seeti expresses mixed emotions. Nair ran away from home at the age of ten and fate took him to a circus. Starting as a ticket collector, he became a security guard and ultimately graduated to be a clown as that was what he loved the most. “Making people laugh,” he gushes. Biju speaks about the times when he chanced upon a big circus in Mumbai’s Jogeshwari. He started off as a security guard there but was soon captivated by the performance of clowns and wanted to become one. He approached the management there with his humble request only to be turned away as he had a “dark skin tone.”

Determined to rise, he learnt all the tricks by just watching a clown perform and went on to meet Sujith Dilip, the owner of Rambo Circus, who immediately made him an integral part of his troupe.

“I never really thought of any profession at that time. When I was not getting a decent meal, the circus and the people working there gave me food and job. I still remember earning just about ₹35 a day. I still remember hiding from the security staff and watching the artistes. That’s when I realised that my favourite character in the whole circus was the clown.” reveals Nair.

He is happy that his photograph appeared on the cover of an international magazine but is equally sad as only a picture featured in the magazine. “Every single one of the artists in the circus dreams of representing their country worldwide. I’m sad that foreign artists come to India and showcase their skills. Why can’t we get a chance of doing the same?” rues Seeti.

He believes that unlike India, circuses abroad are supported by government and the artistes are respected. “But when we look at India, the government is not supporting the circus but looking at ways to shut it down. It’s very tough to seek recognition in India,” concedes Nair who has been a clown for 17 years.

Lack of open spaces

Last year, he wrote letters to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi seeking support for saving Indian circus. His pleas went unanswered. Nair blames the decline of circus on a number of circumstances that include lack of open spaces in cities and bureaucratic permissions.

“I’ve reached out for government’s help. Unlike the film industry, we receive no awards. I even expressed my concerns on the banning of animals in circus. Animals used to be main attractions in a circus. While some circuses may treat animals wrongly, we had a bond with every animal.” avers Biju. He says there are many stories of how circus changed lives and gave the jobless and those addicted to drugs and alcohol, a fresh start.

Reminiscing the good old days, Nair says circuses used to be huge crowd-pullers and shows commenced at 8 a.m. “But unfortunately, those times are gone now. There are many people who admire and enjoy circus. But sometimes, it’s the presentation that puts you off. Whether the tent is torn or artistes have badly done make-up or ill-fitted costumes, I think presentation and intent play a role in the success of setting up anything.”

He faced trouble as he had no idea about the make-up and nobody was willing to help him. “However, I didn’t give up and did it by myself. Later, when I played the role of the clown, I could hear people hooting and laughing. And those who looked down upon me back then, wanted me to join their troupes,” chuckles Nair.

When asked if not a crowd pleaser with a repertoire of pratfalls what else could he be, Nair exclaims, “Clown nahin, toh kuchh nahin. And if I die, I’d like to be sent off with smiles and my make-up on. I love my clown side much more than I love myself.”


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Printable version | Jun 10, 2021 1:10:26 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/theatre/life-of-a-clown/article24319729.ece

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