Battling Odds, Circus Owners Try to Keep Show Going

Battling Odds, Circus Owners Try to Keep Show Going
With lions and tigers out of the ring, circus owners in India are not a happy lot as they struggle to survive with their band of artistes in the world of entertainment.

The ban on displaying the wild animals - lions and tigers - as well as bears and monkeys, coupled with the curbs on recruiting child artistes who later grow into mature performers supporting the industry, appears to be having a sapping effect on this age old mix of fun and thrill that used to enthrall children before the advent of the small screen.

"Today we badly need the support from government and corporate sponsors to keep this age old art of circus in India alive. In the absence of conducive atmosphere for survival and necessary amenities, this business continues to be in the red," said Sujit Dilip, owner of the two decade old 'Rambo' circus who is also member of Indian Circus Federation and European Circus Association (ECA).

Dilip, who just returned after making a presentation on Indian circuses at the 35th International Circus Festival organised by the ECA at Montel Carlo in Monaco held in the last week of January, told PTI here that while the owners of circuses in India need to incorporate creative and innovative elements in the arena of the world circus, the industry here was suffering from a host of problems that could spell its doom if not addressed properly.

"The decade-long ban on lions and tigers in circus has dealt a body blow to the industry as despite our best efforts to enhance the content of human acrobatics to make for the absence of wild animals, the entertainment vacuum remains," he added.

Putting the number of major circuses in India at 23 with many smaller units that travel across the country, Dilip said, "Since a ban also exists on recruitment of child artistes here, we have been facing a shortage of performers.Through cultural tie-ups, we get exposed to foreign circus artistes but cannot capitalize on the opportunity as we do not have younger artistes with flexible bodies to acquire the skills."

He said the circus industry in India was facing a financial crisis in its struggle to support about 4000 artistes who comprise fifty per cent females, coming mainly from Kerala and the North-Eastern states.

"To overcome the situation and keep the shows attractive, we have been recruiting foreign artistes from various countries with their speciality items in addition to having accentuated arena decoration and special light and sound effects. But despite all this, the absence of wild animals especially lions and tigers cannot be compensated," Dilip noted, adding that the owners are endeavouring to update their knowledge with innovation and procurement of latest equipment by stepping up interaction with their foreign counterparts.

He said, "Our government should lift the ban on recruiting child artistes in circus and follow the prevalent guidelines in Europe in which one parent is supposed to accompany them."

"The circus industry needs to be treated as a profession with good career prospects for the participating artistes, covered by departments of art and culture which should, after doing a research, open promotional avenues for them."

Another drawback the circus owners were experiencing in their country-wide travel was the absence of reserved grounds in urban areas providing basic amenities for the erecting tents and camping of the artistes and animals, Dilip said.

Even the factors like extended spells of rains due to an erratic and changing climate is adversely affecting the circus business, Dilip said adding that the 26/11 Mumbai terror attack too had resulted in a scare among people who prefer to keep their children away from crowded and closed places like a circus tent.

But, despite the not so rosy scenario, Dilip hopes that the swings, acrobatics, elephants, dogs, camels, and the daredevil in the ring of death and the glamour in the form of the scantily clad circus girls, along with that eternal symbol of merry laughter - the clown - would keep the show alive and going.
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