MUMBAI, India – For most working people in western India’s metropolis of Mumbai, the day was winding down around 4:30 pm on Friday, but for trapeze artist Elish Marak, his work was just starting as he ran into a circus tent to begin his rousing routine.
Dressed in a green outfit, he joined his fellow troupe members high up on the trapeze bars and swung back and forth in the air to the amazement of hundreds of spectators.
For people of all countries the circus is a source of wonder, mystery and entertainment.
But for PT Dilip of Mumbai, the circus has been his world since 1991 when he brought together three older Indian circus artist groups to form his own.
He saw that this newly-formed group was strong and talented, and when he looked up an alternative word for “strong” in the dictionary he found “rambo” and so he named his company Rambo Circus, his son Sujit told EFE on Friday.
Dilip and his company of some 50 performers today entertain families in India with visiting circus artists from Uzbekistan, Mexico, Ethiopia, Colombia, Nepal and other countries along with traditional Indian artists.
In the past, circuses depended on wild animals to entertain crowds. For many this was a rare chance to see real live monkeys, tigers, panthers, lions and of course, elephants.
But under pressure from animal rights activists, the Indian Supreme Court in 1990 banned the use of wild animals in circus acts (elephants were initially exempt but were included in the ban in 2013).
The same court that banned wild animals, also prohibited child performers in 2011. For the circus these young apprentices (some are children of established circus performers) are meant to be their future stars.
“After the ban on wild animals, lots of circuses shut down in India and it was a challenge to keep this art form alive. We had to introduce death-defying acts and asked the clown to interact more with the crowds,” Sujit said.
The bans made the already tough circus business even tougher, and now with so many forms of entertainment, audiences are choosing other options.
The number of currently operating circuses on the subcontinent shows the impact of the changing entertainment environment: there are today 30 circuses, down from a high of about 300 in the late 1990s, a long-time Rambo performer told epa.
But for Rambo, the show must go on, and a typical day for its performers starts with morning practice sessions which run from 7:00 am until noon.
All performers live together in company tents, separated for couples and according to their respective schedules, which rotate so the artists do not do too many back-to-back shows.
There are performances at 4:30 pm and 7:30 pm during weekdays, with about 150 people attending the evening shows.
Rambo’s main tent – the big top – houses about 2,000 seats.
The weekend shows, which start at 1:30 pm, draw up to 600 people, mostly families, including grandparents and young children.
Ticket prices range between INR 100-475 ($1.50-7.40).
In addition to the traditional circus spectacles like clown acts, trapeze stunts, acrobatics and dancing, Rambo’s main attraction is the Wheel of Death, which the Uzbek performer Davron, 22, performs without safety harnesses.
The artists who spoke with epa said they are happy to be doing what they love for a living, but not everything about the circus is magical and exciting, as their intensive performance schedule means they work most days of the month, with few days off.
By the time the shows are done, and all the performers have put away their costumes and removed their makeup it is 10:30 pm, and time for bed.