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03.11.2014

A long twirling moustache, an evil laugh and a scary whip. Sujith Dilip, owner of Rambo Circus, has none of these. He is instead a jovial Malayali, who offered us cold drinks, while we sat behind ‘Asia’s largest circus tent’ currently set up at Bandra Reclamation, reminisced about Rambo’s then, and its diminished roar now.

“We are called Rambo because we always had strength in numbers. My father bought two circuses - Arena and the Grand Oriental. Together, they swelled into Rambo”.

Having been in the circus industry for over thirty years, Sujith Dilip has bred and fed tigers and lions; seen some of his best employees abandon their talents to earn a better living; cared for elephants and salvaged over three dying circuses and countless artistes.

 “There were all these stories about animals being mistreated. Why would we do that? They were our star artistes. Who would treat their main stars badly?”

But Sujith wasn’t always interested in clowning around. “I was a BSc student with my nose buried in textbooks. Then my father got very ill and I was forced to take over the reins of Rambo. I knew nothing, but learnt slowly on the job.” His science background and curious nature helped him understand the animals better. “I trained myself with National Geographic videos and information. Over time, the lions were literally eating out of my hands," he chuckles. 

Those days are over though, with the government banning the use of wild animals in circus performances. With this ban, the audience numbers at Rambo have reduced drastically over the last twenty years, we were told.  “There were all these stories about animals being mistreated. Why would we do that? They were our star artistes. Who would treat their main stars badly?”

Ringside View

Mistreated or not, we were glad to watch the wild animal-free circus show about an hour before our chat with Sujith. More expensive (for a ringside seat) than a movie ticket, Rambo’s air-conditioned tent made room for tight ropewalkers with unicycles and hula hoops; a flock of Manipuri boys with a bed of spikes (yikes); juggler sisters with 3d frames; dogs solving math problems; rubber band clowns; international contortionists; daredevils; elephants; horses and dwarves. If you're willing to brave the dust and slight grime that comes with the circus, we'd recommend it as an alternative on the weekend to that same ol' same ol' drinking plan with your buds. At three hours, it's slightly long, but you can always make your exit between acts.

It’s no Cirque du Soleil, but some of the performers can dazzle, making the show entertaining, and in parts, grand even. But we think the role of animals should be eliminated altogether, and so should encouraging the audience to laugh at midgets. And clowns, we’ve always found them mildly depressing.

Le Bijou

Just then as if on cue, our chat with Sujith is interrupted by Bijou the clown, also the main narrator and voice of the circus( that is conducted in Hindi), who’s there to convey an urgent message. Crisis averted, we soon start chatting with Bijou, who tells us how he ran away from home twenty years ago to join the circus. “I had to get away from home. The circus was the only place that accepted me with open arms. This is my family now.”

Despite the crowds a circus pulls, government support is lacking, they tell us. Funding, awareness and even acquiring important documents like PAN Cards and passports is difficult. “It’s only recently that I’ve been able to open bank accounts for all my artistes at Union Bank. We have no permanent address, so it becomes very difficult to process basic things,” says Sujith.

Preparations for the next show begin. Behind us, a young Russian performer walks by with his contortionist girlfriend, and asks us in Hindi if we liked the show. “These two want to get married now, Sujith tells us. But where are their documents? Which priest will marry them?  God only knows," he laughs and shakes his head.

We leave Rambo with sequins in our eyes, a fake clown nose bought at the memorabilia shop, and some tricks from Sujith that will have you jumping through hoops in no time.

The Rambo Circus In Numbers:

145 artistes.

4 elephants, 4 horses, 1 pony, 12 dogs make up the animal section.

The circus travels in three, 50 feet trucks across the country.

Rambo has travelled to over twenty countries.

Cost to feed one elephant over 2 days in Mumbai: Rs 25,000.

Cost to set up Rambo Circus in Mumbai: 60 lakh rupees.

Getting There: The Rambo Circus will be at the Bandra Reclamation grounds until December 4, tickets available on bookmyshow.com & at the venue, Rs 150-1,000, shows at 1pm, 4pm & 7pm. They will also perform at The Prithvi Theatre Festival this weekend. 

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