Monday, May 05, 2014

A Ring-Side View

Sujit Dilip, a second-generation owner of the Rambo Circus, talks about his experiences

Photo by Mithun Vinod

By Shevlin Sebastian

Several years ago, when Sujit Dilip was assisting his father, the owner of the Rambo Circus, he spent a night near the lion's cage. And he had a tough time. Because the entire night, the lions made roaring sounds. The second night also went like this. On the third night, an intrigued Sujit decided to find out what the problem was.

When I went near the cages, I saw that the lions were being fed,” he says. “But what shocked me was that it was only bones.” The circus had outsourced the supply of meat. The man who brought the meat, in connivance with the person tasked to look after the lions, was only supplying bones. “When I discovered this, I sacked both of them,” says the Pune-based Sujit.

Thereafter, Sujit bought fresh meat and fed it to the animals. That night there was silence in the cages. “It was then that I understood that during the first two nights, the lions were trying to communicate with me about the cheating that was taking place,” says Sujit.

Unfortunately, circus owners received a body blow when the Centre banned the use of lions and tigers more than ten years ago. “It was too harsh,” says Sujit. “Not all circuses were treating animals cruelly. The Government could have appointed an inspector and monitored the treatment.”

To counter this, the Rambo Circus hired Russian artistes, began new tight-wire acts, along with the Wheel of Death item which was taught by Colombian circus performers. As a result, the Rambo circus continued to flourish. Today, it has an employee strength of 160.

And the circus has begun to attract a new audience: college students. “One reason is because we provide fusion music, like African sounds with tabla beats,” he says. “We are also using laser lights, smoke, and sound. Fifty percent of the success of any particular act depends on this aspect.”

And despite spending more than twenty years in the trade Sujit is learning new things. A few years ago, he had gone to see the Monte Carlo Circus Festival. There he met the Ashton Brothers, whose family have been trapeze artists for seven generations. While talking to them, he realised that the trapeze act which was being done in India was technically wrong.

In India, the catcher and flyer are on the same level,” he says. “So when a flyer does a double somersault it is difficult for the catcher to hold him properly. But in Monte Carlo, the catcher was 10 feet below and had ample time to hold the flyer.” When Sujit returned to India, he immediately implemented the changes.

Another change which he has implemented is to move the circus from the tent to the auditorium. The reason is simple: it is difficult to get open spaces in metropolitan cities, which are accessible to everybody.

Also, the well-to-do do not want to see the circus in tent. So Sujit set up a show at Prithvi Theatre in Mumbai and it was a success. “We did a few more shows after that,” he says. And now Sujit has come with the 'Magic Circus of Samoa' for a performance at a hall in Kochi. The Samoan and Indian artistes included jugglers, acrobats, aerialists, unicyclists, fire dancers, dancers and clowns.

However, despite the pleasures of the job, it is still a high-pressure life for Sujit. Recently, after obtaining permission from city administrators, he had taken the circus to Belgaum in Karnataka. But, at the last moment, the Election Commission of India took over the land where the circus was to be held as the place to store Electronic Voting Machines. So, they cancelled the permission.

I had arrived with 40 trucks which consisted of equipment and staff,” says Sujit. “The daily expenses were Rs 1 lakh. The authorities told me to hold a performance after the April 17 elections. But how could I feed people for so many days without an income?”

So Sujit rushed to Hubli, 125 kms away, to get permission to hold a show in that town. “I love the circus so much that I take all these setbacks in my stride,” says Sujit. 

(Sunday Magazine, The New Indian Express, South India and Delhi)

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