With no shows since March 10 in light of the COVID-19 breakout, the circus staff are struggling to keep the units going until the performances can resume again.

Circus clowns hold save Jumbo cards
news Lockdown Saturday, May 23, 2020 - 18:00

They stopped running shows on March 10, two days after it was revealed that a family from Italy that had come to Pathanamthitta tested positive for the coronavirus. That was the second wave of the disease in Kerala, more than a month after the first three cases from Wuhan were reported. The government asked all public entertainment shows to close down, including movies, plays and circuses.

At the time, there were two units of Jumbo circus running shows in Kerala – one in the Puthur Padath ground in Kottakkal, Malappuram and the other in the Gokulam Ground, Kayamkulam.

Nearly 175 people working with Jumbo are still there, with no clue on when their shows can start again. “There are more than a hundred of us here. We were staying in tents on the Puthur Padath ground for one-and-a-half months after the shows closed. But then the rains came and we had to move to a plant in Myladi, with the help of the Kottakkal municipality,” says Prathapan, accountant of Jumbo Circus at Kottakal.

The Kottakal municipality also provided food grains but that was not proving to be enough. Help also came from NRI businessman and philanthropist Yusuff Ali who contributed materials worth Rs 2 lakh and another Rs 3 lakh in cash for all the stranded staff.

Between March 10 and 22, quite a few of the circus staff left for their hometowns while trains were still running. “Most of the artistes are from other states like Bihar, Assam and Bengal. There are very few from Kerala. Only people in management and administration are from Kerala,” says Sethu Mohanan, manager at the Kayamkulam unit of Jumbo.

There are about 72 people still left in Kayamkulam staying in tents, with 40 to 50 people managing to return home. In addition to the people, are the animals – about 40 of them – in both the units together.

“We need at least Rs 50,000 to keep both the units running and there is no income now. Even otherwise this is a struggling industry. Now without shows and income, it’s going to a place of no future,” says Ajay Shankar, Managing Partner of Jumbo.

Ajay and his brother Ashok run the circus which was founded by their father MV Shankaran in 1977. Shankaran along with K Sahadevan had started the Gemini circus in 1951. More than 25 years later, Shankaran bought the Rayon circus when it ran into a crisis and renamed it Jumbo, inspired by the then newly introduced Jumbo jet.

But the old glory of circus shows had faded in the years that passed. From 20 troupes, it’s come down to five or six - Jumbo, Gemini, Apollo, Great Bombay Circus and Geo among them.

Even before the lockdown, when there was an audience, circus troupes could barely keep the shows running. “Our running cost on a day we run a show is Rs 1 lakh. Without the shows, it is still half the amount that we need to spend, with no income. It has been 73 days of no shows now. The government had initially given about 1200 kg of rice, but that had soon run out with so many people and animals to take care of. I have written to the Chief Minister and the Prime Minister to help us. One request is to provide more ration till the shows could resume. The other request is to allow a grant or a long term loan to help us resume business once it is allowed to function again. Otherwise, this art would simply die,” Ajay says.

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