Dressed in a red polka-dotted jumpsuit, with gaudy makeup and streaks of white paint on his face, 51-year-old Biju Pushkaran begins the show. This is not a usual affair for him. Pushkaran, the head clown, has been working at the Rambo Circus for more than two decades but this is the only time he’s speaking to the camera. The circus hasn’t had a single show since March due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The lockdown that followed affected more than 100 artists.
After suffering for months together with barely enough for sustenance, Rambo Circus—one of the biggest and oldest in the country—decided to go online in September, and came to television and mobile phones via an app. The 50-minute online show, titled ‘Life is a Circus’, was about displaying the skills of the artists and a means of providing them livelihood, as the pandemic killed live shows.
The online show had no ringmaster, or applause from the crowd. Instead, a presenter appeared on screen requesting viewers to support the artists. The event had clowns, acrobats, and trapeze artists, who showcased their skills on the screen. Going digital meant a complete overhaul of lighting, production, scripting, etc. And the team made it happen in a few weeks.
“They used to perform in front of a live audience. It took us a week of practice to get them used to the camera,” says Dinesh Shetty, founder, Production Crew Entertainment, who took care of the concept and production aspects of going digital.
Rambo Circus, which has been around since 1991, seems overjoyed with the response. Co-owner Sujit Dilip mentions how the online shows tried to preserve the nostalgia of visiting a circus, which used to be huge in the 1980s and 1990s. He is also grateful to the technology that gave a fresh breath of hope to his struggling company.
After suffering for months together with barely enough for sustenance, Rambo Circus—one of the biggest and oldest in the country—decided to go online in September, and came to television and mobile phones via an app.
The circus says the six streamed shows had more than 35,000 viewers. While that may not seem much, a single offline show of the circus can seat around 1,200 people, who pay ₹100-₹500. For the online show, tickets were priced from ₹199—the amount you would pay for a month of Netflix on the mobile phone. Not bad for a payper-view show. This is why Rambo Circus is elated, and will start streaming shows again from mid-December.
The pandemic has made live streaming a commercially viable outlet. This, in turn, has provided performing arts a way to survive. Analysts, however, advise caution. Karan Taurani, vice president at Elara Capital, says that monetising on digital is a big challenge. “Live streaming can only be a support system. There will be fatigue after a point as events are meant to be enjoyed live,” he says.