By Vivek Prakash
There are a couple of stories I’ve been waiting to do since I heard that I’d be moving to India last year. Maybe it’s part nostalgia, part fascination, but I’m happy to be able to interpret these stories visually, finally.
The last time I was at a circus was some twenty-five years ago. My father brought me to the Bandra Reclamation in Mumbai to see it. I can’t remember which one it was, maybe the Apollo Circus? I remember the smell of fresh dirt and popcorn. There were fireworks. There was a dome where three people on motorbikes rode on the walls without crashing into each other. There were big cats; lions and tigers with some jumping through flaming hoops. I was wide-eyed and thrilled. I’ve dreamed of seeing and photographing that show for years.
Twenty-five years later, I came to the very same location, with a camera in hand. When the Rambo Circus pitched tent, I jumped at the chance to spend a few days documenting what Indian circuses are like. This place has been in my imagination for so long.
The performers and artists live in tents all around the giant performing tent. It’s been air-conditioned and fire-proofed now – a tactic designed to keep the dwindling audience numbers interested. India has changed a lot since I last sat ringside, now people are used to their creature comforts and safety.
I photographed the lead clown and his assistants as they got dressed and put on their make-up. I spent long hours chatting with them about what circus life was like over a cup of chai. It’s still old-fashioned and beautiful, they wear brightly colored, if dated, clothing and still let out a big clown smile when they are all made-up and ready for an act.