More than a white face

4 Nov

Martin D'Souza as Flubber the Clown

When you picture a clown, even one without make-up, the image that comes to mind is probably not that of Martin D’Souza – a BSc in Physics, an MBA in marketing, a button-down shirt and two hands wielding two constantly ringing cellphones, of which one is the ubiquitous Blackberry.

D’Souza has been playing Flubber the Clown across Mumbai for over twenty years, at various events and birthday parties. “I’ve learned a lot from the Internet, and got an opportunity to attend a clowning camp at the University of Wisconsin, and subsequently at several clown conventions around the world”, says D’Souza. “I’ve discovered that clowning is much more than putting on a costume and falling down for an audience, and that’s what I want to bring to India.”

D’Souza is therefore bringing the International Clown Fest, a 10-day long festival with ten clowns from around the world, to Mumbai. At this fest, these clowns will perform at theatre shows, mall appearances, will conduct clowning workshops for the public, and run an outreach programme, where they will visit hospitals, old-age homes, orphanages and finally put up a show for 800 street children at Shivaji Park, in partnership with Childline.

“I am confident that this is the right time to introduce the art of clowning to India”, says D’Souza. “The entertainment industry has grown in the last few years, and people are asking for more forms of alternative entertainment. A clown, by definition in other parts of the world, is not necessarily someone that performs at a circus. There are three universal styles of clowning – the white-faced clown, the aguste clown (which shows skin) and the HoBo, or a Charlie Chaplin-esque clown. Each style has its own set of rules to follow.”

“In India, clowns are normally ‘jokers’, those that are midgets or have other physical deformities”, he continues. “But a clown can be a magician, a juggler, a unicyclist. A clown doesn’t even need to do anything other than interact with children. The difference between clowns in India and abroad basically comes down to this: clowns are supposed to make people happy, as opposed to just make people laugh.”

D’Souza has pioneered this style of formal clowning in India, and conducts courses for the same. “Clowns can be used for so much more than to give out balloons at birthday parties. I’ve worked with many schools in costume, and taught children about issues like fire safety through mime and magic, and hospitals to teach them about health, hygiene and to generally bring about cheer.”

Gideon D’Silva (30), who works at an insurance company through the week and as Birdie the Clown on weekends, agrees: “Clowning is not just for children. It’s still a very niche market in Mumbai, because not many people are aware of the scope it presents, but clowns can be entertainers for any age group.”
According to Subida Chaddha (28), who used to clown during her college days, “Clowns have a simple responsibility to make situations light. It’s quite simply, someone that can laugh at himself. Although I haven’t taken it on as a career, I still do acts for birthday parties of family and friends. Everyone in Mumbai leads a stressful life, and it’s telling that five-star hotels employ clowns to entertain their customers at Sunday brunches. It gives you that relief, when your child is being entertained.”

Serious business
“Every clown has a character”, says D’Souza. “Most have more than one character, with different personality traits, and a different costume. Although acting is definitely a part of clowning, considering that clowning is mostly about mime, non-verbal communication, you actually end up living the character. It stops being just a temporary role.”

“It’s philosophical in a sense”, says Gideon D’Silva. “Putting on the costume makes you take on this character that wants you to be happy. It comes with very high self-motivation.”

Rubbishing the stereotype, D’Souza says “I don’t believe that clowns are all internally sad, and are putting on a mask for the audience. A clown has to be a happy person, and can only spread happiness if he is. People will soon see through the mask, otherwise.”

Mera naam joker
50-year-old Kalam Khan has been performing three circus shows a day for the better part of 35 years. Currently entertaining audiences at Panvel’s Jumbo Circus, Khan’s story has the heart-warming quality of the quintessential Indian circus clown.

“I’m originally from Bihar”, he says. “When I turned 16, everyone around me had jobs, but I couldn’t find anything, kyunki main chota aadmi hoon na (because I’m a midget, you see). After months of trying to find earning means, my brother suggested I join the circus, and so I did. My parents cried a lot when I made the decision – they were very scared that I would be eaten up by lions, or that people would ridicule me.”

Kalam Khan has earned the title of ‘Senior Joker’ now, and has acquired skills like trapeze, boxing, juggling and gymnastics. “My work began to get interesting progressively, and I started learning a lot from television. I also had a guru, a Bengali clown at my first circus job. Now I teach the juniors skills like comedy, juggling, and what sort of sounds to make.” There are four other dwarfed clowns at Jumbo Circus.

Khan has faced several injuries through his career, “par yeh toh hota rehta hai”, he says. “But it’s worth it when you see the children laugh, and their parents happy. Dil ko shanti milti hai.”

Khan would love an opportunity to attend the clown festival, and learn from different clowns from other countries.


A class on pick-up lines, anyone?

23 Sep

This may be the classroom from your dreams, men. The study material is, well, cute girls – and instead of scoring high marks, the class objective is to score the girl’s phone number. IT and business concepts, Indian men are known to be experts with. Their smoothness with the ladies, on the other hand, is not exactly a skill best associated with the Indian man.
Enter Vicky Kalwani.
This Los Angeles-bred 30 year-old is a real estate investment banker by day, and moonlights as Mumbai’s first formal dating coach. This tall, built, well-spoken banker aims to move Mumbai’s dating scene away from the traditional “Maine aapko kahin dekha hai” and enhance confidence for more creative, successful ways to approach a girl.
“Guys have to work a lot harder at dating than girls”, says Kalwani. “They’re usually the ones to approach the girl, so we’ll be dealing with social interaction skills, like approach anxiety and dating DOs and DONTs. It’s a lot to do with personality development, so I’ll be teaching them things like how to dress, boosting confidence, how to tell if she’s interested, even how to deal with rejection.”
Kalwani makes it clear right at the outset that he is a dating consultant, and not a relationship counsellor. “I’m responsible from how the guy approaches the girl, right until he actually convinces her to go out with him. I’ll give them tips on what to do on a date, but beyond that, the guy’s on his own. I’m not the guy he goes to when he’s having emotional troubles with his girlfriend!”
Kalwani is convinced that there is huge potential for a course like this in Mumbai, and is overwhelmed by the response he has received over the three weeks that the course has been announced. “Mumbai is a vibrant, social city”, he says. “And it’s definitely not new to the concept of dating. I’ve had an unanticipated reaction so far, with even CEOs and Directors of companies call in and ask about the courses. These guys have everything going for them, but just need to be groomed to project themselves in the right way in order to get that female attention that they crave. These courses are really popular – and successful, in the USA.”
How can having the X-factor be taught, you ask? “Well, I know that all girls like some things in common – men with confidence, capable of providing for her, the alpha-male, in a sense. The key is to highlight these factors of your personality.”
All ‘candidates’ will go through an evaluation session in the beginning, during which Kalwani will discuss their needs with them and decide which level of the course to put them through to. The programme has three level courses, beginning with a one-week theory course (Rs. 10,000), which will cover topics such as where to meet girls, getting the right attitude, pick up lines dos and don’ts, and how to act on a date.
The second level is a month-long practical course (Rs. 30,000), involving (this is where it gets interesting) practice pick up sessions at bars and coffee shops across Mumbai (Kalwani doesn’t like clubs too much), a wardrobe makeover, and actual implementations of the strategies, with Kalwani as your wingman.
The 3-month course (Rs. 65,000) will have you “truly mastering the art of seduction for those that are serious about working hard”, and will include a complete panel, with a wardrobe stylist, fitness consultant, and personality development instructor. In this course, you may also get a chance to spend a week in some of Kalwani’s favourite cities for socialising, like New York and London.
“We’ll also be teaching them the difference between being creepy and confident”, says Kalwani. “There are basic ways to tell if a girl is interested in you, and if those indicators are absent, you should gracefully exit. Say if you take her hand, and she squeezes yours, that means she’s interested. Another thing I’ll be teaching is how to stay out of the friend-zone. I always tell guys not to be too nice to girls!”
Kalwani propagates a simple approach, sans pick up lines – more of a general introduction. “You could enter a coffee shop, and if a girl looks at you for more than two seconds, she’s staring. You look yourself up and down and counter with a playful “Everything okay?”. That’s simple, not sleazy, and usually effective.”
Kalwani has tested most of his strategies himself, and swears by them. “I’m very social. No comment on how many women I’ve dated”, he grins, “but I date about 2-3 times a week. I think that’s healthy.”
Kalwani can be contacted via his Facebook page titled ‘Mumbai Dating’, or on So the next time you get a Facebook message from some creepy guy who wants to “do fraandship with you”, you know where to direct them.

The Ash Cloud sets off SOS signals 2.0

23 Apr

Smoke signals in an ash-clouded sky would not have helped matters for the thousands of stranded travellers that found good use in Web 2.0 when reaching out for help.

Social networking websites, including Facebook and Twitter, surfaced as essential tools for those stuck as a result of the ash cloud plume disaster emerging from the Icelandic volcano. As several travel and airline websites crashed under the pressure of online inquiries, these websites enabled people to connect with others that were stranded, or those that offered help.

The Swedish carpool movement set up a Facebook group called Carpool Europe to facilitate the connection between people asking for, and those offering lifts. The group seems to have been very effective, with wallposts such as “I was stranded in Budapest for 5 days and thanks to you I found a link here to a bus going back to Sweden and I contacted them and now Im home safe and sound. So keep up the good work and thanks again” and “Thanks to carpool europe, I got home from Hamburg via Stockholm last week. Otherwise, would have been stranded there for quite some time. This rocks!”. Users from all over Europe, and even some from Australia and the United States have made use of the service, as per the wallposts.

The hashtag ‘#ashtag’ on Twitter gained enormous popularity soon after the eruption on Friday, as did #getmehome and #roadsharing. People posted experiences, asked for advice, lifts and accommodation, while others offered the same. Someone even created an account for The Ash Cloud, offering creative respite floating through all that distress, like starting the hashtag #ashtunes which asked people to post song titles that should have been about the ash cloud. @TheAshCloud also offered news updates, but written entertainingly from the cloud’s point of view.

Some really great photos of the ash cloud were posted to Flickr by people like Baldvin Hansson who flew above the cloud or were around the volcano site, and by others who photographed their surroundings and the situation.

A photograph of the ash cloud posted by Baldvin Hansson to Flickr

A photograph of the ash cloud posted by Baldvin Hansson to Flickr

Kid runs up real 900 pound debt while virtual farming

8 Apr

A mother, who prefers to remain anonymous, has come out to warn other parents to keep a closer watch on their children’s online activities after her 12-year-old son rung up a shocking £900 debt while playing on Facebook’s virtual farm-management game, Farmville .

A users virtual farm

A user's virtual farm

Farmville is an application add-on to your Facebook page, which allows you to run your own farm, with virtual animals, plants, complete with harvesting time and taking care of livestock. The farmer is given virtual coins when he first begins, which can be increased as he makes money off his farm as the game progresses. However, if a user does not want to wait for revenue generation, he can pay cash to hasten the game and buy the ‘latest’.

The child used up his own savings of about £288, and then resorted to his mother’s credit card, swiping enough times to use up about £625.

The game is created by a company called Zynga, who, when contacted, said that they did not think it fair to refund the money, because the child intentionally meant to spend it. “It appears that he knew what he was doing; his parents should be held responsible, not us.”, said a spokesperson for Zyngain an email interview.

The mother told The Guardian in an interview: “The total spend is about £905, but the credits are still rolling in. Facebook and Zynga will not refund anything as my son lives in my house. Facebook has disabled his account and Zynga has unhelpfully suggested I use password protection on computers in the future.”

HSBC, her credit card company, said that she could only claim a legal refund if she reported the action as a ‘crime’, which would result in him having a criminal record. “Obviously the idea of a stupid farm simulation jeopardising his future earnings is not something that I want to consider,” she told The Guardian.

Kevin Rose kills the Digg Bar

7 Apr

Kevin Rose’s first move as Digg CEO was to announce in a blogpost that the controversial Digg Bar will be killed.

All previously banned websites will also be unbanned, he said in his post.

The Digg Bar is an iFrame toolbar that shows as a banner across the top of the webpage, and allows users to digg and bury pages, to view comments and rankings, and to navigate to other stories without having to go back to the Digg homepage.

Although this bar had some useful features, it has been controversial, mainly because its URL shortener would make each link code] so that the original website rankings were being harmed, and was therefore blocked by some websites and users.

Rose said in his blogpost: “Framing content with an iFrame is bad for the Internet. It causes confusion when bookmarking, breaks w/iFrame busters, and has no ability to communicate with the lower frame (if you browse away from a story, the old digg count still persists). It’s an inconsistent/wonky user experience, and I’m happy to say we are killing it when we launch the new Digg”.

Bloggers and Digg users have reacted favourably to this change, as per their comments. Most users are happy that Digg is steering away from copying the StumbleUpon toolbar, while others are glad that this will help SEO for websites.

Twitter users face Secret Service after tweeting for Obama's assassination

23 Mar

Twitter users called for Obama’s assassination yesterday, and are now facing a Secret Service probe.

After the controversial Health Care Reform Bill was passed, two users in particular – @THHEE_JAY and @Solly_Forre – published angry, frustrated tweets, such as “ASSASSINATION! America, we survived the Assassinations and Lincoln & Kennedy. We’ll surely get over a bullet to Barrack Obama’s head” and “You Should be Assassinated!! @Barack Obama.”

@Solly_Forre identified himself as Solly Forre, “an authentic African-American.” After the first assassination message, Forre sent out another tweet asking “someone who has a clear shot” of the President to pull the trigger.

@ THHEE_JAY has been identified as someone called Jay Martin, and is also suspected to be of African descent.

Meanwhile, the Secret Service has been quoted across the Internet saying that they will not tolerate such action or calls by anyone against the president of the United States, saying that the suspects will face certain time for the assassination calls.

“We are aware of the comments and are taking the appropriate investigative action. We respect the right of free speech, but in such instances we have a right and an obligation to ask questions and determine intent,” the government agency said.

Twitter CEO launches 'anywhere' platform at SXSW

15 Mar

Twitter CEO Evan Williams took the stage today as keynote speaker at SXSW in Austin, Texas.

Evan Williams at SXSW 2010. Source:

Evan Williams at SXSW 2010. Source:

Williams made some announcements, but not the one that was under heavy speculation. Everyone was hoping to hear about the company’s ad-platform strategy, after they raked in about $25 million after partnerships with Google and Microsoft last year.

Williams unveiled the @anywhere feature, which integrates Twitter to other websites. With this platform, users can follow an account directly from the third-party website – the example Williams gave was that you could follow a columnist directly from their website, instead of having to search Twitter for their account.

Initial partners for this feature include The Huffington Post, Amazon, Yahoo, Youtube, Bing, The New York Times, and Digg.

Twitter has also partnered with 65 mobile operators around the world for Twitter-SMS services, said Williams.

Williams said that the ultimate goal is not to get people to spend more time on Twitter, but to allow people to use it as a tool to share pretty much anything on the Internet, from wherever they want. He also stressed the philosophy of Twitter being an ‘information network’, as opposed to purely a social network.