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.

One Response to “More than a white face”

  1. Sivakumar S R December 3, 2011 at 1:06 pm #

    Interesting read. Good to know that people who dress up as clowns also engage in philanthropic acts, in addition to entertaining people

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