There may be few 15-year-olds who aspire to become professional clowns but Premchand Mandal was sure of the road he was about to take when he left Patna for Mumbai after his Class X exams in 2000. “I came to this city to make a living and the first job I sought was that of being a clown,” he says. The entertainment company he worked for provided some training but he watched videos on YouTube for hours at a stretch to perfect the art of clowning. That was 17 years ago. Today, at 32, Mandal’s “BoBo The Clown” takes part in several group acts and solo performances across the city.
“I came to Mumbai alone, and in a time of need. Not many would have chosen the field I did, but it felt unique and interesting and so I went ahead with it”, says Mandal, whose family now lives with him in Navi Mumbai.
The demand keeps fluctuating — the busy months being October to January. Diwali and Christmas are the festive seasons, and bring a lot of customers. For the rest of the year they rely on children’s birthday parties and private events. However, Mandal and his group also perform pro bono for charity functions, fundraisers, and especially children’s causes.
However, being a clown is a lot of hard work, he says. “Sometimes we have to keep up the act for 5-6 hours non-stop, and maintaining the same level of enthusiasm for a stretch can be really exhausting. While we’re allowed short breaks, it is practically impossible to stop when surrounded by children who are too enthralled to lose sight of us, even for a moment!” The lack of a decent pay rate is another cause of concern. “We get paid as a group for the entire day. With the unpredictability in the demand, and the cost of props and make-up, what we make at the end of the month is a very modest amount”.
However, Mandal has no complaints about the nature of his work; but its perception in society is what bothers him. “Some people don’t respect my job, and most don’t treat it as a serious occupation. But in fact, it is very satisfying to be able to captivate an audience and make them laugh. I even accredit my positive state of mind and energetic attitude to my profession. Even when I don’t have paint on my face or a big red nose on, I’m constantly smiling at everyone”, he says.
Now, Mandal aims to open professional classes to be able to teach clowning as a skill to others. “It is as good a performing art as any. Parents send their children to learn dance or music. So, why not the art of clowning?” he asks.