Abdul Aziz (56), better known as the ‘Statue Man’, is a popular figure in Chennai. Standing stationary at the entrance of the city’s VGP Universal Kingdom Theme Park, he has attracted lakhs of visitors over the past more than three decades.
Having started his career at the park way back in 1985, Aziz is now thinking of quitting. Like many entertainers, Aziz is struggling to survive ever since the lockdown was imposed in March.
“Owing to the lockdown, the company is closed. I am still employed there, but I am not going to work since February. When I enquired with the management, they said they are likely to reopen the park from October 1. That is not confirmed, though. The last payment I received was in March. In April, I was given half the salary, but for the last five months, there has been no payment. I am forced to sell things to survive. None of the old staff working there have been paid in this lockdown period,” he said.
Aziz said he had thought of taking a voluntary retirement several years ago, but continued his service at the request of the management.
“I joined VGP in 1985. In the past 37 years, I have been to countries like Singapore and Malaysia several times. I had thought of quitting this job as it takes a toll on my body. I know I am not getting any younger. In 2006, I told my employer that I wanted to quit and had arranged things to drive an auto-rickshaw. But the owner convinced me to stay and raised my pay by =2,000 rupees. Now I think that I should have taken the tough decision then. I have three sons, all of them have completed degrees, but they are yet to find a job. The family depends on my income. I have told my sons not to get into this business as it is not as fancy as it might look,” he said.
When asked how he manages to stand for several hours without even a slight body movement, Aziz says self-discipline and hygiene has helped his body to take on all kinds of challenges.
“The statue man’s job is difficult. The food I ate in my early years helped shape my body to battle tough conditions. I have the required height, weight, and body needed for such a job. I practice power yoga every morning and do other exercises to keep myself fit. But today’s generation is more inclined towards an unhealthy lifestyle, they like junk food, you cannot maintain a healthy body with that. People are not able to stand more than half an hour in one place, I used to stand seven hours a day. It is not just standing, you should not blink, you cannot eat or drink, you cannot use the toilet. It is similar to a mannequin in a showroom.”
“Before getting employed as a statue man, I was working as a watchman. After being impressed by a person named Subramanian, who had served as a statue man before me, I applied for this job. In all these years, I have entertained several celebrities, including late actor Sivaji Ganesan, Vijayakanth and Vikram, Arjun. Many have tried to break my concentration but failed. In all these years, even when many celebrities whom I have admired on the silver screen, tried to win over me, I never budged. But I fear the financial crisis might get the better of me now,” said Aziz.
The Indian Association of Amusement Parks and Industries, an apex body representing the interest of Amusement Parks, Theme Parks, Water Parks and Amusement Centre in India, have written a letter to both central and the state governments, explaining their situation and put forth certain demands to resume their business. Their demands include waiver of minimum/fixed cost of charges levied by the electricity department, waiver of GST for 12 months, extending all the existing licenses without charge for one year, etc.
Speaking to indianexpress.com, V G P Ravidas, the managing director of the VGP Universal Kingdom, said they have prepared an SOP that includes all the guidelines issued by the government. He said the opening of theme parks will pose no risks as their properties are spread over several acres of land which will easily allow them to maintain social distancing.
“Putting them (theme parks) in the same bracket with other entertainment mediums like theatre is not fair. Theme parks are safer than other public places. We receive around 5,000 people on a normal day, which can be reduced to a half, and if we do that, a maximum of 400 to 500 people will be present at a time inside the park. In 40 acres of land, can’t we manage those 500 people with proper social distancing guidelines? For other water rides, we have disinfectant in place. We have all the SOPs in place, even the theme parks in other countries have seen our SOPs and appreciated it. Through our association, we had been putting forth these things to the government but till date they haven’t allowed us to reopen the parks,” he said.
“It is going to be six months since our business is completely shut. We have to pay for the electricity, maintain all the imported joy rides and also provide the salary for the workers. All these things cannot be stopped despite us not having any business at all. We are a 50-year-old establishment, even though we are running out of cash, we are managing with the existing resources. We are, however, not sure how long we are going to continue like this. The salary bill itself costs us 15 lakh, the electricity bill is around eight to nine lakhs. To safeguard our property we have deployed around 25 security men around the park, we have to pay for them, we are bleeding through the nose. Other smaller parks are on the verge of closing their business. If the government opens the theme park, it will be beneficial not just for us but also for the public,” Ravidas added.
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