When 26-year-old Bahadur Islam first started working with the Apollo Circus seven years ago, he enthralled a crowd of hundreds with his ‘motorcycle act’ — taking loops and performing stunts on the vehicle inside a mesh sphere ball. Today, his act remains the same, but the audience has thinned to a crowd of less than 50. Islam attributes this decline to two factors — the advent of technology, especially television, and the ban on use of animals in performances at the circus.
“Earlier, we used to have different animals in our acts, including elephants, cheetahs, leopards and even bears. But the government has banned the use of all of these over the years, reducing the appeal of the circus,” says Islam, who hails from Assam.
“Children always used to come here primarily to see the animals… Now, with the animals gone, children have also lost interest and we have lost our business,” he said. Attending a show of the circus on Thursday afternoon, being held at Gurgaon’s Gaushala maidan until March 19, confirms these claims. In a tent capable of seating over 300 people, only 40 chairs are occupied.
R K Yadav, the manager of the troupe, bemoans this fact but adds that the situation is better on weekends when close to a 100 people come to attend the shows. “There are a lot of factors affecting the crowd, including the fact that most labourers — who are our main audience — have gone home for Holi. City people rarely come for our shows,” says Yadav.
As a result of the waning interest in this form of entertainment, the Apollo circus has seen its troupe of over 300 artistes reduced to a group of 100. Yadav attributes this to the banning of animals, which led to the removal of several acts from the list, as well as the need to cut costs in light of the reduced audience.
This fear has also affected the artists, including Bahadur Islam’s wife, Rani, who hails from Nepal, and is an acrobat. She joined the troupe with her husband seven years ago.
Standing outside the tent, which is their portable home, she says, “The crowd has reduced so much over the years that we are certain the circus is finished. We are planning to leave the business ourselves and open a shop in Assam… Everyone who has been doing this work for several years realises that the days of the circus are numbered; there is no point in pretending otherwise.”