On the streets of Pune, one often comes across street circus artistes, traditionally known as “dombaris”, performing eye-catching stunts – a woman walking on a rope fixed on a pair of elevated bamboos; a boy maneuvering himself to pick up needles placed on the floor using his eyes and many such life-risking acts—to entertain the onlookers.
Inspired by the life of the dombari community, film-maker Sunil Waikar embarked on his research journey, covering cities like Sangli, Satara, Kolhapur, Wai, Shirur and Ahmednagar, to come up with a film titled ‘Dombari’ in December 2013. However, due to lack of funds, the film couldn’t get released.
“We didn’t have the funds to release the film. There is a huge cost involved in marketing a film. After waiting for so long, I am now approaching various private TV channels to see if they are interested in buying the film. The life led by the dombaris is full of struggles and is something that needs to reach the masses,” says Waikar, who has also written the story and screenplay of the film.
Though it is a feature film, almost 20 per cent of the characters in the movie are played by real-life dombaris. “Nearly 50 per cent of the stunts portrayed in the film are performed by real-life dombaris. I had shortlisted 30 dombaris for the film. Surprisingly, they were quite comfortable in front of the camera and performed all the scenes effortlessly,” says Waikar. The lead star cast constitutes Milind Shinde, Madhu Kambikar, Megha Ghadage, Hemangi Kavi, among others.
Having witnessed the nomadic lives of this community from close quarters, Waikar shares that they go through several trials and tribulations.
“It’s a vicious circle. Since they keep moving from one place to another, they do not have a permanent shelter. If they do not have an address proof, they cannot get a ration card or get their children admitted to schools. They perform in groups and live hand-to-mouth, hardly earning Rs 150 in the entire day. Due to lack of education, they cannot take up any other profession and continue to suffer,” says Waikar.
A few interesting facts that he learnt about the community is that even if dombaris are mostly starving, they are quite honest and respect the women members of the group. “A man will never indulge in eve-teasing. Dombaris have their own community heads and follow their orders,” says Waikar.
“Unlike circus artistes, who have the safety measures in place, the dombaris indulge in risky acts without safety provisions, injuring themselves often,” says Waikar.
The film’s plot revolves around Yashwant, the lead character, who performs street circus from one village to another to earn his livelihood. When a woman in the troupe dies after giving birth to a baby girl, Yashwant and his wife, Mukti, are given the responsibility of bringing up the child. “Hereafter, a number of events unfold, making the film question the so-called ‘development’ of the society and the reforms needed in the system,” says the director.