THE BIG LEAP
Forbes India|December 18,2020
How Rambo Circus turned to digital streaming to stay afloat during the Covid-19 crisis
KATHAKALI CHANDA

In the backyard of a local vegetable market in Navi Mumbai’s Airoli, on the outskirts of Mumbai, the blue and yellow Big Top of Rambo Circus stands out like a ghost town. Perhaps emblematic of the industry it represents, the grass is unkempt, the lights are off and the usual hubbub is missing; only a handful of curious urchins stop by as the bespectacled clown, in his polka-dotted overalls, steps out for a phone call.

Inside the barebones tent, though, owner Sujit Dilip is anything but downcast. A burly man of 45, who survived Covid-19 along with his father in June, Sujit explains the emptiness: “It’s because most of our artistes have gone home to their families to celebrate Dussehra and Diwali after years,” he says. “We were able to distribute some money from our recent shows among 82 staff members, after being shut since March once the national lockdown was announced.”

Sujit’s optimism isn’t entirely misplaced. The circus, launched in 1991 by his father PT Dilip by merging three smaller ones (the name Rambo referring to its new size), is fresh off a successful digital-only show, possibly the first-of-its-kind in the world for a genre that is built around live, immersive experiences. The 45-minute pre-recorded event, scripted by events and experiential media company Laqshya Live Experiences and their partners Production Crew, was streamed on BookMyShow, Rambo’s ticketing partner for 12 years, beginning the last week of September. When it wrapped up its season around the Diwali weekend in November, ‘Life Is A Circus’ logged 34 shows with a viewership of 60,000-plus, raising almost ₹21 lakh for Rambo in ticketing revenues and online donations. By the sheer number of tickets sold, Rambo has become the highest-selling virtual show on the ticketing platform. The windfall came after seven months of zero earnings, surviving merely on doles, charity and ₹12.38 lakh that Sujit raised with an appeal on crowdfunding platform Ketto.

For Sujit, this is one of the rare silver linings of the dark cloud that has been chasing him since the demonetisation that was announced in November 2016. “For about six months after demonetisation, people only had time to queue up in front of ATMs to collect cash. Who would come to watch the circus?” he asks. The following July, the Goods & Service Tax was introduced and it “was another blow for us”. But it is 2019 that Sujit calls his annus horribilis, thanks to inclement weather. Heavy rains and floods swept the country, claiming 1,685 lives of which, according to a report by the Ministry of Home Affairs, 22 percent were in Maharashtra. “Our tents were flooded, and equipment destroyed. It was worse than Covid-19,” says Sujit. Coming on the back of these, Covid was indeed the proverbial last nail in Rambo’s coffin.

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