Premchand Mandal, 32, from Navi Mumbai has been goofing around and making money off it for the past 15 years. Mandal is a professional clown who first started at Gemini Circus in 2001. Eventually, when he started to love the act of clowning, he moved to an events management company called Clowns R Us where he learnt more about it. “It was like being in a school specially crafted for clowns. I left that company with a lot of friends and good memories.”
We sat down with Mandal to understand what goes into the making of a clown.
VICE: What inspired you to take up this profession?
Premchand Mandal: It stemmed from wanting to entertain. When I saw I was the reason the audience had a smile, I felt good about what I did. I wanted to make people feel happy and this profession gives me the platform to do that.
What kind of training do you require to become a certified clown?
It's all about perfecting your act. You don’t need any professional training. We need to look in the mirror, act and practice. We learn from our past acts. We analyse what made the audience laugh and the areas we need to work on, and curate our upcoming acts accordingly. In clowning, the most important thing to learn is how to apply makeup ourselves, and what colours we need to use depending on the audience. Apart from knowing how to master our acts, we need to be skilled at various types of juggling, acrobatics, stick walking, and cycling. Another talent that helps step up our game is being skilled in fire acts. When you’re a clown you don’t need to worry about a language barrier; you don’t tell jokes like a standup comedian. The act of a clown itself is a joke.
Is it hard to make people laugh?
Everyone thinks that this job is a cakewalk but it isn’t. It gets hard especially when we have to go through woes in our own personal lives. No matter what the circumstance, we cannot be negative in this line of work. It doesn't matter if we’re going through some family issues when we are booked for a show; we wear our costume, shove our negative feelings aside, and focus on the present.
Have you inadvertently been in a public space in your costume?
Yes, I’ve travelled in a taxi, auto and bike in my costume. Sometimes we don’t have time to change our clothes because we need to perform at two events back-to-back. If people see us in our costume, they want to take a selfie with us, and we end up getting even more late. Also, some of them take our photos or videos sneakily when we are on the road.
How long does it take to get ready?
Almost an hour. We do everything from designing our own costumes (deciding what colours should go on them) to putting on makeup. The costume needs to be up to the mark because it’s the main reason the audience’s eyes are glued on us. The paint we put on our face is called White Panc Cake from a company called Gopinath. The makeup usually stays put for about two to three hours and then starts to peel off.
Have you had days when you didn’t want to be a clown but had to work anyway?
Yes. It was an unfortunate incident. My mother had passed away in Patna, while I was in Mumbai. I was booked for an event and I had to perform because there was no replacement. I did a clown juggling act that day but my mind was diverted the whole time. I was physically present at the event but mentally, I was distracted. I tried to control my feelings and finish my act. After that, I just ran from there and hopped on a flight for her funeral.
What does your family think about your profession?
My kids are too small to be entertained by me. They have seen pictures of me dressed as a clown and videos as well—with a blank face. My wife isn’t thrilled that I’m a clown, but she knows that I need to earn money for our family. She hasn’t seen a single show of mine—that’s how much she detests my profession.
What kind of events do you perform at and how much do you make off them?
I perform at children’s birthday parties, weddings, corporate events, and residential society functions. Our audience is usually a mix of children and adults. The parents usually brief us on what kind of act they want. At other events, they usually already have an idea about the kind of acts we do, and so they let us do our act on our own terms. I perform three days a week for about two to four hours. I make around Rs 30,000 monthly.
How do you feel about the pop culture portrayal of clowns being scary?
The creators of these movies are misleading people. Clowns are not horrifying at all; kids love us and are fully amused by the sight of us. The horror element has become a fad, and now they have started to make clowns monsters too!
Clowns are portrayed as the saddest people on the planet, and purportedly use laughter to hide behind reality. What is your take on this?
I feel that most clowns, especially in India, are going through a lot of family issues especially financial ones, and being a clown is a coping mechanism. Most of the clowns who work in India are depressed because they come from the poorer sections of society, and have joined this profession because they need to earn some money. Just like me. I too couldn’t study after grade 10 because of financial issues, and I stumbled into this profession to earn a living.
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