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Lucky Irani Circus — romancing the big top

August 24, 2014


Naveed Malik and his family members display daredevil stunts at the Lucky Irani Circus in Chakwal. — Photos by the writer
Naveed Malik and his family members display daredevil stunts at the Lucky Irani Circus in Chakwal. — Photos by the writer

There are two beds with soft mattresses on them. A table is placed in front of a sofa set with some chairs scattered around, a freezer can also be seen in the corner. The right wall also hosts an air-conditioning unit. However, the most striking thing is the closed circuit cameras installed on the wall.

A woman is busy dressing her two little daughters in fancy clothes. Although the matrix of this room suggests that it could be located in a luxurious house, but actually, it is a makeshift room, raised for only four or five days, for a very special family on whose shoulders the show outside rests.

This very special five-member family is headed by Naveed Malik.

Malik, 38, along with his wife and three children, has come here to perform at the Lucky Irani Circus, organised in connection with Jashan-i-Chakwal, the district’s annual cultural fair that concluded recently.

Lucky Irani Circus remains one of the few traditional forms of entertainment left in the country

“Our life is only confined to the ring, we have very little to do with the outside world,” tells Naveed Malik as he, along with his family members, sits down with Dawn.

  Bilal Hussain stands with a tiger.
Bilal Hussain stands with a tiger.

Born in the circus, when his father was its manager, Malik got inclined to circus tricks in his childhood and emerged as one of the best performers.

Malik was leading a busy life at the circus when things changed suddenly and unexpectedly.

Fourteen years ago, a team of Ukrainian performers came to Pakistan to perform at the Lucky Irani Circus. In that team was a girl named Yulia; Malik and Yulia fell in love at the circus stage and soon tied the knot.

Yulia was rechristened Rukhsar. The journey from Yulia to Rukhsar was covered in a blink of an eye, compelled by the power of love, but this journey has ripped her apart from her country and her family.

Worried about the present turmoil in her native country, Ukraine, Rukhsar says that, despite her busy life in the circus, she occasionally talks to her parents through Skype or phone.

“There is a huge difference between the circus life of Pakistan and Ukraine. Here one is confined to the ring, while in Ukraine the circus is like a regular job where you can go back home after doing your job,” says Rukhsar.

“In Ukraine, there are laws and regulations, under which circuses operate, and the government encourages the performers. But in Pakistan the situation is quite the opposite, here the government has turned a blind eye toward us,” she regrets.

“The people of Pakistan are loving and friendly, but the thing which disturbs me here is the heaps of garbage and bad hygienic conditions in the cities.”

However Naveed and Rukhsar are grateful to their bosses. “We are lucky that our bosses do care for our needs,” Rukhsar says.

The couple has three children, two daughters and a son. The two girls – Fiza Naveed, 13, and Hooria Naveed, 11 – remain the centre of attention of the spectators, as they do wonders in the ring.

The little Mohammad Faizan, 5, is known as ‘Pistol Baba’. He remains with his parents and sisters when they are busy displaying their daredevil stunts.

Running on fire, walking on the rope, riding a unicycle, performing with the lion and other unbelievable stunts that defy reason and logic are among the major fortes displayed by Naveed and his family.

“Performing at the circus has become my passion, but my dream is to become an anchorperson,” says Fiza, while Hooria says that she wants to become an engineer.

Another young performer, Bilal Hussain, who performs the ‘Lion Act’, complains about the government’s apathy towards this industry and the people associated with it.

Lucky Irani Circus is the most famous show of its kind in Pakistan, which provides cheap entertainment to thousands of people throughout the year. The circus was founded in 1970 by Mian Farzand Ali of Lahore. After a journey of four decades, the Lucky Irani Circus has evolved into a fully-equipped establishment.

After Mian Farzand Ali’s death in 2000, his son Mian Amjad is not only continuing his father’s mission but has also improved the entity further.

At present it has 450 employees, including artists, five of whom are from Ukraine. There are also 32 animals in the circus.

“Although the government has been ignoring the circus industry, we are surviving against all odds,” says Mian Amjad, the chairman of Lucky Irani Circus.

“If the government encourage us, like the governments in Central Asia and the rest of the world support their entertainment industries, we can present a softer image of Pakistan throughout the world,” he adds.

He further says that they have to face many administrative obstacles from the officials of the district administration.

“We provide education to the children of the performers on the premises of the circus, as we consider education as one of the most basic rights of every person,” tells Mian Amjad.

The circus shows continue throughout the year – except the 9th and 10th of Muharram.

“Wherever we set our stage, people rush towards us,” Amjad says and adds, “the district administrations create problems for us before giving us permission to set up the stage. We have to go through many administrative hurdles.”

The performers at Lucky Irani Circus also occasionally go abroad to perform.

“If the government supports and encourage us, we can earn a good name for Pakistan by performing in different countries,” says Naveed.

The future of the circus is very bright in the country, provided the government takes urgent steps for the betterment of this vital entertainment industry.

Published in Dawn, August 24th, 2014

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