Being funny is serious


The first week of august is dedicated to the clowns as the International clown’s week.

The clown figure has had so many meanings in different times and cultures. The jolly, well-loved joker familiar to most people is only one aspect of this protean creature. Madmen, hunchbacks, amputees and other abnormal were considered as natural clowns once upon a time. They were elected tofu fill a comic role which could allow others to see them as ludicrous rather than as terrible reminders of forces of disorder in the world. But sometimes a cheerless jester was required to draw attention to this same disorder, as in the case King Lear’s morbid and honest fool, he was of course eventually hanged and so much for his clownish wisdom. Clowns have often had ambiguous and sometimes contradictory roles to play.

The dictionary however defines a clown as someone who performs in a circus who wears funny clothes and makeup, and who tries to make people laugh. Someone who often does funny things to make people laugh, or it could even people a rude or a stupid person. The word probably arises from Low German origin, akin to Frisian clumsy fellow or Old English Clyne  that meant lump of mental. It was first known to be used in 1563

Historically the fifth dynasty of Egypt documents the presence of clowns around 2400 BC.  Clowns though similar to court jesters, they have traditionally served a socio religious and psychological role. Traditionally the roles of priests and clowns have been held by the same persons, this tradition is also seen in the Sanskrit drama pattern of Sutradhara and Vidhushaka.

As observed by Peter Berger it could be plausible that folly and fools like religion and magic meet some deeply rooted needs in human society. This is often considered an important part of training in the eastern schools of physical performance. Many of the performances begin with novices playing the Kodangi.

To put it very simplistically a clown is a comic performer who employs slapstick, or some form of physical humour, many a times like a mime.  There are varied tradition and variation of costume and performances even with the genre of clowns. Outlandish make-up, distinctive costumes, exaggerated mannerisms, and loud clothing usually are the features of a clown as it helps to connect and entertain audience particularly at a distance.

For me clowns were usually associated with circus, they have been linked with circus since 18th century.  The traditional white face make-up was created by Joseph Grimaldi who was the first mainstream clown.

A clown usually performs the role of a fool whose everyday action and tasks become extraordinary and for whom the ridiculous is quite ordinary.

There are people who fear clowns and the condition is known as coulrophobia.

Clowns are of different types we have the sad clown  blanc, the happy clown auguste, the Whiteface clown created by Joseph Grimaldi in 1801 has become the classic face of a- clown.with white covering the entire face and neck so that no skin is visible. This clown type is more extravagant and wears ruffled collars and pointed hat all which have come to typify the clown suit.

Auguste is another archtype, with white muzzle and eyes.  The base make-up being a variation of pink, red or tan rather than white. The facial features are exaggerated in size and typically red and black in colour. The clothes of Auguste are either oversized or too small. Bold colours, large prints and suspenders are usually used. Auguste is more of an anarchist, a joker or a fool. He is very clever though he has less status than the white face, Auguste is usually the sidekick of whiteface, and is challenged when he has to obey the orders of whiteface. The errors resulting from the confused or foolish acts Auguste, either deliberately or not leads to hilarity.

Sometimes there is a mediator between whiteface character and auguste who is the contra-Auguste, his status falls in between too.  He mimics whiteface and is often instructed by whiteface to correct Auguste.

Sometimes an eccentric presentation of an every character like a baker, butcher, policeman or a housewife is present this becomes the Character Clown. He/she is a comic slant on the standard human face. Their make starts with flesh tone base and may make use of anything from glasses moustaches and beards to freckles, warts, big ears or strange haircuts.

Each culture has its own presentation of the clown, American circuses have the hobo, tramp or bum clown, the difference between these clowns types are usually their attitude.

  • The hobo who is migratory he finds work as he travels, usually down on his luck but maintains a positive attitude.
  • The tramp Migratory but does not work, he is down on his luck too, and is depressed about his situation.
  • The bum is neither migratory nor working.

Stories have their own clown who is masters of presenting various truths in their stark form which sounds rather absurd.  Native American mythology has trickster who channels the spirit of a coyote he is usually a sacred clown, a Heike is a person who lives outside the constrains of normal cultural roles, he usually does everything backwards, or reverse.

Pierrot and Harlequin are two distinct types of clown charecters created in commedia dell’Arte and are still going strong. Pierrot or Piroutte is usually the youngest actor of the troupe, deadpan and down trodden he usually appears in whiteface

Harlequin the dim, and clumsy messenger is another prototype, he always carries a cane to strike other performers but get struck with it instead.This is the concept that is believed to be the origin of slapstick

Some clowning terminology

When it comes to skills in a circus a clown may perform other roles lie

  • Walking a tightrope, on a highwire, or slack rope or a piece of rope on the ground.
  • Substitute himself for a lion tamer, but of course he is clumsy
  • Ride a horse, a zebra or a donkey or an elephant.
  • When the clown takes on the role of a ring master he becomes the emcee. Or the MC.
  • Clown are known to be acrobatic, or horse riders

The clown act is the general outline of an act that clowns use to help them build an act. The frameworks can be loose with a beginning and an end with the in between being improvised. In the context of a circus the clowns are present in entrees, side dishes, clown stops, trick gags and gags and bits.

Strangely the fear of clowns rides very high in people and it called the coulrophobia.

This actually causes anxiety particularly when the character of the evil clown is seen. This not often in used in real space this prevails more in the virtual space.

More about clowns in —



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pakhwajAn instrument that always reminds me of the mrdhangam.

It is either played solo or as the all important time and rhythm keeper of traditional performing arts.

The young Pakhwaj Player Pratap Awad who accompanied Sri.Bah’uddin Dagar during his sessions at the goa university shared with us the mythology of the instrument—

The divine designer Vishwakarma’s wife was enchanted by the gentle yet firm sound created by the rain drops dropping on the earth. Inspired by this Vishwakarma created the mrdangam, he shared with us of course various other mythology around this too. But this was truly inspiring.

The early  instrument was made of earth and wood. It eventually evolved to its form today.

It was a pleasure listen to this young boy who was so passionate in playing the instrument and sharing his knowledge with us. He particularly rendered a rendering of a Shiva stuthi with no musical accompaniment other than the Pakhwaj, the definition of the percussion was so wonderful that I actually wanted to go on stage and render the dance version of it.

paralleling the hero’s journey in classical indian drama

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The hero’s journey and its parallel in Indian dramaturgy.

The ordinary world is where the story begins

Refusal to the call the hero usually refuses to face the challenge

Meeting the mentor the hero meets a mentor or gains advice to face the challenge

Crossing the first threshold from the ordinary the protagonist moves to the extraordinary breaking the comfort zone.

Tests and allies like all journeys’ there are trials and troubles, friends, foes and distraction.

Approach there is a failure in the plan of action or an obstacle the protagonist now needs to relook into the alternates dig into his or her own reserves and capabilities.

Ordeal would be a challenge almost fatal crisis.

Reward overcoming the challenge or even facing death earns the hero a reward.

The return the hero must return to the ordinary world, acknowledging his mentors, and aides through the journey.

Resurrection   rreturn to the mundane from the exotic is also necessary; he has to use all that he has learnt.

The elixir or the achievement the hero returns with the elixir and uses it to help everyone in the ordinary world.

These are the steps travelled by hero in any journey this is also seen in the concept of classical Indian theatre where we talk of the bindu or the reason for the quest, the trouble, which requires a Yatna or an effort that traverses the adventure of the hero, and then comes the phlaprapti or fulfilment of the goal. In the course of the quest he is either helped or distracted by the demigod’s that is the pantheon of deva-gandharva, – yaksha-yakshini-rakshasa-kinnara so on so fort. There are the vidhushaka and sutradhara who are wise men who aid the hero; there are also the mantrik’s and tantric who are potential dangers.


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28th June is the day that honours the fake lore hero called Paul Bunyan? He is a giant lumberjack. His minimalistic life and lumberjack tales have become folklore.
But he could never take the place of Johnny Chapman, or Johnny Appleseed the pioneer environmentalist who introduced apple to Ohio, Illinois and Indiana. He was also a missionary.
The legend has it that this environmentalist wore a saucepan for a hat and wore rags for he gave away better clothes. He threw apple seeds to create an orchid.
Somehow Johnny Appleseed reminded me of the bent old man who used to collect trash from the trash cans of Manipal I wonder how many of us remember him from our childhood. We called him “tinlbattlipaper” after his yodeling call for tins-bottle and paper that were to be thrown away. Many of our mothers gave away old clothing.
He used to quite often followed by the dog Jimmy who had adopted all of us.

Women in ancient India

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Art of a country is the document of the philosophy of her people. While theatre is the document of the socio-cultural that era. The values and the day to day existence of the population.

We are persistently talking of a patriarchal society, and oppressed women; we are talking about the Indian women not being emancipated like her western counterpart. But is it really so?

I wonder,

Let’s look at a period were the Rama’s and Krishna’s were not so much of iconic or idolatry the period of Dandin, and Rajashekhara.

The deities referred to these plays which are usually metatheatrical in presentation, have a lot of mythology and mysticism woven into it, the worship of the mother goddess also dominates.

The period of Kalidasa could be 370-450 AD, judging by the subtle clues left behind. Kalidasa unlike other poets does not leave either his lineage or the lineage of his patrons.

Agreeing with scholars that he adorned the court of King Chandragupta, vikramaditya it is interesting to note, that the Queen of Chandragupta Dhruva Devi, was first married to Ramagupta the older son of Samudragupta, but she choose to reject him after the marriage and remarry the younger brother.

The probable biography of Kalidasa is traced in the Avantisundari Katha, by later scholars ie between 6th -7th century Sanskrit scholars of kanchipuram, where the Avanti sundari is not just the kings daughter, but crowned Queen of Avanti and her spouse becomes King consort. She is educated enough to hold discussions on politics, poetics, and social ethics. She is trained in martial arts too. She has the moral strength in her to tell Kalidasa to be worthy to be her spouse. The then social structure does not condemn her for it.

At the later end of the same period we have the Queen of Pulakehsi the second who retorted to scholar’s description of sharada as shweta varna (fair one) “I am the embodiment of sharada in learning and I am Krishna Varna”

Essentially what I am trying to say, is somewhere during the advent of the Bhakti cult from the intellectual reasoning era, it could also be invasions of various other cultures, that lead to the suppression of women.