Charlie Chaplin is someone who people across ages relate to. Talk of the silent era and there are very few who will not take his name. Some make a living out of playing Chaplin and the reference is to 52 year old Monu.
Tourists from far and wide turn up at the India Gate. Those who crowd the historic venue are tourists, photographers and souvenir sellers. Among them Monu who is a dwarf by birth stands out.
Dressed up as Chaplin, he is quite a crowd puller. Monu ran away from home in Nagpur 25 years ago. Monu lives with his wife and five children at his small house in Sarae Kale Khan.
Living in the dingy lanes of Sarae Kale Khan and havng struggled to make both ends meet, Monu has seen poverty from very close quarters. Selling water bottles in the day, by evening he is transformed into Charlie Chaplin to attract bystanders.
Called Bouna and shunned by many, Monu has never given up fighting for a living. It is quite a task to travel from home to India Gate, but he has not given up as yet.
Every morning, Monu boards a DTC bus early in the day, from the Nizzamuddin bus stand.
Mornings at the lawns of India Gate attract unruly students. Monu occupies himself by selling bottled water, after a quick bath at the fountain area.
By 4 pm, just before the sun sets, Monu begins his transformation into ‘Charlie Mama’ as he is lovingly called.
Monu’s daughter-in-law Lipy helps in the makeover, painting his face white and black.
Bowler hat and cane in hand, ‘Charlie Mama’ starts work going around India Gate to work his charm on tourists.
Tourists click selfies with him and even take his photos for good memory. He charges Rs.10-20 for every selfie shot with him. Most are more than glad to pay.
Monu is fully supported by local municipality authorities and the police.
As twilight arrives, Charlie Mama calls it a day.
Monu hasn’t travelled much in Delhi in the past 25 years he spent in the capital. India Gate is where he always wants to live and call it home.
Sir Charles Spencer Chaplin better known as Charlie Chaplin was an English Comic actor, filmmaker and composer. He rose to fame in the silent film era.
Chaplin not just became an icon through his onscreen persona The Tramp. He is also considered one of the most important figures in world cinema. His career spanned more than 75 years.
Much like Charlie Mama even Charlie Chaplin suffered poverty and hardship in his early days. By 1918, he was one of the best known figures in the world.
In 1919, Chaplin co-founded United Artists, which gave him complete control over his films. His first feature-length was The Kid (1921), followed by A Woman of Paris (1923), The Gold Rush (1925), and The Circus (1928).
Refusing to move to sound films in the 1930s he instead produced movies like City Lights (1931) and Modern Times (1936) without dialogue. Chaplin’s next The Great Dictator (1940), satirised Adolf Hitler. Post 1940s Chaplin’s popularity nosedived rapidly.
In 1972, as part of a renewed appreciation for his work, Chaplin received an Honorary Academy Award for “the incalculable effect he has had in making motion pictures the art form of this century”.
While Charlie Mama is much loved as a man carrying forward the Chaplin legacy if not in acting atleast in spirit, his will to beat odds to live a decent life is praiseworthy.