As reported by the BBC, there was a celebration in India recently. A celebration in the small town in Gujarat to be precise, and those who attended were there to honour one, Sir Charles Spencer Chaplin. The Chaplin fan club in Adipur has more than 200 members and on Chaplin’s birthday (16th April) every year more than 100 people gather to celebrate the star’s birth.
Ashok Aswani launched The Chaplin fan club after watching Chaplin films. Celebrations began in April 1973 and have continued strongly ever since. “Scores of impersonators imitate the tramp’s bow-legged dance walk and waddle with mixed results,” says Soutik Biswas of the BBC.
The humour, and grief, shown by Chaplin on film has hit a chord with this small Indian town and Chaplin has gained hero status and worship with colourful celebrations and Indian song and dance in his honour. “The tramp is dead, long live the tramp,” cries Kishore Bhawsar, a 52-year-old bus conductor and fan club member who has composed a paean to his favourite actor.
Indian film, and the success of Bollywood cinema, is continually climbing and becoming more recognisable in the UK. British actor Ben Kingsley (played Gandhi in the 1982 biographical film), is soon to appear in his Bollywood debut, and the huge success of Slumdog Millionaire has shown a spotlight on Indian films and their stars. Kingsley is the latest foreign star to appear in a Bollywood movie, as the Hindi-language film industry seeks new audiences overseas and Hollywood increasingly looks for tie-ups with Indian studios.
The Australian filmmaker, Kathryn Millard, even made a documentary about the club in India. “When I set out to research a documentary about Chaplin imitators around the world, I had no idea that I would meet a very special community – perhaps Chaplin’s most devoted followers – in a small town in India,” says Ms Millard. She says whenever she shows the film; people ask her whether there is a way they could join the Charlie Circle: “I hope they may start accepting associate members from other countries!”
This story of remembrance and celebration of life in a small Indian town has clearly caught the hearts of those who witness the annual celebrations and with the release of Millard’s documentary more people will gain an insight into the Gujarat/Chaplin relationship. And that can only be a good thing.