Adipur, the Chaplin town

A huge influx of refugees arrived in Adipur in 1947 when India and Pakistan were partitioned. The Maharajah of Kutch kindly donated land on which the refugees could settle and the humble north Indian town of Adipur was formed. During this period of grief and loss a local pharmacist had a son who was later to lighten the lives of the suffering population. His name was Ashok Aswani.

Ashok was full of mischief and loved to act. His favourite comic book character was ‘Phantom’ whose antics he would act out around the house using makeshift implements as weapons and horses.He showed great aptitude for acting, but after finishing his primary education he turned down his father’s suggestion that he take up acting as a career. Instead, he took a temporary job as a typist in a neighboring town so that he could help support his family.

Money was precious so he would travel to work by train or bicycle and his route took him past a cinema by the name of ‘Oslo’. One day he was captivated by a poster image of a tiny man with a toothbrush moustache and a bowler hat. He could not resist the invitation to go inside.

 ….and the first film he saw — the Gold Rush — immediately filled him with joy and laughter. He stayed to watch the next two films and left the cinema with an enduring love — Charlie Chaplin.

It was hardly surprising that, when he confessed where he had been that day, he lost his job, but in its place he gained something magical.He didn’t immediately decide to follow up his dreams and for the next year he worked on various unskilled jobs. His father was concerned at his lack of motivation and suggested that he go back to study.

Ashok went to college where he founded a theatre group. He was so absorbed in his new career as a Charlie Chaplin impersonator that he failed his academic course.

 Ashok successfully competed for admission to the highly competitive Film and Television Institute of India. Although he developed excellent acting skills he found himself in conflict with the norms and customs of the institute. Keeping integrity with himself, he left the institute and his dreams of becoming a successful actor seemed unlikely to be fulfilled.

He returned to Adipur with a bag of broken dreams. At his father’s suggestion he successfully took an exam that would allow him to practice medicine, and thus he was able to start a new career as a Registered Medical Practitioner. Dr Ashok Aswani soon gained great popularity with the people of Adipur because of his sense of humour and his golden heart. In addition to his medical practice, Dr Ashok was able to pursue his dream of acting. Close to his heart was the advice given to him by an old friend: ‘Keep the Charlie in you alive’.

Dr. Aswani, with his fiancée, celebrated Charlie Chaplin’s birthday on 16 April 1973 with a birthday cake. He didn’t know at the time that this would lead to something momentous.He began to organise mime workshops for the kids and theatre enthusiasts. As more people became involved, it developed into the ‘Charlie Circle Foundation’, and every year on his birthday there is a major festival attracting people from all over the world, thus putting the small town of Adipur on the world map. The whole town joins in, dressing up in Charlie Chaplin costume and sharing his antics.

Dr. Ashok Aswani says Charlie Chaplin helps him to live a better life through his example of spreading joy and happiness to other people.He believes that everyone should look for the ‘Charlie’ inside himself. Spreading laughter and happiness helps to alleviate the pain and suffering from which we all suffer. Just making someone smile for a moment is a great gift to the world.

Dr. Aswani even prescribes Charlie Chaplin’s films for his patients.

Every year people from all over the world visit Adipur to celebrate Charlie’s birthday. Dr. Aswani would like to make these celebrations bigger and spread the joy and happiness to even more people. Despite his fame and popularity, Dr. Aswani has remained a modest person, true to his original intentions.

“Nothing is permanent in this wicked world — not even our troubles.”

— Charlie Chaplin.