Could 67-year-old Indian Ashok Aswani be Charlie Chaplin’s biggest fan? A look at the annual parade he organises in The Tramp’s honour, as well as his visit to Chaplin’s Swiss home.
In 1966, Ashok Sukhumal Aswani was on his way to work when saw a poster of Chaplin’s film Gold Rush. He bought a ticket and enjoyed the movie so much he saw it again, forgetting all about his job. He was eventually fired.
Seven years later, he decided to mark Chaplin’s birthday on April 16 with a birthday cake and a small celebration with his close family. Over the years, this has transformed into a full-blown tribute parade to the actor in Adipur with around a hundred participants.
“Most people didn’t even know who he was back then, they would think his name is Charlie Champion,” says Aswani.
It has helped put the non-descript town in the western Indian state of Gujarat on the map. Every year the festivities attracts media attention.
With little or no funding, the yearly parade goes ahead, overcoming various obstacles. Aswani spends around INR100,000 (CHF1,507) for the parade from his own pocket and the same amount in hosting out-of-town visitors as he feel they are his guests.
Four years ago, he officially registered the Charlie Chaplin Foundation to garner support for the parade.
“Even though we have formed this trust no one is willing to donate even a rupee. We have to spend on water, food, DJ, lights, costumes, hats, sticks, along with the hall. Every year so many hats and costumes are not returned or damaged,” he says.
Aswani pays for everything with his day job as an Ayurveda medicine practitioner.
While locals are confident in Aswani’s healing powers, he credits Chaplin with helping him overcome suffering.
“What both God and Charlie do is to teach the common man how to live,” says Aswani. “They teach him how to laugh, increase his will power, how to bear his suffering and move on. That’s why I believe in him so much,” he says.
Thanks to a crowdfunding campaign by Spanish-born artist Cristina de Middel (who visited the parade in 2016), Aswani was able to visit the Swiss town of Vevey on Lake Geneva, where Chaplin spent his last years in exile. de Middel was invited to show her Chaplin-themed work at the Festival Images photography festival in the Swiss town last September and Aswani had a ball chasing his hero’s Swiss footsteps and working the crowd.
“The hairs on the back of my neck stand up when I think of my Swiss visit,” says Aswani. “I have no words to describe how I felt then except that I was in a trance.”
He visited the Chaplin museum in full costume and got a kick from the positive reactions from other visitors. It was a moving experience to find himself in his “dreamland”. Aswani remembers touching all the objects in Chaplin’s home imagining their connection to his hero. He was especially overwhelmed with emotion when sitting on Chaplin’s bed and broke down in tears.
“My eyes filled with tears and my emotional state made two women visitors cry as well,” he says.
Aswani was inspired by his visit to the Chaplin museum and is more motivated than ever to create a mini version called Charlie Bhavan in Adipur. The building will house a mini museum, performance and teaching spaces, as well as accommodation for fans and artists. He’s already purchased a plot of land and despite the financial hurdles dreams of the day when Adipur has its own brick and mortar Chaplin headquarters.
“To bring a smile to someone’s face is very difficult but if you keep trying then the reward will definitely find you,” he says.