It takes all about three hours every time Rajan Kumar dons a new look for work.

With some deft touches on his face, a crisp suit and bowler hat intact, Rajan Kumar transforms into Charlie Chaplin. Every look draws instant adulation across audiences and, suddenly, there is a spring in his step and sparkle in his eyes. After that, actions speak louder than words.

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People laugh, giggle, adore, appreciate and give in to his acts as he goes about his job. As he criss-crosses the country, making people laugh and smile has become a very serious job that not many can do.

His talent first made it to the pages of the Limca Book of Records in 2004. Since then, Charlie Chaplin II, as he is often called, has completed over 4,500 shows and spent over 12,000 hours at these shows- a feat unparalleled in India.

130 years after his birth on April 16, Charlie Chaplin’s aura continues to mesmerise audiences around the world. And Rajan has had a role in keeping Charlie’s memories alive.

Being Chaplin for the first time

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Nearly 20 years ago, Rajan morphed into Charlie Chaplin because a restaurant owner wanted him to do so. For the theatre student from the Residential Theatre Training under the National School of Drama from HCRFT, Mandi (Himachal Pradesh), it was a small window of opportunity. Fortunately, people appreciated the idea of Chaplin at the opening for his restaurant and business was brisk. At another event, soon after, he was noticed by Chandan Singh of ITC Hotels, who offered him a job at its Agra hotel, where a lot of non-Indian tourists would frequent.

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It was supposed to be a trial for a month and Rajan’s job was to keep the guests entertained. The opportunity was the turning point and soon Rajan was performing at different ITC hotels, making the guests smile and keeping the children in good humour. “They kept me in the comfort zone so that I could be at my creative best,” Rajan recalls.

At times, Charlie would also encourage the staff at the hotel by doing acts for them. These drew smiles from everyone, which helped him be part of everyone’s good memories.

Being Charlie Chaplin is easier said than done. It is a live art and there is no chance for a retake if there is a mistake. Making people laugh is a very difficult thing to do, even more so when it is a live show. Since Chaplin is a silent character and does not speak, it gets more challenging for the person performing the act.

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The character has been so loved by people that there have been occasions when women have asked him to marry them, he has received a peck or two on the cheek from his admirers, and made friends wherever he has gone. It is a social messaging that Chaplin is associated with that has helped him become such an adorable person.

At a show in Delhi’s Connaught Place, he tripped and bruised his knee badly during a performance. But since the show continued, people thought it was part of the script. Rajan was in acute pain and continued to make people laugh. “That is how Charlie Chaplin has been – people matter to him more than he himself,” Rajan says.

Chaplin’s social messaging

With more and more shows and a few Bollywood movies to boot, Rajan has been going places.

The State Election Commission in Bihar has recently asked him to help reach out to people in the state to encourage them to participate in the elections. Rajan, donning the robes of Chaplin, will take the message to the people in his own unique way. 101 panchayats across the state have been identified where he will be playing a role. As one of the icons of the election commission, he will work as an extended arm of the body to encourage people to vote.

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For Rajan, this opportunity helps him connect to his roots in the state – Tetia Bambar village in Munger district of Bihar. The journey for the farmer’s son has been a long one. Despite the challenges that he faced, he always brought smiles on the faces of people.

Being Chaplin needs some serious effort. With 2-3 hours of yoga every day, practicing movements of his face, eyes and twitching of the eyebrows, there is a lot sweat and toil.

Several moons ago, a legal professional watching him in the audience suggested that she would want to marry him. The two concurred and it brought a smile on both their faces.

“Whatever I am today, it is because of Charlie Chaplin,” he says, with a smile.

The show, as they say, goes on.