Motherland Magazine

Trends, issues & ideas that shape contemporary Indian culture

Pop Culturalista

Meet the street performers who play dress up for a living.



Meet the Behrupiyas, a nomadic community of street performers who make a living by being someone else. From Charlie Chaplin to a religious preacher to a vegetable seller, each Behrupiya completely changes their look and mannerisms every 42 days to impersonate a new character.

Historically, some of these performers were known to double up as spies for medieval royal courts and others made fine smugglers. Today, Behrupiyas continue a tradition of performance art–at weddings or on the streets and many go from door to door collecting alms. Some come from families of Behrupiyas and, as tradition warrants, impersonate their characters all day, every day. Others have adopted a more commercial attitude and dress up only for an evening's performance.

In this series of portraits, photographer Vidisha Saini explores the Behrupiyas as beholders of multiple identities and human albeit somewhat dramatised mirrors of well-known stereotypes in Indian society. Their looks are mostly inspired by popular culture, history, religion and politics.


FARMER                                                                                   TESU



CHARLIE CHAPLIN                                            PSYCHOPATH



ARDHNARISHWAR – S H I VA                         ARDHNARISHWAR – P A R V A T I






QAWAL                                                                                         1 5 - Y EAR -OLD GIRL



RELIGIOUS PREACHER                                                        VEGETABLE SELLER




Published: Mar, 2011

Photographs: Vidisha Saini