Chances are that you’ve seen a well-of-death performance in some Hindi movie you caught on your cable TV. Some of you might have caught it live as it used to be a common attraction of fairs (melas) held all over the country but has now seen a steady decline.
When the well-of-death first came to India, it was performed for long hours on bicycles. As motorbikes and cars replaced bicycles, the show became more about daring stunts than the duration of the show.
The maut-ka-kuan was a staple for circuses and melas and used to draw a big audience that came from all walks of life. The tickets were cheap and the audience stood close to the usually wooden well to get a good view of the action taking place.
The stuntmen were often from poor socio-economic status and started putting up these shows as and when they could, to earn some money. Sometimes directly from the hands of the audience members.
The Indian version of the well-of-death is more dangerous than its counterparts across the world because we do not observe the safety standards. The American motordrome and the British silodrome have also faded in popularity over the years.