“Nahi hamein dar nahi lagta. Waha chalane ke liye jigar chahiye aur balance. Marne ko to hum sadak pe phi mar sakte hai.”

No, I am not afraid. To ride there, you need courage and balance. If I am to die, I may even die while on the street.

Mohammad Shamil Ansari is sanguine about death as he relaxes in a makeshift tent behind the silodrome before the start of the evening show in Kandra, Jharkhand.

In a little while, once the sun sinks further, the 31-year-old will get on his Yamaha RX 100 and whizz around the near-vertical walls of the barrel-shaped wooden cylinder at 40-45 kilometres an hour. At that speed and angle, even the protective brace of friction and centrifugal force cannot prevent a trifling mistake from becoming fatal.

Ansari was 16 when he joined the Maut Ka Kuan show of Guria Maruti Circus. Starting out as a green apprentice, he learned everything on the job, until he became a rider and the manager. For him and his fellow riders at Guria Maruti, performing in the Well of Death is like entering a trance. The motorbike engine billows out pungent smoke, while creating a humming drone in the enclosed space. Already on tenterhooks, spectators get visibly anxious every time the bike moves over a loose plank, emitting a loud creak.

Over the past 15 years, Ansari and his colleagues have witnessed the show’s decline. Spectators have moved on to cinema and the internet to quench their thirst for breathtaking stunts, leaving the galleries in silodromes empty.

Many riders and stuntmen have abandoned the stunt show too in search of better livelihoods. Those who have stayed back continue because it is their only passion in life. The wooden boards of the walls have cracked in most places, but this doesn’t stop them from gearing up for the next show. The only thing that drives them is the rush of the stunt and the cheers of the spectators.

Mohammad Shamil Ansari, a rider at Guria Maruti Circus and its manager, flings himself to one side of the motorcycle while whirling it around on the near-vertical wooden walls of the Well of Death in Kandra, a small town near Jamshedpur, Jharkhand.
The silodrome is lit up before the evening show of Maut Ka Kuan. Guria Maruti Circus is one of the oldest companies still running the show night after night.
A woman buys tickets to the show. The Well of Death’s popularity is waning, but it still has its admirers in the heartland.
A staff member inspects the stunt car before the show. Its heyday long gone, Guria Maruti Circus employs eight people – four riders and four support staff members.
The company tours across Jharkhand, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh, drawing visitors from nearby villages.
Taufiq Ansari, now 18, joined the team as a mechanic and slowly trained as a rider. He has had multiple accidents. Nevertheless, he turns up every day at the silodrome to perform stunts.
Like almost all employees of the company, Maqbool Ansari multitasks. Though a rider, he doubles up as an announcer to lure the audiences in with funny announcements, interspersed with old Hindi songs.
To make the show affordable for everyone, tickets are priced as low as Rs 30 and children aged below 5 years allowed in for free.
Taufiq Ansari races his motorcycle, followed by a car, as the crowd watches in wonder.
Loknath Sahu waves at the crowd to mark the end of the show and yet another tryst with life-threatening peril.