“Plump, happy and children-friendly. High cheek bones and broad face favoured,” reads the notice posted on the Mad Hatters’ website.
In August, Mad Hatters, an Andheri-based event management company, conducted auditions of people willing to play Santa Claus at city malls, high-profile Christmas parties and five star hotels. They are currently training 28 of the 65 people who applied for the post.
The chosen ones will wear an imported white-cuffed red costume, stick on silky white beards on Christmas and spread Christmas cheer. “The chosen candidates also attended a weeklong workshop to look and live the role of Santa Claus,” said Martin D’souza, who has played Santa for more than two decades. “The candidates are taught the art of smiling, dancing and shaking hands with children without getting too close,” said D’souza, adding that Santas are not allowed to hug children.
The Santas are also taught to deal with difficult children and situations. “There have been some occasions where children get too aggressive in their excitement. They punch and kick the Santas, who will have to conceal the pain with a smile,” he added.
For Conrad D’souza, 21, who works as a passenger service agent at the Mumbai airport, playing Santa is an overwhelming experience. “Playing Santa is more than just donning the look. Since children send us their secret wish lists, we have to essay the role without looking clumsy,” said Conrad, who earns Rs 5,000 for a three-hour act.
While the Mad Hatters consider playing Santa Claus a vocation, schools and city parishes have their own in-house Santas, who make do with masks and satin costumes. For Cajetin D’souza, who works in the administrative office of Loreto Convent School in Chembur, it is that time on the festive calendar when he replaces the school fee receipts with chocolates, the laptop case with a bagful of goodies and his buzzing phone with a tinkling bell.
“While the secondary school children have discovered the face behind the Santa Claus mask, the younger children excitedly approach me to shake hands and demand their secret Christmas gifts,” said D’souza, who has played Santa for more than 15 years.
Having essayed the role of Santa Claus for a decade, Brett Rodricks, better known as “Uncle Santa” by children living in Bandra, dressing up for the role is no longer an ordeal. “It takes not more than half an hour to wear the costume,” said Rodricks from Mount Carmel Church, Bandra.
“Every time I set foot in the room, loud cheers, giggles and whistles assure a grand entry.”