Director: Rohit Shetty
Writers: Farhad Samji, Sanchit Bedre, Vidhi Ghodgaonkar
Cast: Ranveer Singh, Varun Sharma, Pooja Hegde, Sanjay Mishra, Jacqueline Fernandez, Siddharth Jadhav, Anil Mange
One of my earliest memories in life involved tears. A lot of tears. I hated seeing my mother leave after she dropped me to nursery school every morning. Watching her go made my heart sink. I would stare at the gates longingly all day. Waiting. Weeping. Hoping. More than three decades later, I found myself going through this same cycle of emotions while watching Rohit Shetty’s Cirkus, albeit in a slightly different context. Replace my mother with Sanjay Mishra – which is not a sentence I ever imagined I’d write – and you’ll get the gist. Mishra is so gloriously unhinged that the prospect of his character not being on screen often sank my heart. The Mishra-less portions made me stare at the corners of every frame longingly. Waiting, weeping, hoping for him to emerge. Mishra doing his signature stream-of-consciousness comedy – where he utters the most random insults with musical nonchalance (like calling Aalim Hakim a “human lollipop,” or pronouncing psycho as “p-sycho”) – is a sight for sore eyes, ears, heads and throats. It’s not new, but it’s only while watching Cirkus that I remember why I missed my mother so much. It’s because school was so darned dull. Mishra is the light, but he shines brighter at the end of a dark tunnel.
Of all the terms I’ve used to describe Rohit Shetty movies over the years, dull is not one of them. They’ve been loud, silly, entertaining, dumb, cheap, childish, terrible and tone-deaf. But Cirkus is just boring. Which is a remarkable feat, because the nonsensical premise – loosely, very very loosely, based on Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors – is right down Shetty’s Manmohan-Desai-for-toddlers alley. There are not one but two sets of twins separated at birth. If you’re wondering why, you’re barking up the wrong plastic tree. (Don’t say I didn’t warn you, but it has something to do with a doctor who wants to prove that upbringing and not bloodline shapes a person). So there are two Ranveer Singhs named Roy paired with two Varun Sharmas named Joy. Apologies in advance for the sounds this line might make: One Roy-Joy own a circus in Ooty, while the other Roy-Joy are businessmen from Bangalore. They are blissfully unaware of the cross connection. The only reason a circus exists in the film is to milk a stale electrocution gag – Ooty Roy is a human conductor but it’s the Bangalore Roy who feels the shock. When city Roy-Joy travel to Ooty to buy a tea plantation, the mistaken-identity mayhem begins. And refuses to end.
The problem with Cirkus is that it always seems to choose the worst and shortest possible option in terms of narrative chaos. For instance, when a gang of three crooks – incidentally named Momo, Mango and Chikki – plan to break into a house at night, they directly fall through the roof instead of lurking around on top for a while. The wrong Roy-Joy are already in a sticky situation below, but the writing has no chill. It’s desperate to derive entertainment from quantity (the number of characters in a scene) rather than quality (clever staging). Even the confusion is strangely sanitized, almost like it’s afraid to alienate the viewer in an ocean of similar moustaches. For example, Ooty Roy never bumps into Bangalore Joy and vice versa, lest we lose track of who is who and pull out our phone to scroll through dog reels instead. Unlike Sanjay Mishra, most of the script lacks the conviction to be fully ridiculous. As a result, all we’re left with is a bunch of questionable snapshots. Like Jacqueline Fernandez yelling “daddy” too often with Mishra – her screen father – unironically addressing her in 70s-villain-speak as “babydoll”. Like Varun Sharma aching to break free from not one but two underwritten roles, and being denied a single funny moment in a film that looks like a glorified Bigg Boss set. Like Vrajesh Hirjee reprising his Golmaal role without really landing a punchline.
The biggest error of this comedy, surprisingly, is Ranveer Singh. It’s bizarre, because Singh and Shetty – like they did in Simmba (2018) – go together like long-lost brothers separated at birth. The energy levels, the passion for low-brow entertainment, and the commitment to campy excesses are almost identical. I’ve long believed that there’s no such thing as a poor Ranveer Singh performance. But this double role shatters that myth. Singh is bland – almost disinterested – as Roy and Roy; so bland that it’s tough to tell one twin from the other. He plays it shockingly straight, like the only serious character in a world full of loonies. The one song with Deepika Padukone aside, the shapeless charisma is missing.
At times, he seems to be rehearsing his lines instead of saying them, which sounds so strained that it could be interpreted as a parody performance. It’s a bit like Ranbir Kapoor and Alia Bhatt in Brahmastra, except this sort of stilted sincerity feels more jarring in a slapstick comedy than in a fantasy drama. Even his physical comedy – like when the high-voltage currents ravage his body, making him dance like a retro hero – falls short. Maybe if we stare at Singh longingly for a while, the gates might reopen. Maybe the electricity of Rohit Shetty characters is so natural to him that he’s stopped trying. Maybe I’m missing the clown in his circus. Until then, I’m just going to picture Sanjay Mishra mumbling something along the lines of: “Hey you Roy, bad boy, don’t be coy, where is the joy?”