Director: Rohit Shetty
Writers: Farhad Samji, Sanchit Bedre, Vidhi Ghodgaonkar
Cast: Ranveer Singh, Varun Sharma, Sanjay Mishra, Pooja Hegde, Jaqueline Fernandez
Having seen the posters and heard the promotional chatter for Cirkus, you may have arrived at the conclusion that Rohit Shetty’s new film is a comedy. This is not true. Despite a cast made up of some of Indian cinema’s funniest comic actors including Johnny Lever, Tiku Talsania, Sanjay Mishra, Brijendra Kala and Varun Sharma, Cirkus is a tragedy — for the audience that will never get back the 138 minutes it gave this film; and for Ranveer Singh, who showed more of his livewire chemistry in than he does with this double role, despite one of the characters being named “Electric Man”.
It’s difficult to outline the plot of Cirkus because there really isn’t one. The film has three sets of men named Roy and Joy — one set runs an orphanage; another runs a circus; the last one just runs around. Two of the Roy-Joys are twins who are separated at birth and it takes 28 years for their paths to cross, much to the confusion of some petty thieves, a jeweller and a taxi driver (among others). Despite borrowing many elements from Gulzar’s Angoor (1982), Cirkus has none of its zany charm. However, if you’re looking for it, there are a few feeble indications that at some point, there was a modicum of thought that went into the making of Cirkus. For instance, Shetty begins the film in 1942, setting it in a fabricated past that is as neat and fake as Noddy’s Toyland. All the colours pop with vivid, artificial intensity. Everyone looks animated and everything looks tip-top. Yet even in this idyll of super-saturation, there lurks discontent. There are protestors on the streets carrying ‘Quit India’ signs and there’s a doctor who dreams of a society in which people see the humanity in each other, rather than labels of class, religion etc. etc. Yes, dear reader, Cirkus is a Rohit Shetty film with a Social Message. Hold on to your popcorn.
As a social-science experiment, a doctor switches babies who are being adopted and separates two sets of twins, both of whom are named Roy (Ranveer Singh) and Joy (Varun Sharma). One Roy-Joy set is adopted by a wealthy business family in Bangalore while the other goes to a couple who run a circus. (Incidentally, there is an excellent documentary titled Three Identical Strangers about a similar experiment that was actually carried out in America. It’s available on Netflix, which happens to be the platform where Cirkus will also land eventually.) Circus Roy discovers he’s immune to electric shocks and becomes the star attraction, “Electric Man”. He has no idea that miles away in Bangalore, there’s another Roy who turns into a literal livewire every time Circus Roy grabs an electric cable. Years pass with Circus Roy wrapping his fists around electric wires and his twin getting electrified. Finally, when the twins are four grown men with twinning moustaches, the two sets of Roy-Joys meet people who know one set of Roy-Joy and mistake them for the other Roy-Joy. This happens in an Ooty whose rolling hills are such a lurid green that it looks like The Incredible Hulk vomited all over them. Either that or Cirkus’s post-production team couldn’t be bothered and just plastered Windows’ desktop wallpaper as the background. They’re not the only ones who lost interest in the film. Topping that list are Shetty and Singh.
You’d think that Singh would light up the screen with this double role and ace the slapstick comedy, but the actor’s performance is a power cut. Since his charming debut in Band Baaja Baaraat (2010), Singh has been an actor who can energise even the most limp plot with his screen presence. In Cirkus, Singh’s acting is about as convincing as Jaqueline Fernandez’s — in fact, she might be a bit more animated than Singh in a few scenes. For the first time in, Singh is both overshadowed by co-actors and also entirely forgettable. In the past, his irrepressible, over-the-top energy and Shetty’s mastery over the commercial spectacle have felt like a match made in Bollywood heaven. Cirkus looks like a film the two made under duress after a break-up. Singh seems to be sleepwalking through his scenes and perhaps to compensate for this, the supporting cast of comic actors, particularly Sanjay Mishra, try to liven Cirkus with their exaggerated turns. Halfway in, Singh seems to exit the plot and the supporting cast takes over (Siddhartha Jadhav may have more lines than Singh does). This doesn’t redeem the film, which trundles along with listless stupidity. Shetty packs scene after scene with some of Hindi cinema’s most beloved comic actors, but not one punchline lands and the situational comedy is painfully humourless. There’s a shout-out to at the end of the film which feels like a desperate attempt to do some fan service, but Rohit Shetty fans deserve better.
With Cirkus, Shetty and Singh have delivered the worst film of the year. That this director-actor duo would make a comedy that’s so boring that audience members at an advance screening would rather play Candy Crush or send WhatsApp messages like “Not much going on wid me. U?”, is deeply disappointing. The only possible silver lining of Cirkus is that by the end of it, you’ve got to feel better about yourself because chances are, your 2022 is less of a flop than what Shetty and Singh have delivered.