December 28, 2022
by Carla Hay
Directed by Rohit Shetty
Hindi with subtitles
Culture Representation: Taking place in the India, in the 1960s and briefly in the 1930s, the comedy film “Cirkus” features an Indian cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.
Culture Clash: Two sets of identical twin brothers are separated and switched at birth by a scientist who wants to test the “nature versus nurture” debate, in order to prove his theory that someone’s upbringing has more influence on their personality than biological genetics.
Culture Audience: “Cirkus” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching an aggressively hyperactive and annoying movie with a horrible story about twins and mistaken identities.
The vibrant cinematography and eye-catching production design of “Cirkus” are all wasted on a silly plot, bad acting and an unjustifiably atrocious ending that ignores ethical and legal issues of deliberately switching babies at birth. It’s a so-called comedy that will bring very few or no laughs to people who care about quality entertainment. The only thing that’s worth laughing at is how the “Cirkus” filmmakers spent a great deal of the movie’s budget on elaborate set designs and visual effects but then made the cheap-looking decision to have obvious toy dolls instead of real babies in the brief time that infants are shown on screen.
Directed by Rohit Shetty and written by Yunus Sajawal, “Cirkus” is loosely based on the William Shakespeare play “The Comedy of Errors,” which has hijinks that ensue when identical twin brothers have been separated at birth. It feels almost like blasphemy to mention Shakespeare and “Cirkus” in the same sentence, because it’s like comparing priceless art to worthless garbage. “Cirkus” is just too repetitive and too stupid to justify its total running time of 140 minutes. About 30 minutes into this abomination of a movie, viewers will feel like it’s less painful to have a circus elephant sit on them than to sit through watching all of “Cirkus.”
“Cirkus” begins by showing the two brothers who cause the chaos that later happens in the story. Sometime in the 1930s, Dr. Roy Jamnadas (played by Murali Sharma) and his younger brother Joy Jamnadas (played by Uday Tikekar) are operating Jamnadas Orphanage in Bangalore, India. One day, Roy and Joy find two pairs of newborn, identical twin brothers abandoned on the doorstep of the orphanage. The two pairs of twins are around the same age.
Roy decides that he wants to do an experiment to test the “nature versus nurture” debate, in order to prove his theory that someone’s personality is influenced more by that person’s upbringing than biological genetics. Roy wants to switch the identical twins, so that each twin will grow up with a brother he thinks is biologically related but actually is not biologically related. Joy vehemently objects to this very unethical and illegal decision, but Roy is determined to go through with it, and nothing can stop him.
The identical twins are switched so that one of the twin brothers is placed with a twin from the other pair who is biologically unrelated. When all four twin brothers are put up for adoption, they are presented as fraternal twins, not identical twins. Roy promises Joy that he will reveal the truth to all four brothers when the brothers are 30 years old. When Joy asks Roy what will happen if Roy isn’t alive in 30 years, Roy gives a vague response that maybe someone else can tell the twins the truth. Of course, in a predictable movie like “Cirkus,” Roy and Joy live for the next 30 years and show up again in the movie.
And what a coincidence: Both pairs of twins are adopted into families who want to name the twins after the Jamnadas brothers. One pair of the fake fraternal twins named Roy and Joy go to the Indian city of Ooty, where they have been adopted by a circus owner (played by Nikitin Dheer) and his wife (played by Supriya Roy). The other set of the fake fraternal twins named Roy and Joy stay in Bangalore, where they have been adopted by an affluent industrial engineer (played by Arjun Nagar) and his wife Shakuntala Devi (played by Ashwini Kalsekar).
After the babies quickly getting adopted, “Cirkus” briefly shows the two Roys and the two Joys as pre-teen children and teenagers. In these roles are Pratyaksh Panwar as pre-teen Roy, Hridansh Gokani as pre-teen Joy, Arya Mahajan as teenage Roy, and Krishna Panchal as teenage Joy. The movie then fast-forwards to showing the brothers at 30 years old.
For the purposes of this review, the Roy and Joy who grew up in Ooty will be called Ooty Roy and Ooty Joy. The Roy and Joy who grew up in Bangalore will be called Bangalore Roy and Bangalore Joy. Just like the brothers they were named after, Roy is the “alpha male” brother, while Joy is the “beta male” brother. Ooty Roy and Bangalore Roy are both played by Ranveer Singh. Ooty Joy and Bangalore Joy are both played by Varun Sharma.
Ooty Roy and Ooty Joy have taken over running their adoptive family’s circus, which is called Jubilee Cirkus, since their adoptive parents have retired. Ooty Roy has become a famous circus attraction known as Electric Man, for being physically immune when holding objects that conduct large wattages of electricity. Meanwhile, Bangalore Roy feels the effects of these electric jolts every time Ooty Roy does these electrical stunts. It’s a bizarre condition that Ooty Roy and Bangalore Roy have had since their childhoods. (No explanation is given in the movie for why they have this condition.)
The jolts are so big, Bangalore Roy can give people electrical shocks that can be harmful if they touch him. Bangalore Roy doesn’t know why he randomly gets these electrical jolts that run through his body and sometimes cause him to convulse wildly. Expect to see “Cirkus” show a lot of over-exaggerated slapstick comedy (that gets stale very quickly) of people getting electrical shocks and sometimes having seizures from these shocks.
Ooty Roy is happily married to a novelist named Mala (played by Pooja Hegde), who can’t get her work published under her real name for sexist reasons, so she uses the alias Col. Vikrant. And what a coincidence: Col. Vikrant’s biggest fan is Bangalore Roy. Ooty Joy has a girlfriend named Lily (played by Radhika Bangia). Bangalore Joy does not have a love interest in the movie.
The only discontent in the marriage between Mala and Ooty Roy is that they haven’t been able to conceive a child because Mala is infertile. Ooty Roy and Mala are seriously thinking about adopting a child. Mala wants to adopt a child from Jamnadas Orphanage, but Ooty Roy doesn’t like that idea. (You know where this is going, of course.)
Meanwhile, Bangalore Roy has a girlfriend named Bindu (played by Jacqueline Fernandez), whose arrogant and wealthy father Rai Sahab (played by Sanjay Mishra) does not approve of Bangalore Roy dating Bindu, because Rai thinks Bangalore Roy doesn’t come from a rich-enough family. By contrast, Bindu’s kind and open-minded mother Chachi (played by Sulabha Arya) accepts the relationship and treats Bangalore Roy with respect. Bangalore Roy has conflicts with Rai because Bangalore Roy wants to marry Bindu, but Rai refuses to give his blessing.
Rai is a blustering buffoon with a sidekick named Prem (played by Anil Charanjeett), whom Rai describes as his “manager,” but Prem is really just a “yes man” lackey and a completely useless character in a mindless story. The scenes with Rai are among the most cringeworthy in “Cirkus” because Mishra’s acting is so terrible. Rai, like almost everyone else in “Cirkus,” is a one-dimensional caricature.
Bangalore Roy and Bangalore Joy travel by train to Ooty, where they want to buy a tea-making farm. At the train station, three idiotic robbers, who have stolen ₹50,000 in cash, are being chased by police. The travel bag containing the money is accidentally dropped at the train station before the robbers make their getaway on a train that also happens to be the same train that has Bangalore Roy and Bangalore Joy as passengers.
The three robbers are nitwit leader Momo (played by Siddhartha Jadhav), who has a ridiculously large pompadour, and his two, less-talkative sidekicks Mango (played by Ashish Warang) and Chikki (played by Umakant Patil), who have utterly blank personalities. Momo is not only one of the most annoying characters in “Cirkus” (a movie filled with annoying characters), but he’s also perhaps the most annoying character that movie viewers will see in any given year.
Nothing that Momo says is funny, as he shouts his lines and makes dopey facial expressions for the camera. It doesn’t help that Jadhav gives one of the worst performances in the “Cirkus” cast. A recurring “joke” in the movie is that after Momo sees an incident of electrical shocks, he hollers, “Shock you!,” in the way that people curse, “Fuck you!”
These simple-minded robbers have lost their cash, but when they see Bangalore Roy and Bangalore Joy in a train car with a travel bag full of ₹50,000 in cash, the robbers decide to steal the cash from Bangalore Roy and Bangalore Joy. Later, viewers find out that Momo wants the cash to give as a birthday gift to a powerful crime boss named Polson Dada (played by Johnny Lever), who dresses like he’s stepped out of a 1970s pimp den, even though this part of the movie takes place in the 1960s.
Bangalore Roy and Bangalore Joy immediately notice upon arriving in Ooty that strangers already know their names and seem to know who they are. Meanwhile, it should come as no surprise that Ooty Roy and Ooty Joy end up in Bangalore and they get, and they also get mistaken for the other Roy and Joy. Along the way, a taxi driver named Naagmani (played by Vrajesh Hirjee), a jeweler named Veljibhai (played by Tiku Talsania) and a bandit-turned-hotel owner named Daaku Bagheera (played by Mukesh Tiwari) get involved in the ludicrous antics.
From a visual standpoint, “Cirkus” has a lot of eye candy, but the movie’s foolish and grossly unfunny story is like overloading on bad junk food. The title of the movie is also misleading, because only a few scenes actually take place in a circus. But even those circus scenes are nothing but hollow spectacles with very little substance. “Cirkus” completely missed a potentially great story opportunity to have the circus lifestyle as a big part of the movie’s plot.
The movie’s song-and-dance musical numbers are adequate, when it comes to the choreography, but the song lyrics are so witless and boring, they ruin whatever impact the musical numbers were supposed to have. The ending of “Cirkus” hints that there will be a sequel with other characters who have a connection to Jamnadas Orphanage. “Cirkus” is an utter failure at being amusing entertainment. It’s more like an overblown, nonsensical and deceptively flashy carnival act that cheats people out of their time and money.
T-Series Films released “Cirkus” in select U.S. cinemas and in India on December 23, 2022.