There is a time and a place for understatement and nuance. Producing Shakespeare’s “The Comedy of Errors,” a lowbrow comedy filled with slapstick and farce, is not it. One would find success in being as loud and obnoxious as possible. Bollywood director Rohit Shetty achieves this requisite level of silliness in his new comedy of errors, Cirkus.
Ranveer Singh plays two separate characters named Roy – identical twin brothers, separated at birth by adoption – and Varun Sharma plays two Joys – also identical twin brothers, also separated at birth by adoption, one Joy growing up as brother to one Roy, and the other Joy growing up as brother to the other Roy. One set of brothers grows up in Ooty and the other in Bangalore. Got all that? Neither do they until the end of the film, leading to an all-out onslaught of situational comedy involving suspected affairs, infuriated criminal gangs, and spacetime continuum-shattering currents of electricity.
For the sake of clarity, we will call Roy and Joy from Ooty Roy 1 and Joy 1 – adopted by circus owners that die when the two are young children, the two grow up to run a highly successful family business. The headline act of this circus is a display of Roy 1’s superhuman ability to not be affected by electricity. Roy 1’s marriage to Mala (Pooja Hegde) is happy and supportive but experiencing some conflict. Roy 1 and Joy 1 are cool, calm, and collected successful showmen. Roy 2 and Joy 2 (from Bangalore) were adopted by a wealthy and influential family. Roy 2 plans to marry Bindu (Jacqueline Fernandez) and the two are in the blissful stage of early romance. Roy 2 is suspicious and nervous. Oh, and Roy 2 experiences strong electrical currents through his body each time Roy 1 demonstrates his shock-defying circus feats.
This wild setup is all explained to the audience in the first act. While it might be difficult to keep it straight reading (and writing) this description, the movie’s explanations – even to a non-Hindi-speaking audience requiring the assistance of subtitles – are succinct and easy to follow. The simple concept setup in the first act culminates in Roy 2 and Joy 2 visiting Ooty on business, and comic mishaps and misunderstandings ensue for the remainder of the film.
Audiences accustomed to safe Hollywood comedy antics might not be used to seeing some of the brutal bodily gimmicks in Cirkus. Each time Roy 2 experiences an unexpected electric shock, his wild shaking usually transfers to several different characters creating something close to a choreographed dance routine played for uproarious laughter. Roy 1 and Joy 1 both erupt into tantrums of physical violence when their mother is insulted, which happens several times throughout the movie. One of the most stunning displays of slapstick comedy that western audiences have not experienced since The Three Stooges comes when Roy 2, attempting to intimidate a gang member, pretends not to be hurt by a whip. All of these sequences are full of non-diegetic quirky sound effects and never a hint of blood or bruises (the notable exception being a red handprint indicating a slap on the face).
The beauty of the sitcom concept in the hands of Shetty is that the simplicity is treated with the full gamut of cinematic potential. The circus and the inevitable Bollywood dance routines are epic. The colors pop – from the obviously artificial city sets and CGI to the jaw-droppingly beautiful natural green hills, to the costumes and haircuts. These lattermost features incorporate styles native to India as well as those that one might find in Hollywood features from the 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s (the decade in which the story is set). All these work together to form a backdrop for the outrageous characters.
Singh and Sharma execute their respective sets of doppelgangers differently enough that the attentive audience never has a problem telling the difference. As the plot description indicates, much more attention is given to Singh and he provides all the musical and charismatic qualities befitting a Bollywood star. The supporting cast offers quirk and charm, with the likes of Hegde, Fernandez, Sanjay Mishra (as Bindu’s proud and suspicious father), Siddarth Jadhav (as a bumbling crook), and Murali Sharma (as the orphanage doctor that started all this nonsense). Mishra’s ridiculously despicable “gentleman” is a particularly hilarious and engaging character.
Cirkus wraps up with a moral denouncing the supremacy of bloodlines and affirming upbringing and life experience – supporting the nurture side of the “nature vs. nurture” developmental dilemma. Other than that and a few heartfelt character beats, this is just a simple comedy given a blockbuster veneer. There is a self-serious audience out there that may find it too silly or too simplistic; this is a movie to be enjoyed by those who love to experience joy. For those looking to get outside of Hollywood comedy norms and paper-thin stories, this movie provides the wonders of spectacle applied to Shakespearean-style escapism and is well worth a watch in the theater or on Netflix now.