As the virus slithers and floats around the world and all around us, it devastates livelihoods that at one point seemed integral to our societal fabrics and chains. And as those who come under its invisible yet destructive steamrolling force and know only one skill to survive, what are they to do?
Director Nitin Kakkar had no way of knowing that two years after its making, Ramsingh Charlie would release in a year that’d see many professions hear the loud and clear clanging of their death-knell. Even if it seems slightly anachronistic in its theme — the circus has been on a gasping-for-breath mode for some years now, but then what could be more out of times in this age of pause-and-forward streaming images? — the movie touches and cuts with its take on migrant workers and their struggle to eke out a living and space in sprawling metropoles. Here, the city is Kolkata and the unwilling straggler is Ramsingh (Kumud Mishra), pulling his rickshaw to transport passengers to their destination, even as his personal port of arrival seems oh so distant and hopeless. (That’s shades of Bimal Roy’s classic Do Bigha Zamin.) And when he deposits school children back to their homes is also when he displays a dexterous knack to perform tricks and make them — and their parent — laugh.
Director Kakkar, writing with Sharib Hashmi, cuts in with the parent’s remark when he hears that Ramsingh used to be with a circus earlier, to the past of glory and his family — a pregnant wife Kajri (Divya Dutta) and son Chintu ( a superb Rohit Rokhade) — and extended family that used to be Jango Circus. And overnight, Masterji, the circus owner — played with a quiet shine by Salima Raza — is forced to close it down by her son (Akarsh Khurana). The waves of this decision hit each and every one of the employees and the director zooms into Ramsingh who lives the role of the global tramp icon, who carries within him a weight that’d crush the world and yet flits about in life with a lightness that makes comedy poignant: Charlie Chaplin. For Singh, Charlie is him, and he’s Charlie. It’s what makes him tick and survive. But that act isn’t sufficient for his family’s survival anymore.
Ramsingh Charlie is a quiet, moving tribute to the circus, its descent into extinction, and a horrific struggle that’s all too pervasive in these times. It also unwaveringly looks at those jobs which that are designed to provide joy to a privileged set of children, but those smiles ride on the back of claustrophobic costumes and physical agony. The movie, even if it gets a wee bit incredulous towards the end, gently removes the sanguinary mask that people like Ramsingh adorn, and the ones who’re employed for their differently-built physical structure (veteran Lilliput stirs a pang in your heart) and how that’s cause for insensitive mirth.
Not maudlin, not over the top, director Kakkar especially scores beautifully in familial scenes, as when he subtly captures the changes wife Kajri notices on her postpartum return in her dream Charlie. Divya Dutta is outstanding, especially when she lets her heartbreak and the only sound you hear is a pained frequency in her eyes. And as Ramsingh Charlie, Kumud Mishra is terrific. He’s aided by an able supporting cast — Farrukh Seyer as the ebullient and street-smart Shah Jahan is top notch — but it is he who, as the everyday man and Chaplin, makes the show and the movie go on. There’s a highlight scene where Ramsingh speaks to his inner Chaplin, who’s perched next to him. As Singh confesses his utter dependence on Chaplin, the latter’s fluid facial movements convey impish coyness and gratitude. And as that scene ends, both of them are swept by the same wave of roiling emotions. The show must go on, but once in a while, it’s okay to pause and swallow that lump in your throat.Movie data powered by IMDb. All images owned by the producers.
Ramsingh Charlie is streaming on Sony LIV and is rated U (Unrestricted Public Exhibition)
Director Nitin Kakkar Time 1h 44min
Writers Nitin Kakkar, Sharib Hashmi
Stars Kumud Mishra, Divya Dutta, Akarsh Khurana