Haven’t we met before, people keep asking Roy and his separated twin brother. We have met Rohit Shetty’s Cirkus too, in William Shakespeare’s play The Comedy of Errors and its knockoffs (including Gulzar’s Angoor) and in numerous old movies about identical twins separated by circumstance.

The biggest problem with Cirkus isn’t familiarity. It’s laziness. Based on Yunus Sajawal’s screenplay and written by Farhad Samji, Sanchit Bedre and Vidhi Ghodgaonkar, Cirkus is a one-sketch idea stretched out into a full-length feature. It includes a recurring visual gag, a bunch of wasted actors and a heavily touched-up colour palette that resembles a child’s colouring book.

Even the two sets of twins whom a doctor swaps around to prove a dubious theory about nature and nurture look like dummies rather than human babies. The circus that has inspired the title is barely explored. The plasticky feel extends to the humour, which feels imposed rather than earned.

Cirkus acts as a prequel to Shetty’s Golmaal Again (2017), which centred on an orphanage. Having separated two sets of identical male twins in the cradle, the doctor (Murali Sharma) hangs around to assess the results of his warped experiment. The boys grow up to be Roy (Ranveer Singh), a circus owner living in Ooty, and Joy (Varun Sharma). The other pair, also called Joy and Roy, are raised in Bengaluru.

A psychic connection exists between Roy and Roy. The circus performer has the ability to handle live electricity without getting hurt. Whenever the current flows through Roy, the other Roy shakes uncontrollably, as though in shock.

That’s all there is to Cirkus. There’s also the confusion that results when one Roy-Joy set crosses paths with the other Roy/Joy pair – not hard to imagine since the distance between Bengaluru and Ooty is a little over 200 km. The meddling doctor is about as hard-working as the creators of Cirkus, not bothering to have put ample distance between the twins.

Events are set in the 1970s – an excuse to roll out classic Hindi film songs in the background. Shetty has at least one original earworm in the soundtrack, the retro disco tune Aashiqui. A more attentive director might have placed this catchy Hiten melody, performed by Badshah and Amrita Singh, in the middle of the movie. Instead, Aashiqui plays out during the end credits, even as we stumble towards the exit in relief.

Aashiqui, Cirkus (2022).

If some of the actors work too hard to justify their pay cheques (Sanjay Mishra is especially grating as the father of Jacqueline Fernandez’s character), the others (including Pooja Hegde as the wife of one of the Roys) stand around waiting for the humour to pop, as though in a tele-play. Varun Sharma, who was so good in the Fukrey films, Chhichhore and Roohi, wears a single expression of astonishment at being cast in a film that doesn’t know what to do with him.

A consistently lacklustre Ranveer Singh comes to life in a special dance number featuring his real-life wife, Deepika Padukone. Clad in a superb pink-green ensemble, Padukone expertly parleys her chemistry with her spouse. The movie comes briefly alive, only to slump again.

Even this tune, Current Laga Re, sounds suspiciously like Lungi Dance from Shetty’s Shah Rukh Khan-Deepika Padukone starrer Chennai Express (2013). The broad Southern stereotypes from Chennai Express make their way into Cirkus too. Rohit Shetty’s response to the predominance of dubbed Southern films at the Hindi box office, perhaps?

The cast is stacked with comedians who have worked with stronger material in Shetty’s previous films. Siddhartha Jadhav plays Momo, a thief with an Ace Ventura haircut who has more energy than anyone else in the film. Momo’s boss is Polson, who resembles the American soul singer James Brown and is played by the redoubtable Johnny Lever.

The 138-minute movie sorely needs jolts of electricity, of the kind that make Roy twitch and tremble. Instead, Cirkus flatlines at nearly all times.

Cirkus (2022).