The Sad Clown:
“An artiste performs for himself, and people watch him,” says the lead character in Nitin Kakkar’s gem of a film, Ramsingh Charlie. He plays a Chaplin impersonator in a clown act with Kolkata’s Jango Circus, but flinches when somebody calls him “joker.” Even when circumstances reduce him to becoming a rickshaw puller, he tries not to lose his skill or his dignity.
Ramsingh (Kumud Mishra) is so used to being called Charlie that he has almost forgotten his real name. Born in the circus himself, he lives happily with his wife Kajri (Divya Dutta) and young son Chintu (Rohan Rokhade) with other circus performers, and has never imagined life outside the big top. Then, modern modes of entertainment take over, the circus is no longer viable, and the owner’s (Salima Raza) son (Akarsh Khurana), decides to cut his loses and shut down Jango Circus.
The performers scatter over the city, taking whatever work they can get. After struggling for a long time, and sending his pregnant wife to the village, Ramsingh is forced to pull a rickshaw to make living. His short stint as a costumed chicken for children’s entertainment gets nothing but the friendship of the carefree Shahjahan (Farrukh Seyer), who wants to help along to fulfill Ramsingh’s dream of setting up his own circus, because he has none of his own.
Kakkar and his co-writer, and co-producer Sharib Hashmi want to convey the pathos of urban life crushing those who have no useful place in the hierarchy of ambition—what work can two circus dwarfs find except as doormen outside a seedy bar, where they are mocked by patrons; what can an old musician do, except become a busker in the subway—but they also do not make it too dark or depressing. If an artiste is true to his art, Ramsingh seems to believe, he will find a way to express himself. It may be too idealistic, but optimism is not such a bad thing, especially in the post-pandemic age, when there is so much financial uncertainty all over.
Kumud Mishra gets an opportunity to do a role that allows him to express the range of his talent, and he is outstanding; other stage actors cast in the film, like senior Salima Raza and Farrukh Seyer are excellent too; in a small role Lilliput steals a scene towards the end. Divya Dutta has little to do in a wishy-washy role, but she is competent
Apart from the obvious Chaplin influence, the spirit of Mera Naam Joker and Do Bigha Zamin hover over Ramsingh Charlie. The film was completed a couple of years ago; it is fortunate to get screened on a web streaming platform, where a bigger audience will get to watch a film that might have slipped through the cracks in a regular multiplex release.