Filmmaker Nitin Kakkar and actor Kumud Mishra get candid about Ramsingh Charlie, a film that looks at how circus is disappearing in India
There's a scene in the movie Ramsingh Charlie, where the protagonist, a circus artiste, finds a box of face paint. He dips his fingers in the smooth white paint and covers his face with it. It’s an important moment in the narrative. The character tears up, and he doesn’t understand if he is deriving happiness by painting his face or is sinking himself in the abject sorrow of having lost his dream job as a Charlie Chaplin impersonator at the circus.
Kumud Mishra, who plays the title role, aces this scene. There are no dialogues, it’s just an actor delivering his performance with perfection. This sequence defines what the film Ramsingh Charlie has set out to achieve.
Ink to screen
The story is about a circus that’s shut down, and its artistes who are left with no options but to pick up odd jobs to make a living has struck a chord with the audience. It is directed by the National Award-winning filmmaker Nitin Kakkar (who had won the award for Filmistaan) and co-written with actor Sharib Hashmi.
Watch Sharib Hashmi speak about Ramsingh Charlie and its making
This is Nitin’s second independent film after Filmistaan. Although the director is known for commercial movies such as Jawaani Jaaneman and Notebook, he has carved a niche for himself with his indie projects. Ramsingh Charlie in a way sums up the filmmaker’s desire to make movies that are close to his heart. “Post Filmistaan, I wanted to explore the journey of an artiste. There’s always a battle within, when we need to pick between our duty and our dreams. When we started writing Ramsingh Charlie with this idea, we realised that a circus could be the apt metaphor for the world we live in and we built our story on this premise,” says Nitin.
Set in Kolkata, the film follows Ramsingh, who after the circus shuts shop, ends up becoming a rickshawala by chance. However, his wife Kajri reminds him that he was meant to be Charlie and Ramsingh rediscovers his purpose in life — that of being an artiste. “Writing this story has been a very personal experience for both Sharib and me,” says Nitin emphatically, adding, “We had just become fathers when we wrote the script. Many of the incidents in the narrative are inspired by our life and our fathers’ lives.” True to what he says, the film is not only about Charlie, the artiste, it’s also about Ramsingh who is a husband and father, and has to make a choice to support his family.
Though all the actors, be it Divya Dutta as Kajri, Salima Raza as Masterji, Rohit Rokade as Chintu, Akarsh Khurana as Nabeel and Farrukh Seyer as Shahjahan, have delivered memorable performances, it is Kumud who stands tall as Ramsingh Charlie. The actor who had worked with Nitin in Filmistaan says he was keen to work once again with the director’s team. However, this film was quite a challenge for Kumud because he had to lose nearly 25 kilos to play the role. “I am a lazy person and unless I am motivated to do something, I won’t take it up. There are a few filmmakers who I can never refuse and Nitin is one of them,” says the actor, adding, “I was supposed to lose 24 kilos in a month to be ready for the film but I couldn’t do it. I think Nitin was disappointed, but he motivated me and I lost weight in three months, before the film went on floors.”
While he was working on his physical appearance, Kumud also watched many videos of Charlie Chaplin. The actor says it wasn’t easy to get the act right. He says, “The more I watched, the more challenging it got because there was so much to learn. Then we got Pravin Kamate, who is a well-known Chaplin impersonator to train me. We also worked on choreography and movements to get my body language right.” Kolkata, the city that it is set in, adds to the richness of the narrative. Kolkata has historically been the headquarters for most circuses in India. Now that Ramsingh Charlie has touched the hearts of the audience, its maker Nitin says he has regained the confidence to pen his own stories.
“I had stopped writing and thought I will direct scripts written by others. But now I have decided to write again, and I hope to complete a sports film script by December,” he signs off.
Quick takes with the actor and director
If not an actor, what would you be?
A soldier. I studied in military school and I had also cleared the Combined Defence Services Exam, at the same time, I had applied to drama school.
What are you reading currently?
I am reading a satirical play titled Parchayee.
What have you discovered about yourself during this pandemic?
I am rediscovering patience and learning how to be a better husband and father.
Three things you want to achieve before the end of this year?
I want to lose 10 kilos. I want to read a lot more and act in a play.
What are you working on next?
I am working in a Yashraj film and I start shooting for another web series in October. I will be seen in Sooryavanshi and in the web series titled Tandav.
If not a director, what would you be?
I don’t know, I have never thought about it.
What has the pandemic taught you?
Love yourself more and don’t feel guilty about it.
What are you reading currently?
I did a course in yoga so I have been reading a lot of books on yoga and spirituality.
How did the National Award change things for you?
I think it validated my work. I became a bit more courageous to do my kind of work.
What are the three things you want to accomplish before the end of this year?
I want to complete writing my script, I want to find a producer for my black and white film that’s based on the post-independence era of 1948 and I want to travel to the mountains.
Watch co-producer Sharib Hashmi talk about his journey in Bollywood
Ramsingh Charlie is streaming on Sony LIV