Two to Dishoom: double roles in Bollywood

For a long time, the double role formula seemed to have vanished from our movie duniya until Om Shanti Om.Jerry Pinto writes on double roles that were.

entertainment Updated: Nov 27, 2007 12:17 IST
Jerry Pinto
Jerry Pinto
Hindustan Times

For a long time, the double role phenomenon seemed to have vanished from our movie duniya. Till OSO came along, and the hero was reborn as himself-as was his heroine. Okay, so they were not all in the same frame at the same time-tricks we have seen plenty of in the past. But there is still something eerily exciting about two-of-a-kind. Jerry Pinto gets nostalgic about double roles that were.

Picture this. You're walking down the street. In front of you, you turn up. Someone who is eerily similar, who looks like he might be your twin. If that sends a shiver down your spine, know that it might happen.

Many belief systems maintain that there is a doppelganger out there, someone who looks exactly like you. Hindi commercial cinema has loved the idea and milked it for everything it had. From the hilarious - Gulzar's Angoor, for instance, was based on Shakespeare's Comedy of Errors and brought two Sanjeev Kumars and two Deven Vermas to the screen - to the tragic, double roles have seen it all.

And so when twins are born, you know where things are headed. You know that they might be separated, you know that one will be a shy wallflower and the other will be raring to go (Seeta aur Geeta); if one of them is a fun-loving actor, the other will be a grim police inspector (Mahaan).

<b1>Of course, if you've got Amitabh Bachchan in there, good golly, he might as well put on a silvery wig and play the father of the actor and the cop. Because it is a measure of how much we would like to see the actor, how much we can take of him or her, a double role is always a measure of the status of the star.

It's different
On the eve of the release of Lal Badshah, I asked Mr B if he agreed. He didn't. "I've never thought about it in that way As far as I'm concerned it seems like an interesting visual exercise. And it provides a challenge for the actor. Whether the audience sees it that way is a different matter."

Dev Anand, who brought two very different versions of himself to the screen in Hum Dono, however, felt differently. He agreed that it was a challenge, "because you are offered a double role only when you are a star. And you are a star in Indian cinema only when you are identifiable, you are associated with a certain style. You have to learn how to play around within the parameters of audience expectation."

And so it is Amitabh Bachchan who has probably done the largest number of double roles in the industry. He has Bande Haath, Don, The Great Gambler, Satte pe Satta, Lal Badshah, Desh Premee, Aakhri Raasta, Andha Kanoon, Kasme Vaade, Bemisal, Adalat, Toofan, Sooryavansham, Bade Miyan, Chhote Miyan, Hum Kaun Hai? and of course Mahaan, where he had a triple role.

The only other actor to be so honoured, was Dilip Kumar who played three roles in Bairaag. (Both films bombed at the box office.) Of course, the award for the greatest number of roles played in a single film must go to Sanjeev Kumar who did nine in Naya Din Nayi Raat.

Double dhamaka
There are several delights for the audience in watching a film with a double role. One of the biggest is that if you are one of those who come to see your favourite, say, Kajol in Kuch Khatti Kuch Meethi or in Dushman, you never have to take your eyes off her. The double role is therefore, for the producer, the easiest way of getting the biggest bang out of your buck. And when you stick a huge star into your budget, the temptation to create a double role must be enormous.

Another of the joys is watching for how it is done. "

Dekh, dekh, extra se gale laga raha hai

," someone will chortle as two Amitabhs hug. The reunion scene, the scene where you see one version standing next to the other were always, in the old days, bifurcated by something like a pillar or a tree. This made it possible to shoot on either side, repeating the actor.

The third joy? Working it out.

Most of the time, there's a family thing. Lady doctor has given away one of the children. But in two films, the resemblance was coincidental and had nothing to do with genetics.

Exit one, enter another
Death claims version one and version two turns up from nowhere. You remember them? The first was Kasme Vaade. The second was Kaho Naa Pyaar Hai, in which Hrithik Roshan made his debut.

Now, we hear that Hrithik Roshan is about to do his second double role. He will play the villain and the hero in Krishh 3. Perhaps he should think about that one again. And surely Bipasha Basu should think about whether she has a role in the first place, before she agrees for the double role (remember Dhoom 2 and the infamous double role whose sole purpose was the bikini shot?)

Double roles have not always worked. As any of the stars will tell you, they take a lot more time, because there's a lot more shooting, a lot more work at continuity and getting everything right even in the days of photoshop, and at the end of it, perhaps too much of a good thing is not always as good for the box office.

First Published: Nov 26, 2007 17:27 IST