With half a dozen films like SRK’s Fan, Salman Khan’s Prem Ratan Dhan Payo, Kangana Ranaut’s Tanu Weds Manu Returns, Mastizaade with actors playing a double role, Screen explores why more is back in vogue.
There were some extraordinary scenes in ‘Dhoom 3’ where Sahir and Samar (both Aamir Khan) touch, hug each other and perform stunts together like flying side by side on the BMW bikes.
Director Vijay Krishna Acharya and the team of a Dhoom 3 cleverly created a unique togetherness of the twins on screen; something that was not seen before. The film shattered the illusion that when an actor plays a double role they would scarcely be seen together in the same frame: All thanks to advanced technology.
However the lack of technology was hardly a deterrent for film-makers who wanted to maximise on star presence. For instance, Anhonee, starring Nargis Dutt dates back to as long ago as1952! There were several others like Ram Aur Shyam, Seeta Aur Geeta, Don (1978), Satte Pe Satta to name some that impressed the audience .
However as films evolved and makers abadoned the formula, double roles were seen as indulgent except for films in South India, especially Tamil movies that continued with the tradition. And before you knew it, the trend was back in Hindi films too, what with remakes of older films catching on.
Recent examples like Alone, Dhoom 3, Happy New Year, Om Shanti Om, Happy Ending stand testimony to their rise. That technology has made shooting such films easier, only helps. “When you see two similar looking people touching, hugging like Samar and Sahir, you are forced to believe that there are two Aamirs in the film.
I think we managed to achieve that with Dhoom 3 by the research we did and the special camera rig used to create the illusion. We have to raise the bar by doing something new when an actor plays a double role.
Today there is so much a film-maker can play around with while portraying twins because of advanced technologies,” says Acharya. While special effects definitely stun viewers, that is not all that matters. Agrees Aanand Rai, “Film-makers have made such films without special effects.
Take the case of Angoor (1982) it was brilliant by all standards and had great actors like Sanjeev Kumar, Deven Varma and a legend like Gulzar dealing with the material. No advanced technologies were deployed, only a thought, concept and a story hold the film.
It’s so beautiful that at one point you don’t realise it’s the same person essaying a double role.Whether the actor plays siblings, parent and child, or two different characters, it hardly matters, it’s the story that counts.” Bollywood’s fascination for actors playing double roles either as identical twins, siblings, father-son or mother and daughter is certainly not new.
The idea goes back to the early 50s when Nargis played a double role as two sisters, a courtesan and an heiress in the 1952 Anhonee, which was the first time that an actor was cast in a double role in a Hindi film.
Several other films like Hum Dono (1961) where Dev Anand played a lookalike, China Town (1962) which essayed Shammi Kapoor in a double role, that of separated brothers; a gangster and a singer. Ram Aur Shyam (1967) where Dilip Kumar played twins separated at birth and An Evening in Paris (1967) in which Sharmila Tagore also played twins.
It is however, Amitabh Bachchan who is best remembered for playing double roles —Bachchan is perhaps the only actor who has played double roles in over 10 films! This includes the iconic Don, Satte Pe Satta, Desh Premee, Aakhree Raasta etc. Of course big story Double
this has a lot to do with Bachchan’s popularity, for as Acharya explains, that it is big stars who usually play a double role. “For an Indian audience a double role promises twice the entertainment with somebody they enjoy watching on screen,” states the film-maker.
Other stars who have played double roles in few films include Shah Rukh Khan and Akshay Kumar. Khan acted in Duplicate, Karan Arjun, Om Shanti Om, Don, and the upcoming Fan also stars him in a dual role. Akshay Kumar has also multiplied himself in films like Aflatoon, Khiladi 420, 8X10 Tasweer and Rowdy Rathore. Govinda also created double trouble in Jaan Se Pyara, Aankhen, Bade Miyan Chote Miyan etc. Firebrand Kajol also played a twin in both Kuch Khatti Kuch Meethi and Dushman. It was a narrative tool commonly used to depict themes like reincarnation, morality, the good and the evil.
However, more often than not films with actors playing twins were perfectly engineered to win the audience with the separated at birth and then found later formula, which became the cause of confusion, and the premise used to tickle the audience’s funny bone. In fact clones were often a sure shot ticket to success and films like Ram Aur Shyam, Seeta Aur Geeta, Chaalbaaz and several others proved that.
Film-makers have made films with actors playing double roles without using advanced technology. Angoor (1982) was so magical that at one point you don’t even realise it’s the same person playing a double role. And there were no techniques used — Aanand Rai, producer-director.
This oft-repeated premise has now undergone a slight change and clones are not conventionally lost at birth like shown in Dhoom 3 and Alone, and when the characters are not related at all as the blockbusters Don, Satte Pe Satta and more recently, Rowdy Rathore showed.
This will also be seen in the upcoming Fan which is about a Shah Rukh Khan’s fan who also happens to be his lookalike! “If you go back to Angoor or Seeta Aur Geeta, it is more about the chaos around the lookalikes because that created so much drama, but gradually double roles veered from the conventional path of the actors being related and became more intriguing.
Now clones in a film are used only if the story requires it. In Tanu Weds Manu Returns there just happen to be lookalikes, and it is not added merely for fun,” says Himanshu Sharma the writer of the sequel. Agrees writer-director Milap Zaveri who is helming the upcoming Mastizaade which has Sunny Leone playing twins with drastically different personalities. “No one does the lost and found formula any more. I think the last movie in which it was done successfully was the Salman Khan starrer Judwa,” said Zaveri.
“Story ideas are definitely changing with time. Initially the point of using a double role was to add to the comic element of the film, but today plots vary drastically from each other. A Humshakalswas as different as it can get from Dhoom 3 and in Prem Ratan Dhan Payo, which is currently on the floors, the double role currently enhances the film’s plot,” added Distributor and Exhibitor Akshaye Rathi.
While double roles are now used differently and serve different roles in films, what has remained constant is the stark contrast in personalities of the characters. Be it twins, brothers, father and son, (Amitabh Bachchan in Aakhree Raasta) or mother and daughter (Suchitra Sen in Mamta) a Ram Aur Shyam where one brother is docile and the other feisty, or Don where one is a powerful criminal mastermind and the other, a simpleton.
Shah Rukh Khan played both a bubbly chef and a ruthless criminal in Duplicate, or more recently Aamir Khan’s contrasting personalities in Dhoom 3, even the upcoming Tanu Weds Manu Returns will have Kangana Ranaut playing cgaracters which are poles apart. Of course this is primarily done because it gives an actor a platform to display his versatility. ” If I have two Sunnys in a film and both play similar characters, people will wonder what was the need of a double role. The idea is to do something different with the two of them,” says Zaveri.
“There are no rules as such, but you try to make a film with a double role, first of all, to see two different characters played by the same actor like in Seeta Aur Geeta, one character played by Hema Malini was bold while the other one was timid. In fact double roles are an interesting concept, but
are also a trap. Some things will be very predictable so as a film-maker, it is very important to navigate your two characters differently.
Ram Aur Shyam was made five years before I made Seeta Aur Geeta, to give the story a different colour, I made the protagonist a female; It should not be predictable,” states film-maker Ramesh Sippy. According to him a father and son played by the same actor also makes interesting concepts like Hrithik Roshan did in Krrish. Confirms Acharya,”Hrithik as the father took the cake for me. The double role came as a surprise and became very interesting,” he says.
That the concept is popular even today was evident in the remarkable collections of Rowdy Rathore (crossed the 100 crore mark) and Dhoom 3 fared stupendously at the box-office. Add to it, the fact that almost half a dozen releases this year feature actors playing double roles. Yet if you take the number of films being made in Bollywood and compare it to the number of films with actors playing double roles, you can count them on your fingertips.
“It is not that such films are becoming a trend, they were always there, but today only if the story requires, you will have an actor playing a double role. You first finalise a story and then decide if there is space for a double role,” explains Bhushan Patel who directed Alone.
Concedes Rathi stating that if a film-maker wants to make a film with double roles today, using advanced technologies is a must to make the movie outstanding, but that is expensive.”Not everyone may have the backing of a Yash Raj Studio to fly a camera and a team of operators from abroad like they did for Dhoom 3. The expenses are so exorbitant that all film-makers cannot use it and that is one of the reasons not too many films are made with double roles.”
Innovative story ideas, visual brilliance on screen and two Shah Rukh Khans, or two Salman Khans entertaining the audience could certainly make for a captivating