“It takes a lot of effort to become a lookalike — to behave like them, learn their dance steps or perform like them. We have to show the audience their every move and to capture all of this in a song requires a lot of hard work. But people just dismiss us as duplicates. We can’t be 100 per cent like them because of the way God has created us. An original will remain an original and a duplicate will remain a duplicate,” remarks Rais Khan, a lookalike artiste who plays late actor Shashi Kapoor in the documentary film, Hubahu.
Khan is among the many actors who comprise the Bollywood lookalike industry, and now feature in Ramsha Alam’s aptly-titled documentary that was recently screened as part of the Open Frame Film Festival by PSBT at the India International Centre in New Delhi. The film, which also features lookalikes of superstar Rajesh Khanna and Hema Malini, delves into the lives of these artistes giving viewers a peek into their personal and professional lives.
The film has been shot extensively in Bhopal, where Khan hails from and Mumbai, where Mahesh Waghela (who plays Rajesh Khanna) lives. The portions with Seema Motwani (Hema Malini lookalike) were shot in Mumbai and at her home in Ulhasnagar, a prominent locality in Thane district.
Talking about the conceptualisation of the 53-minute film, Alam tells indianexpress.com how during a visit to her paternal house in Aligarh, she witnessed the ‘Bollywood Mini-Star Night’ at the Aligarh Exhibition or a ‘numaish‘ as it’s popularly called.
“I waited with bated breath along with the rest of the crowd (mostly men) to witness my first ‘star-studded’ performance. People went berserk calling out to the three Khans, Big B, Katrina Kaif, Hema Malini, Dharmendra, Rajesh Khanna among many others. One only gets to see such an ensemble of stars from all generations on Bollywood Awards shows. Nobody seemed to notice or care much about the authenticity of these actors or their acts, which struck me as peculiarly wonderful. This bizarre interaction led me to think about fandom and fan culture in small town India. I wanted to explore their duality of existence as they go on to live glamorous lives through their shows while still struggling to create a name for themselves in the industry,” she shares.
Alam, who has studied Mass Communication from Jamia Millia Islamia, adds that the act also reminded her of the ‘Behrupiya’ tradition practiced in small cities and villages across India. “Often, Bollywood actors work hard to develop a unique trademark or mannerisms. The duplicates thrive on these limited sets of mannerisms and are often stuck in a time warp, trying to find different ways to reinvent and portray these actors for their live audiences. I wanted to trace their journey to stardom — how different it is from their ambitions. I also wanted to explore how fandom and fan culture changes across geographies for these stars,” she says.
Produced by Public Service Broadcasting Trust (PSBT) in alliance with Doordarshan, the film beautifully juxtaposes the actors’ stories, showing them all dressed up for shows, while also relaxing at home and spending time with their families.
“I play two characters; the first is a government clerk working at the Bombay Port Trust for 36 years. My second character is that of Rajesh Khanna. I got married in 1998, but I wasn’t Rajesh Khanna then. I had a mustache and my hair was also lengthier (much like Sunny Deol). I started my stage career in 1991; but my wife did not want me to shave off my mustache. She liked me better with it. But if I had to impersonate Kaka, then I’d have to remove it. So I tried to convince her a lot… she was a little upset, but finally agreed. After all, she is my wife!” he smiles.
However, it was not easy for Alam to get the artistes to open up about their lives on camera. It took her and associate director Sahil Ali (who is also the cinematorgrapher of the film) multiple visits to convince the artistes and and their families. “While we chose to interview these artists in their costumes and getup, we wanted their stories to be portrayed in the most authentic way,” she says.
Ask her about the most striking thing she learnt about the artistes in the course of making the film and she comments, “Like any other industry, there is a very prevalent system of hierarchy in place for these lookalike artists, and justifiably so. These artists have worked extremely hard to completely embody their original stars, through voice modulation, physical appearances and constantly rehearsing their signature moves and dance performances. Their commitment to their characters was extremely inspiring. For these lookalikes, their performances were an art form rather than a mere job. The new-age lookalike artists on the hand, seemed a bit more casual and looked at it as a way to pay the bills while they await their chance to get into mainstream cinema.”
Interestingly, Alam notes, these characters are comfortable letting go a part of their identity to play these personas. “Basking in reflected glory seems way better than a life in oblivion for them, she says.