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23 September 2015

Double Trouble

Literature and cinema are filled with tales of lookalike twins - so identical in their looks and even their mannerisms that their nearest and dearest cannot tell them apart. They are usually separated at birth and therefore, when one's path crosses the other's (as it has to for the story to move forward), it's cause for merry confusion for themselves and for others. (Of course, sometimes the path crossing is deliberate. Think Prince and the Pauper, where the Prince importunes his doppelganger to take his place while he experiences life outside the confines of the palace.)
Anna Salunke as Sita in Lanka Dahan (1917) (Courtesy: Wikipedia)
The first instance of someone appearing in a double role in Hindi cinema is during the silent era; an actor named Anna Salunke was cast as both Lord Rama and his consort, Sita, in the 1917 film Lanka Dahan. To Salunke also goes the credit of being the first 'heroine' on the Indian screen (he played the role of Rani Taramati in Raja Harishchandra).

From what I can glean, the first double role in the talkies was in Saraswati Cinetone's Awara Shehzada / Aout Ghatakecha Raja (1933). An adaptation of The Prince and the Pauper directed by Master Vitthal, the Hindi version featured Shahu Modak in the titular roles. It is interesting to note that Master Vitthal had himself played a double role a few years earlier in the silent film, Prisoner of Love (1927). 
Patience Cooper (Courtesy: Wikipedia)
The first ever double role played by an actress (or female actor, as the politically correct term is, today) was by an Anglo-Indian called Patience Cooper; she played twin sisters in Patni Pratap (1923).

Whilst idly ruminating on the frequency with which 'twins' or doppelgangers have appeared in our films, I realised that I liked some of these films and roles very much indeed. Since I'm always on the lookout for new themes, I thought, 'Why not make a list of some memorable double roles in Hindi cinema?' 

Which was all very well, but which ones? For instance, Amitabh made a habit of double roles; it seemed like directors thought, Achcha, we've signed him on for this exorbitant rate; let's paisa-vasoolify it and give the audiences two of him, and hopefully, we'll get twice as much returns on our investment!' I don't know of any other actor in Hindi films who's done so many double roles in his career - Kasme Vaade, Don, Desh Premee, Aakhri Rasta, Adalat, The Great Gambler, Satte pe Satta, etc. I could probably make an 'Amitabh in Ten Double Roles' post.

Instead, I decided to stick to one film per actor/actress. Whilst writing down a list of memorable double roles in Hindi cinema, I realised that there are many sub-categories to this genre - the double roles could be characters who are identical twins (these are the most common kind), they could be fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, or reincarnations of an earlier character (somewhat less common, but still prevalent), or they could be your plain garden-variety doppelgangers. This last sub-species is very rare; it is as if our film-makers (who otherwise defy logic) cannot depend on their audience suspending their disbelief to that extent.  

a) The Doppelganger
There is no blood relation between the two lookalike men or women. They are not twins, not even siblings,  and their resemblance to each other is just a coincidence. Probably, the old myth that each person has seven other people in this world who supposedly resemble him or her, is the premise that is used in these films.

1. Dev Anand - Hum Dono (1961)
Two men, unrelated to each other, who meet under unexpected circumstances, Dev Anand's Major Verma and Captain Anand were one of the more intelligently scripted lookalikes in Hindi cinema. They may have looked alike - one's moustache didn't prevent them or others from noticing their marked resemblance to each other -  but their personalities were completely different. Set during the time of the Great War, the film follows one man as he is sucked into a masquerade not of his own making. Well-etched characterisations, a believable plot line, and some excellent acting from the leading man made this a film that still remains fresh upon repeated viewing.  

2. Amitabh Bachchan - Don (1978)
If Hum Dono's Captain Anand is forced by circumstances (and his pledged word) to take Major Verma's place, here, a poor street performer Vijay (Amitabh Bachan) is pressured into taking the place of a dead criminal so the police can capture the titular Don (also Amitabh Bachan), and the rest of the gang. He has the responsibility of two young children whom he's quasi-adopted, and the Inspector (Iftekhar) offers to pay for their schooling if Vijay agrees to the charade. And so, a simple village bumpkin is trained to take the place of an urban, sophisticated criminal, a man who's on Interpol's most wanted list, and is being chased by the police of 12 countries. What happens when the man who put the doppelganger in place, and is the only person who knows of the switch, is himself injured? And the new 'Don' is being chased by both the police and his own gang members?

3. Vyjayanthimala - Madhumati (1958)
Why should it only be men who are lookalikes? Here, we have a female doppelganger, someone who looks so alike a woman who was driven to her death that even the latter's grief-stricken lover, Anand (Dilip Kumar), is misled at first. As Madhumati and Madhavi, Vyjayanthimala brought in subtle differences to shade the disparate characters of a tribal girl and her urban lookalike. Once again, there are no ties of blood here to explain the resemblance between the two. Once he realises the truth, Anand has a brilliant idea - why not use Madhavi to exhort the truth from Rana Ugranarayan (Pran)? So a plan is set in motion, only Madhumati's revengeful spirit has other ideas. Madhumati also brought in another sub-category - that of reincarnation. Both Anand and Madhumati are reincarnated as Devendra and Radha. However, since the film depended not on reincarnation, but one person taking the place of another, well, here it goes.

b) Identical Twins /Siblings Separated at Birth
As I said before, this is the most popular way to introduce a double role in a film. Identical twins, separated at birth or slightly after, one of them raised by the actual parents, the other either kidnapped for revenge, or adopted after having been separated from the family... In this category, neither twin is bad, just slightly different. 

4. Dilip Kumar - Ram aur Shyam (1967)
Probably the first film in Hindi to use the plot point of identical twins where one is flamboyant and gutsy, while the other is meek and suffers injustice in silence, Ram aur Shyam paved the way for many other films to follow in its wake. Dilip Kumar did a fabulous job as the street-smart villager Shyam, who quite unexpectedly finds himself in the palatial mansion of his meek twin brother, Ram. Before he's exposed as a fraud, he has some lessons to teach the arch villain, Ram's oppressive brother-in-law, Gajendra (Pran). Heroines Waheeda Rehman and Mumtaz had very little to do, but they provided enough eye candy to keep everyone happy. 

4b. Hema - Seeta aur Geeta (1972)
Same wine, different bottle. In this remake of Ram aur Shyam, Hema Malini took Dilip Kumar's place as the gutsy Geeta, a street performer, and the meek, docile Seeta who, after the death of her parents, is left in the care of her timid uncle (Satyen Kapoo) and her harridan of an aunt (Manorama). This film was totally paisa-vasool, and Hema channelled the free-spirited Geeta, making her one of the most enduring characters in Hindi cinema. Like her Basanti earlier, Geeta's hail-fellow-well-met personality seems to be so in sync with Hema's own don't-care-a-damn attitude. Like Dilip Kumar before her, Hema imbued both her characters with enough personality differences to make us believe, and root for, the meeker of the two just as much as we applauded the independence and courage of the other twin. 

Both films were remade later - Anil Kapoor channelling Dilip Kumar in Kishen Kanhaiyya, while Sri Devi cheerfully reprised Hema's twin roles as Anju and Manju in Chaalbaaz.

5. Sanjeev Kumar and Deven Verma - Angoor (1982) 
Trust Gulzar to set the whole 'identical twins separated at birth' trope on its head. He had the full support of William Shakespeare, himself no mean masala story teller, with which to do so. So he picks up the Bard's Comedy of Errors, introduces us to not one, but two pairs of identical twins, and separates one of each pair, thus confounding us, and everyone else, with two identical master-servant pairs.  So while the two masters (Sanjeev Kumar) are irritated with everyone confusing them for their unknown twin, the two servants (Deven Verma) bear the brunt of not only not knowing who their original master is, but also of being mistaken for their twin. The parody peaks during the post-climax scene where both Ashoks are wondering at their twinhood: Tumhare daaye kandhe pe til hai? Nahin toh... Mere bhi nahin hai! Phir toh hum dono bhai huye... thus mocking the very trope (of separated siblings) that it is playing off!    

6. Ashok Kumar - Afsana (1951)
Unlike the other three films that have found mention in this category, Ashok Kumar's Ratan and Chaman in Afsana are not a part of a comedy. Here, they know they have twin brothers, having lived and played with each other for a while before a chance occurrence in a mela separate them from each other. They grow up and while one of them is a judge, the other turns fugitive in a bid to escape a murder charge. Running into each other as adults (and not remembering / guessing they are brothers), the fugitive plays a deadly game - he drugs his brother and takes his place. In a curious turn of fate, he is involved in an accident, presumed dead, and his brother is forced to take his place. Talk about piling confusion upon confusion! Ashok Kumar always played grey characters very well, and I definitely preferred them to the benevolent grandfather roles that I first saw him in. This particular double role treads the line between this category and the next one.

c) Siblings Separated / Not Separated at Birth; One Bad/ Evil, One Not
This is a spin off from the previous category. Here, they are still siblings, if not identical twins. And whether they are separated from each other or not, one sibling is bad, while the other is good. So  we have two films in which the separated siblings only meet after they are grown up, and two in which they are brought up together and know each other for who they are. Two of the four pairs involve identical twins - one pair separated at birth, the other pair brought up together; the other two pairs involve siblings, one pair separated at birth, the other pair brought up together.

7. Shammi Kapoor - China Town (1962)
Most likely the inspiration for Don, China Town gave us two Shammi Kapoors for the price of one. Michael, the handsome, opium-addicted gangster in Calcutta's China Town, and Shekhar, a curly-haired singer who is awaiting his big break. When the dreaded gangster is injured in an accident involving the police and is in police custody, Shekhar is importuned by the police inspector (Kanu Roy) to infiltrate the gang and take Mike's place. He will be the police mole. It is then that (surprisingly for a Hindi movie) that Shekhar is told by his mother that Mike is his twin brother, Shankar. Shammi Kapoor invested his twin roles with enough differences to make us believe they were two men - voices carefully modulated, mannerisms calculatedly different, dialogues delivered differently; while Mike was arrogant and loutish, Shekhar is cheery and cocksure.

8. Nargis - Anhonee (1952)
After Awara, Khwaja Ahmed Abbas was apparently requested by Nargis to write a significant role for her in his next film. The result was Anhonee, where Nargis played half-sisters Roop and Mohini. While the nature vs. nurture debate from Awara continues here as well, the twist in the tale was that it was the illegitimate daughter Roop who was being brought up by her father, and is therefore heir to his estate, while the legitimate daughter is trapped in a kotha until she's recognised by the hero and brought back to her rightful place. Then, sibling rivalry rears its head, and Mohini, resentful of her half-sister for taking over what she considers her place in society, and bitter because Raj loves Roop and not her, manipulates events so that it destroys her innocent, loving, half-sibling. A psychological drama that plays out to an unfortunately predictable end, Anhonee is the darkest of all the movies listed here.
9. Raakhee - Sharmilee (1971)
This film follows the usual pattern of a meek, docile twin, and her flamboyant, flighty sister. Where it diverges from the usual is that they are brought up together, and there is real love between the sisters - well, most of the time. Also unusual is that everyone prefers the outgoing, extroverted twin sister Kamini, while Kanchan is more than happy to remain in the background. She is not ill-treated as much as overlooked, even by the suitors who come to 'see' her and then fall in love with her gregarious twin. Much of this is her own fault as she comes across as excruciatingly shy. As the film progresses, she begins to blossom, and though still shy, is at least able to hold her own. Kamini, too, is not completely evil as much as she is totally self-seeking, and completely thoughtless as to the consequences of her actions. And finally, when her experiences have hardened her, she is willing to sacrifice anything or anyone in order to survive. By then, she has stopped differentiating between right and wrong. Raakhee infuses both her characters with that dollop of realism and it is not just her costumes and hairstyles that mark the differences - as Kamini, she is sexy and confident. As Kanchan, she is shy and innocent (and if I wanted to smack her a couple of times because she mopes around like a wet dish cloth, that is my issue not hers). Both characters show their disparate characteristics not just in the dialogues but in looks and actions, making it utterly believable that they are, in fact, two separate beings.

10. Paresh Rawal - Andaz Apna Apna (1994)
I couldn't not list this one! Andaz Apna Apna  is one of my favourite comedies, one of the few which doesn't dissolve into melodrama in the second half. While I like every character in this film from 'Teelu' to 'khandaani chor' Crime Master Gogo, from 'Raabert' and Bhalla to Bankelal Bhopali, there is special love reserved for the crotchety industrialist Ram Gopal Bajaj and his scheming brother Teja, or Shyam Gopal Bajaj, who's always building castles in the air. As 'Teja', Paresh Rawal got to mouth such lines as 'Omelet ka raja, bread ka badshah, Bajaj! Hamara Bajaj!' as he narrates his ambition of opening a poultry farm with his brother's savings. Or even 'Kiske mama ki gun?' in response to 'Raabert's' 'Sir, yeh Vasco de Gama ke gun hai.'  As the exasperated put-upon businessman who eventually cottons on to Amar-Prem's plan of saving everyone, Ram Gopal Bajaj deadpans 'Main Teja hoon, aur mera naam bhi Teja hai' in a bid to dupe Crime Master Gogo. In the end, hilarity ensues as he insists that he is Teja -'...kyunki mark idhar hai!'

d) Parent-Child 
What's with fathers and mothers cloning themselves as their children? There are a plethora of films out there where the sons, missing or otherwise, look exactly like their fathers, and daughters (with their mothers usually dead) looking exactly like their mothers.  As with double roles, this category can also be populated by Amitabh Bachchan - he appears to have played his own father many a time. However, like the 'reincarnation lookalike' category, this sub-section too appears to have fallen into the abyss of long-forgotten plot elements. The last time I saw one of these was in one of Amitabh Bachchan's forgettable movies in the late 90s. The only issue with these sort of roles is that very rarely do you get a balance between the two, the story favouring one or the other. In 'new' films, the one film I can remember where both father and son had an equally important role was that of Amitabh Bachchan in Aakhri Raasta.

11. Suchitra Sen - Mamta (1966)
The self-explanatory title tells you the story is about the mother, Devyani, who is forced into a kotha by circumstances. She sacrifices her life to save her daughter's, educating her far away from kotha's environs, and keeping her away from her disreputable father. Forced to marry another before the return of the man she loves, she is nevertheless strong enough to dissuade her lover from marrying her when he returns - it will spoil his future. She is also strong enough to give up her daughter, letting the latter think that she is dead, rather than have her past despoil her daughter's future. Suchitra Sen plays both mother and daughter, and does a good job of both - the famous tawaif Panna Bai, and her foreign-educated lawyer daughter, Suparna. 

11b. Sharmila Tagore - Mausam (1975)
Another mother-daughter dual role; another Bengali actress playing both characters. Here, the mother is abandoned by her lover, but she too has a daughter, and like in Mamta, the child is not her lover's. The similarities end here; unlike Mamta, it is the daughter's story that takes precedence here, and while Mamta's Devyani is a chaste tawaif, Kajri in Mausam  is a foul-mouthed, drinking-smoking prostitute. While Devyani sends Manish away, fearing that her ill-repute will spoil his honour, Kajri falls in love with her older benefactor, not knowing of his relationship with her mother. While she was suitably restrained as Chanda, Sharmila played her Kajri with abandon, fitting into the skin of the character so well that she walked away with a well-deserved National Award for her portrayal.

Now comes a category that stands completely unique:
e) A man pretending to be his own identical twin brother 

12. Amol Palekar - Golmaal (1979)
Faced with an irascible boss, Bhavani Shankar  (Utpal Dutt), who apparently doesn't like his employees liking sports or movies or music, Ramprasad Dashrathprasad Sharma is forced to resort to subterfuge not only to be hired, but to also compound that lie when said boss catches him at a hockey match. When he asks a friend (Deven Verma as himself) for help to retain his much-needed job, the actor tells him to pretend to be twins. Enter Lakshmanprasad Dashrathprasad Sharma, Ram's flamboyant bell-bottom wearing, smoking, sports-films-music loving clean-shaven twin brother. Unfortunately for Ram, Bhavani Shankar, in a bid to make amends for falsely accusing his hardworking employee, decides to hire the feckless Lakshman as his daughter's music tutor. Before he knows it, Ram is caught in lie after lie, eventually having to 'hire' a mother for him and his sister and his imaginary sibling, and the mother, a socialite (Dina Pathak), having to pretend to be her own twin as well, compounding the confusion. In Hrishikesh Mukherjee's 'golmaal' however, all's well that ends well.

12b. Nargis - Raat aur Din (1967)
This is an unusual category; a sub-sect of the previous one; only here, Nargis is not pretending to be someone else — she actually becomes the other person. She is both shy, demure Baruna and the wild, flirtatious, drinking-smoking Peggy. It is not just her clothes, hair, persona that undergoes a change; one can see Nargis physically turning from one to the other, and back again, the change visible in her eyes, and her expressions. As a person suffering from Multiple Personality Disorder (or Hindi films' version of the same), Nargis invested her role as Baruna with a poignancy that contrasted well with her vivacity as Peggy. Her swansong, Peggy/Baruna won for Nargis the newly constituted 'Urvashi Award for Best Actress' at the National Awards. 

So, here are my 15 picks from different categories. What are yours? Which filmi twins do you remember most fondly? Why?

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