Double tapped for drama: Anupama Chopra on dual roles and Jawan - Hindustan Times
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Double tapped for drama: Anupama Chopra on dual roles and Jawan

Sep 16, 2023 09:39 PM IST

The dual role has a special place in Indian cinema. It’s roaring back with SRK's Jawan. See who else played a dad, a son, even two sons - all in the same film.

How do you like your Shah Rukh Khan?

Jawan features Shah Rukh Khan in three avatars: as an ex-Army man and dad named Vikram; his son Azad, a law-enforcer; and Azad in disguise, conducting missions of vigilante justice. PREMIUM
Jawan features Shah Rukh Khan in three avatars: as an ex-Army man and dad named Vikram; his son Azad, a law-enforcer; and Azad in disguise, conducting missions of vigilante justice.

As a grizzled senior citizen with enough swag to scorch the screen? In this avatar, as the army man Vikram Rathore in Jawan, he delivers the killer line: “Bete ko haath lagane se pehle baap se baat kar (Before laying a hand on the son, have a word with the father)” with such authority and aplomb that it makes one want to whistle.

Or as younger, clean-shaven, more digitally enhanced character, capable of fierce action but also romance?

Jawan delivers both versions and weaves in a third: Azad, the son, in disguise, bald and wrapped in bandages as he carries out missions of vigilante justice.

As I watched Jawan, I wondered: Does this happen in any other cinematic tradition? Is the star-and-audience bond so vital, anywhere else, that actors can play more than one role in the same film and no one questions the logic?

The double role is a firmly established trope in Indian cinema. Jawan director Atlee has used it over and over. In films such as Mersal (2017; Tamil for Zapped), a crime thriller; and Bigil (2019; Tamil for Whistle), a sports-themed drama, Tamil superstar Vijay plays three and two roles respectively. In Mersal, he plays a father and his two sons, who aren’t twins but happen to look exactly the same.

The suspension of disbelief required here is substantial, but as American critic Charles Taylor once said: “If it’s reality you’re looking for, what are you doing at the movies?” Keeping that in mind, here are three of my favourite vintage double roles.

Seeta Aur Geeta (1972): This was the first film I ever saw with an actor in a double role, and I never forgot it. Ramesh Sippy, taking a page out of the Dilip Kumar double-role classic Ram Aur Shyam (1967; itself a remake of the 1964 Telugu film Ramudu Bheemudu, which was loosely based on Alexandre Dumas’s 1844 novel The Corsican Brothers), created an exhilarating entertainer with a stellar cast of Hema Malini, Sanjeev Kumar and Dharmendra, and outstanding music by RD Burman. (The skating song O Saathi Chal was an instant classic.)

Hema Malini was terrific as the docile Seeta and the formidable Geeta, twins separated at birth. My favourite scene is the one in which Geeta, now pretending to be Seeta, is slapped by their awful aunt Kaushalya (played by a formidable Manorama). Geeta isn’t built to be bullied, so she immediately slaps her back. It’s hilarious.

Also note that 51 years ago, two A-list leading men weren’t hesitant to play roles in a film named after the key women. Hema Malini had more screen time and more glory. I seriously doubt this would be possible today.

Hum Dono (1961; Us Two): While several double-role films in India have been about twins separated at birth, this one is based on the premise that two men who have no biological connection can also look exactly the same. Karan Johar’s Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani brought back into the spotlight the film’s iconic song, Abhi Na Jao Chhod Kar (Don’t Leave Me And Go Now), but this film is a trove of great music by Jaidev. And then there’s the dashing Dev Anand, playing an army captain Anand and an army major Verma. Circumstances lead to Anand having to pretend to be Verma. It’s illogical and unforgettable.

Don (1978): We are now waiting for the third iteration of this classic Salim-Javed character (Ranveer Singh has inherited the mantle from Shah Rukh Khan), but my heart lies with the original, Amitabh Bachchan. Don has him playing the suave criminal and the country bumpkin who pretends to be him and finds himself trapped between the cops and the bad guys. For a glimpse of genius, watch him in the song Khaike Pan Banaraswala. Nothing matches the energy and effervescence of his tipsy swivels.

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