While Aamir Khan’s dual act in Dhoom 3 reprised the traditional plot, Sajid Khan’s Humshakals seems like an amplified version of Gulzar’s Angoor or its original, Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors. And it makes us realise that when it comes to ‘buy one, get one free’ movies, our filmmakers have structured their scripts around a fixed set of premises.

Saif Ali Khan in Humshakals

Saif Ali Khan in Humshakals

Watching promos of Saif Ali Khan, Riteish Deshmukh and Ram Kapoor play triple roles in Sajid Khan’s forthcoming comedy, Humshakals, transported me back to childhood days when double roles were a great source of excitement, thrill and curiosity. Decades ago, from the 70s to 90s, the dual-role was such a money-minting tool that it became a genre in itself, unlike in Hollywood. But with the winds of the new millennium blowing east wards, double roles made way for newer ideas and stories. Once again though, with the recently released Dhoom 3 and yet-to-hit-the-screen Humshakals, Happy New Year, Prem Ratan Dhan Pao and No Entry 2, it looks like this genre is heading back to the bada parda.

Here’s a quick look at the premises around which double, triple and multiple role movies were created.

The Comic Act

When you think of comedy and a double-role in the same film, Gulzar’s Angoor, an adaptation of Shakespeare’s play ‘Comedy of Errors’ instantly comes to your head. Two sets of Sanjeev Kumar and Deven Varma generated so much chaos and comedy that the film has become an eternal classic when it comes to movies with humour and dual-roles. But there have been umpteen films that have had double-role plots, running alongside the main story, to make the audience chuckle and laugh. And why not! Originally, apart from a cost-cutting strategy, the intent of double roles was to add hilarity to a story. For the first time in Hollywood, in 1921, legendary comedian Buster Keaton played multiple avatars in The Playhouse purely to amuse his fans. Likewise in Hindi cinema, around the 70s, the double-role model moved beyond the domain of drama and mystery. Often the hero’s sidekick portrayed double or multiple characters to lighten the mood of the movie. Mehmood acted as the son, father and grandfather in Humjoli and I.S. Johar played three roles in Johny Mera Naam, remember? And within no time film stories were infested with identical twins or same-looking parent and child or lookalikes. But one name that often indulged in comical dual acts was Kader Khan, in films like Umar 55 ki Dil Bachpan Ka, Main Khiladi Tu Anari, Pehla Pehla Pyaar, Hum and The Don. Then there was Paresh Rawal as the good brother and bad brother in the 90s cult classic Andaz Apna Apna. Govinda and Amitabh Bachchan played two roles to make people laugh in Bade Miyan Chote Miyan. And the latest to join the lot are Saif, Ritesh and Ram in Humshakals.

Sanjeev Kumar in Angoor

Sanjeev Kumar in Angoor

The Identical Twin

A pair of twin brothers or sisters, who look alike but are different in conduct and get separated at birth, has been a hit plot when it comes to double-role movies. There are two reasons. One, it’s logically and biologically possible to show one person have an identical twin. Two, it’s a great way for an actor to show-off his/her versatility. As a result there have been several small and big actors who played diametrically opposite twins in films like Ram Aur Shyam, Seeta Aur Geeta, Chaalbaaz, Kishen Kanhaiya, Judwaa, Kaminey and Chandni Chowk to China. It is one plot that has been repeated decade after decade and never lost its charm, most times. However every once in a while some writer/director experimented with the kahani and gave it a twist. For instance Rakhee played a shy Kanchan and a smart Kamini in Sharmilee, but the story didn’t repeat the ‘brave one saving the timid’ saga. Similarly in An Evening in Paris, the bold Sharmila Tagore replaces the coy twin to aid the villain’s plan. In Do Kaaliyan (or years later, Kuch Khatti Kuch Meethi), the diametrically opposite twins hatch a plan to reunite their estranged parents. And most recently, in Dhoom 3 the shrewd Aamir enrolls the shy Aamir to avenge their father’s death.

The Parent Child trap

There have been movies where the same actor has played the father/mother and son/daughter. Again, it’s a plot that doesn’t require suspension of disbelief and is a clever way to cut costs and attract fans to the cinema halls. Some famous actors and their popular films with such dual roles are Sharmila Tagore in Aradhana and Mausam, Amitabh Bachchan in Aakhree Raasta, Madhuri Dixit in Sangeet, Sridevi in Lamhe and Khuda Gawah, and Hrithik Roshan in the Krrish series.

Akshay Kumar in Rowdy Rathore

Akshay Kumar in Rowdy Rathore

The Rebirth

When filmmakers ran out of all the logical expositions behind two identical characters, they came up with stories about punar janam (rebirth). It’s one concept that’s been widely used in Hindi cinema. And being a land that firmly believes in ‘karma’ and ‘destiny’, plots woven around reincarnation were easily accepted by the audience. Most often the reason shown for rebirth was either love or revenge. From Bharat Bhushan (Phagun), Madhubala (Phagun), Vyjanthimala (Madhumati), Nutan (Milan) and Rishi Kapoor (Karz) to Shahrukh Khan (Karan Arjun), Saif Ali Khan (Hameshaa), Deepika Padukone (Om Shanti Om) and Karisma Kapoor (Dangerous Ishq), they have all done films about reincarnation.

The Doppelganger

Old wives’ tale is that there are seven people on planet Earth that look alike. Whether the saying is a myth or reality, we don’t know, but for Hindi filmmakers it certainly stands true. Often lookalikes were introduced in a plot for intrigue and mystery. For those unaware, the first popular Hindi film in which an actor played a double-role- Ashok Kumar in Kismet in 1943 – was a murder drama. There have been many other films like Hum Dono, Sachaa Jhutha, Satte Pe Satta, Bol Radha Bol, Aflatoon, Kaho Na Pyaar Hai, Rowdy Rathore, etc. that involved lookalikes in the plot. However, sometimes a single actor played multiple characters that weren’t related to each other, for novelty. Sanjeev Kumar played nine diverse roles in Naya Din Nai Raat, meanwhile Priyanka Chopra played 12 different avatars, inspired by the zodiac signs, in What’s Your Rashee?

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1917 – Lanka Dahan is the first Indian film, a silent one, which had an actor (Anna Salunke) play a double-role

1932 – Awara Shahzada is the first Indian talkie film that had an actor (Shahu Modak) play a double-role

1943 – Kismet is the first popular Hindi film in which Ashok Kumar plays a dual-role


– By Rachana Parekh


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