70s Doubles or How to Tackle Impostors!

The whole Kalicharan set of references in one of the other threads prompted this comment but as usual it got too long and I thought that it might as well get its own thread!

watch below around the 2.07.30 mark

On the question of Kalicharan notice how a certain kind of ‘double’ keeps popping up in Hindi cinema. The pre-70s Bombay films usually had the uninteresting doubles. Sometimes you’d see the ‘Neverland’ princely setting with someone substituting for the heir or the ruler. This was the Hollywood trope, the adventure story married to a bit of exotica. The Prisoner of Zenda deal. You had either some ‘mythic’ place in Eastern Europe or else in India or some such thing. Or the bourgeois manifestation of the same in for example Dev Anand’s Hum Dono. No exotica here but the same sort of substitution nonetheless. Of course there were films where there wasn’t any substitution or where it took place for parts of the narrative and was based on misunderstanding rather than an actual plot or conspiracy. Ram aur Shyam comes to mind. This entire dynamic leads to lot of engaging, enjoyable narratives but not much more than this.

But something different and more politically charged (as always!) happens in the 70s. I am not interested here in the usual and stale doppelganger debates. The whole psychoanalytic school of thought on what such doubles mean and much more on the precise coding in these 70s instances. Of which Kalicharan is an example, the greatest one is of course Don, but there are other Bachchan films and lesser 70s works along the same lines.

Essentially what happens here is that quite often the two halves of the double are not really biologically connected in any sense. There is no lost and found formula (there are some of those things as well but I am not principally interested in them here). What you get really is an extreme disparity between the two physical ‘copies’ in terms of their class and social coding and/or the politics implicated in each sense. So for example in Don there is the very refined, ‘upper class’ , urban villain and on the other hand the very rustic, ‘rude’ (I mean this word in a somewhat archaic sense which is to say he completely lacks a certain gentility), ‘bumpkin’ if you will. Two orders of Indian representation therefore collide. And note how it often comes down to the rooted, authentic (by this definition) Indian to save the day. And so when the substitution plot makes another appearance it is the ‘unrefined’, even savage type who has to be domesticated to perform the task at hand. A move which is incidentally more ambiguous than it might seem. Because it is never clear whether what the rustic type learns in this sense can ever be unlearned. Usually these films had a fake, comedic moment at the end where the now ‘gentrified’ hero would return to his older self one last time. But it always came across as a joke. Never entirely plausible. The solution always hinted at was that (and as in Don) the final character who would survive from that double would be neither the villain Don nor Vijay but in a sense Vijay as the space between the two. Or Vijay-Don as a hyphenated identity. In learning the urban the older rural or ‘lowbrow’ ways are lost forever. Again in Kalicharan the ‘impostor’ finally accepts the family as his own, he can never return to his former world.

On the one hand therefore a certain non-urban India was idealized. On the other hand there was also the admission that it was too late to be just that and a compromise was necessary. Because to operate in these new national urban spaces one needed to be learn these ways. Mother India no more!

But all of this is also laced with a bourgeois discourse. For it isn’t just that the rural gets absorbed by the urban or the ‘lowlife’ by the upscale society but also the nomadic figure who even if authentic in one sense is literally ‘unrooted’ in another who has to be brought into the fold or properly domesticated. This is what happens in very many of these films. Take Kasme Vaade. The rogue must be taught the virtues of family life and he then reforms. He gets the wife he never had, the brother he never had and so on. In other words if was the loss of family life that made him a rogue! But of course the rogue and the criminal are always needed to secretly provide the guarantee of the bourgeois order!

Again some other doubles could be discussed here including something like Adalat where even though it’s one character this entire dynamic is evident across the length of his biography. But its in any case one more instance of just how ‘interesting’ the imagination of the 70s always was. On the other hand when some of this stuff is reinvented in the present the very same tropes lose all of their force because there isn’t a proper rethinking of the meaning of the same. In other words one can do a mechanical remake as in the 2006 Don with snazzy camerawork and so on and you can even add a desperate twist or two. But what’s missing is the ‘meaning’. Or rather a coherent set of contexts. Again in the new Don the ‘desperate’ (because absurd) twist of the film that’s revealed at the end means that rather than the downmarket character of the original impersonating someone much above his social class you have the exact opposite. We learn that Vijay too was Don all along. But then there is really no double at all! Or rather one who shows up briefly and is knocked off. The whole film belongs to Don. Leaving aside problems of characterization (is it plausible that Don could live that kind of life of impersonation?) the text of this film is just not coherent enough even in other ways. Given the ‘globalization’ paradigm of this film with all the international sites and Russian gangsters and so forth the problem is really this: there is no place for that other India represented by Vijay here! He is completely superfluous to this world. Only in this perverse sense is that twist justified. But he shouldn’t have been in the film in the first place! It represents a certain ‘new Indian’ imagining of national space and certainly of the urban kind where various economic and social minorities are simply absent. The new Don doesn’t redress the balance in this sense. It makes that minority even more expendable!

But isn’t all of this nonetheless a level of meaning present in the film? Yes but it works in a way where much like the plot there are ideological ‘cheating’ elements in the work. It is not that I dislike the politics of the film (that would form a different debate). The latter just isn’t coherent enough. To this degree Don 2 is the sort of film that the earlier installment (2006) should have always been. This is all that Farhan Akhtar really wanted to make!

To make the point clearer any film of course ‘means’ something. But the question is whether it ever rises to the level of coherence and furthermore whether it engages with its contexts (however these are defined) in any relatively profound sense. Now this doesn’t have to be the goal of any film but my entire point here is that the ‘double’ offers yet another pathway into this greater ‘meaning’ of 70s cinema and as a contrast the contemporary and supposedly ‘updated’ versions lack that more serious purpose or coherence.

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45 Responses to “70s Doubles or How to Tackle Impostors!”

  1. Since all of this started with Vishwanath and Kalicharan I should say that I prefer the former to the latter though both are very entertaining films.

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  2. omrocky786 Says:

    Great comment, satte par satta is how you play a double….

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  3. I love double roles – I thought one noteworthy example is Amitabh’s double role in “Bandhe Haath” where he (spoiler) kills “himself” if I remember correctly and then the ALL TIME classic is Jewel Thief. I have half an essay written on the use of doubles in that film. I should drag it out.

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    • Do reference it here if you can. Would love to read it.

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    • omrocky786 Says:

      agree Jewel Thief had a great double, but IMO Angoor was THE best ….

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    • Filmigirl, in Bandhe Haath, Bachchan (Shamu) does not kill his double role (Deepak). yes, He is about to strangle him but relents and instead calls the doctor but Deepak,already breathing his last, dies on his own.- i am probably one of the biggest fan of Bandhe Haath(incidentally this was Bachchan’s last release before Zanjeer) on this planet- have seen this film more than 10 times

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      • Thanks for clarifying! It has been a while since I’ve seen it. Have to admit it’s probably my least favorite of OP Ralhan’s films but that moment of strangling remained with me. 😉

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        • Actually O. P. Ralhan did not direct the film but wrote the script and produced it. it was directed by O. P. Goyle. Btw do post ur write-ups here. I really liked ur Tashan review (Ami linked it) though did disagree with it at places. But u write very well. And also would love to read ur piece on double roles

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  4. Alex adams Says:

    Yes filmigirl-liked jewel thief
    Even the songs were good apart from vijay ananads direction
    Can we have the link plz

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    • If I can find it and clean it up a bit, I’ll post it. 🙂 I watched again recently with another film fan friend of mine who had no idea there was a “twist.” And at that certain point he says, “But… I SAW Amar.” You cannot recapture that kind of response except by watching with somebody who hasn’t seen…

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  5. Alex adams Says:

    Filmigirl-have u written something on any of these-
    ‘tree of life’ or ‘Vicky christina Barcelona’
    And the hugely under rated ‘screenplay’ jewel ‘love actually’
    Think these can serve as mini templates for loads of cinematic work..

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  6. Satyam, cannot thank u enough for writing this- i adored the trope of ‘doubles’ (we had a discussion over it somedays back). I loved the way u connected 2 indias via the double role and u r so right that new Don just did not care to create any space for ‘minorities’. I believe Bachchan’s act in Don is almost like a ‘triple role’- Don as Don, Vijay as Vijay and Vijay as Don. Also Kunal Khemu’s ‘double’ in ‘Superstar’ has lot of similarities with Bachchan’s double in ‘Bandhe haath’

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    • “I believe Bachchan’s act in Don is almost like a ‘triple role’- Don as Don, Vijay as Vijay and Vijay as Don.”

      this is an important point because it takes a fine actor to suggest this sort of ‘playing’ on screen (or on stage). This is why some of the Shakespeare parts are so difficult. In Hamlet especially so because this question is often ‘undecidable’.

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    • bachchan1 to 10 Says:

      I have been meaning to say this to you for sometime saurabh, yes just like you I have enjoyed superstar as well, Definitely one of the underrated movies and performances of Khemu. Wish it was marketed better.

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      • I am so glad Kash that u liked Superstar (koi to apne jaisa mila). yes it deserved much better.one of the intelligent, low-key attempts at Masala. On jeetendra i can only say this- jeetendra ko ek role me to jhelna aasaan nahi hai, double role me jhelna 3rd degree torture ke barabar hai. of the films u have mentioned, i only liked ‘mawaali’ in a kitschy way. only time i have seen Jeetu act was in Parichay, Kinara and New Delhi (though i also enjoyed Farz and Caravan)

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        • bachchan1 to 10 Says:

          LOL, Agreed yaar, Not a jeetu fan by any stretch dude. Trust me. Just wanted to give my 2 cents to it. Regardless of it being classy or not, or us liking it or not. We can not turn a blind eye to jeetus Doubles these were stupendous success of his time. And they were different in many ways than one oppose to mentioned by Satyam sir above. Again not sure if I followed Satyam sirs piece entirely, But these were important films as well. Note I didn’t mention Jigri dost here. Just these 80’s pure masalas here.

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          • You r right abt J’s double roles (they were definitely hits)- they do not fit into the category of Satyam’s piece. But Satyam only spoke abt one facet of the ‘double’ here as he himself mentioned. he does not go even into the theory behind doppelgangers.

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          • bachchan1 to 10 Says:

            You are right there Saurabh, I completely overlooked that poin there by Satyam sir. My apologies.

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  7. bachchan1 to 10 Says:

    Not sure Jeetendra’s Double roles would be justified here (though there were 80s films, feel they shouldnt be omitted). The first few that come to mind are Mawaali, Justic Chaudhry and Anwarlal (this was bit late in the 80s). Also, Not that these were classy cinema a la Don or Vishwanath, It had the masala we are witnessing now with RR and Bol Bachchan coming our way. What I am trying to et to is that Like satyam sir said, One of the suppressed is always needed to be brought ‘IN” to the current norms of the society, But in jeetus case these were vastly different doubles that he had played. Not sure if i am with you guys on this. Nevertheless, A fine piece satyam sir.

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  8. On double roles I had a short discussion with Satyam where he made a fine comment. Do give it a read-https://satyamshot.wordpress.com/2012/05/31/rowdy-rathore-the-rest-of-the-box-office/#comment-156623 and https://satyamshot.wordpress.com/2012/05/31/rowdy-rathore-the-rest-of-the-box-office/#comment-156610

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  9. Shalini Says:

    Add me to the chorus of people who love double roles. Apart from the movies folks have already mentioned, two movies with a double role that I adore are “Saccha Jhutha” and “Ratnadeep.” At the moment, the former is the only instance I know of where: the doubles aren’t biologically related, are the hero and villian, aware of the existence of the other and neither is killed off at the end! Ratnadeep on the other hand is a quiet exploration of the mental strain of a “stolen life” acquired through impersonation.

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  10. Yes, but in Kasme Vaade the other one dies and none of the double roles r villainous. So i believe Shalini is right and what a fine observation on her part

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  11. Great post, Satyam! You’ve superbly connected it to Farhan Akhtar’s Don.

    “The latter just isn’t coherent enough. To this degree Don 2 is the sort of film that the earlier installment (2006) should have always been. This is all that Farhan Akhtar really wanted to make!”
    This seems so spot on in retrospect. I’ve heard you make this point earlier too, but reading it in conjunction with your overall argument here on how Vijay “is completely superfluous to this world,” it’s even more striking. Great stuff.

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  12. In this context, I think Kamal’s Aboorva Sagodharargal also performs some very interesting moves. Let me take the liberty to reproduce here a comment I made on a blog-post (the blog seems defunct now), though reading it now, I think I should rephrase it in a better way to make my points clearer:

    “I’ve always found the depiction of the “villainy” of Appu (the cold grin, the twinkle in the eye) in Aboorva Sagodharargal to be one of the subtle but audacious choices that Kamal made in his revisionist take of the stock revenge story of two sons separated at birth. Indeed, all victims take him lightly and pay the price. (”AnA, alatchiya paduthittiyE Anbarasu!” he says.) But, there’s something far more meditative in this choice of making the avenger a midget. In other words, there would have been no avenger had there not been a midget son. Appu is the one who is forced to bear the burden of their villainous act, and it’s only fitting that he should carry out the execution. And this could lend more meaning to his life in a way. Of course, this is fairly well established in the film itself, the root cause for his revenge is his being a midget and not his father’s death. What is also notable is how deftly Raja is kept out of all this. (The comic genius is of course in the way Raja is brought into all this!) He could chip in for fight sequences and manage to pull off some fisticuffs, but he’s no killer material. Raja can never be truly aware (not just literally, but also psychologically) of the horror of what the villains did to his family.

    The way things transpire to this point is also fascinating. Sethupathi, the father, also an upright police officer, takes on a bunch of corrupt bigwigs, but when he loses the case and is suspended (stock material again), he doesn’t go seeking justice in other ways. (His mood quickly changes to familial concerns, the flute theme piece makes its entry, as Sethupathi sits dejected after the court session.) But, the villains kill him brutally (quintessentially stock), but not because he arrested them, but because he crossed the usual limits. (And, that is in turn because Sethupathi is provoked by Dharma Raj’s arrogance which makes him go overboard.)”

    “Appu’s execution of the four villains could possibly seen as even being slightly unfairly to them! It’s not as if a doctor told Srividya that her son is a midget because of a poison intake. (When giving birth to twins, it’s possible that one of the babies, most often the elder one, turns out to be less ‘enabled.’ Also, by the time she’s forced to take poison, the babies are in full shape and are all set to be delivered!) “oru vELai, nAn kudicha veshathunAla dhAn ippadi AyittiyO ennamO…” she ponders, and Appu takes no time to buy that perspective. (And, these guys did kill his father after all.)”

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    • Though, obviously, neither of the two is an impostor of the other in this film. But I find it interesting that the ‘normal’ Kamal is readily mistaken to be the avenger but the short Kamal is never taken seriously. But it’s the latter who’s avenging the disruption of the family and the murder of his father. The horror of being marginalized as a clown (not just as a profession but in day-to-day life; a rather implausible but heartbreaking love story serves as the lead to this) gives way to cold-blooded revenge on his part.

      P.S.: I must apologize for the usage of the word midget which I’ve subsequently come to know is an offensive term. In my defence, given the second-hand manner in which one imports these words into one’s vocabulary, one’s seldom aware of the history.

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    • The PC term for a midget is actually “little person” I think. I believe “midgets” are often mistaken for people who have dwarfism.

      In any case, interesting comments here on a film I actually have a huge weakness for in Kamal’s filmography. It moved me at a young age though since then I have come to identify it as somewhat problematic that the physically “deformed” (to be un-PC about it) of the brothers is the one who becomes the unhinged killer.

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      • GF,
        I readily agree that it’s a problematic move, but I think the film is very ambiguous about it. The foremost aspect of this move is that (whom we’d traditionally expect to be) the clown becomes the ringmaster of sorts, the harmless clown whom nobody takes seriously unleashes the violence (which is again portrayed in a cartoonish manner, making it a ‘double’ move of sorts). And the traditional hero becomes a sidekick of sorts. And ultimately, to view things simplistically, the overall tone of the film is clearly on Appu’s side.

        Since you mention watching this film at a young age, I’d also liked this film of course, but I grew up thinking (in a condescending way) this is a kids film, relying on a gimmick and so on. (In contrast, always thought of MMKR as an “intelligent” film in a smug way from the time I first caught it.) But it’s only when I happened to watch it during my college days, I found it to be a compelling film. Except that I became more aware of the macabre violence (which the film clearly intends to portray and highlight) the this time.

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        • Fair points. And to be honest I don’t hold that against this film too much. I see the entire movie as this very unique and rather bizarre (in an enjoyable sense) masala attempt, and within the context of the bigger discussion here it is a singular participant in the whole double-roles history of Indian cinema.

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  13. Wow, glad to see one of my comments being expanded into a post by Satyam. Great analysis, btw.
    Amitabh is the king of double roles, I dont think any other actor had as many movies with double roles as Amitabh…
    Bandhe Haath, Kasme Vaade, Don, Great Gambler, Mahaan, Desh Premi, Aakhri Raasta, Adaalat, Sooryavansham.. am I missing any others here?

    It seems Sridevi liked playing double roles cause she would get twice the compensation!

    On another note, recently saw the The Devils Double, one of the very few movies from Hwood which has an actor playing 2 diff characters in a double role (a semi-real tale of Uday Hussein and his ‘self declared’ body double). Has anyone seen this one?

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    • Rajesh Khanna did quite a few of these too!

      1. Raaz (1967)
      2. Aradhana (1969)
      3. Sachaa Jhutha (1970)
      4. Humshakal (1974)
      5. Mehbooba (1976)
      6. Bhola Bhala (1978)
      7. Dard (1981)
      8. Kudrat (1981)
      9. Dharam aur Qanoon (1984)
      10. Hum Dono (1985)

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  14. Good write up as always Satyamsir–

    Double roles in Indian Film industry and its evolution is more linked to creating a differentiation as well to stay with times…IMHO.

    Starting in 50s/60s-when double role were more about twins or biological phenomenon that could be easily understood by the people of that era to double roles wherein an anonymous person is “doubled” via make ups, mannerisms to emulate -then by way of prosthetic to the latest 21st century doubles wherein android or a game character or robot is roped in to be/act as the double character in +ve, -ve or gray shades –…seems to indicate that Indian film script writers and in turn directors and in turn actors just evolved the whole double role concept with change in times…..

    May be as humans evolve to newer levels, we may see more variations such as genetically engineered doubles coming from planets outside earth or most likely twists via doubles having same genetic father /mother types (vicky donor part 3?) :)..adpatations within indian film industry as well !.

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  15. Alex adams Says:

    Dedicated to burman fans and lovers of old songs like oldgold
    Slightly unrelated but from the same era–
    Heard a song today properly that sort of ‘moved’ me…

    Now, here it is v difficult to figure out who the composer is–but looking at the year of release could be rd..
    But it couldve easily been sd…so similar in the style and ‘interlude’

    Anyways–kishore kr in full flow
    Dev anand inspite of not lip syncing properly looks good and emotes well for a second –where his eyes are moist…

    And finally
    The young hema malik is somewhat cutely killer
    Reminds me somewhat of aishwarya

    Enjoy folks

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  16. Alex adams Says:

    Think this maybe deserves to be in the ‘rd stealing sd tunes’ thread maybe…Ha
    Ps–typo-hema malini– well she’s dangerous here…
    And this song is a class act folks …
    ps2-surprised to find yash chopra uncles name …hmmm..

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  17. The 1st instance of an actor playing a dual role which comes to my mind is B.R.Chopra’s debut “Afsana”- it had Ashok Kumar as twins. i believe this is the film which started the trend of double roles

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  18. Hi, I just stumbled upon this write-up thanks to it showing up as a “related post” on a more recent entry on this blog, and it was a very interesting read. Agree with you that the new updates lack any of the imagination of the earlierera, but I’d like to recommend two films here, both in a sense reworkings of Don: Rajat Kapoor’s Mithya, which gives the Don template an entirely existential-philosophical spin; and Atul Sabharwal’s Aurangzeb, which is Don reimagined as an old-fashioned family drama reminiscent of the 70s’ hardboiled dramas loosely belonging to the same category as Deewar. Whereas Don was essentially a pulp thriller, Aurangzeb gives it an resonant emotional core that’s so missing from contemporary Bollywood in general. I strongly recommend both, in case you haven’t seen them already.

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