Ten of my favourite Hindi film double roles

Some of you may know that besides being devoted to old cinema, I also watch a lot of modern Korean dramas. My love for K-dramas probably has something to do with the fact that the average Korean TV show has more than a passing resemblance to classic Hindi cinema, from star-crossed lovers (with one usually very wealthy, the other poor), to disapproving parents whom one cannot dishonour by rebelling, to hate-turned-to-love, and so on. They’re addictive, and though I don’t get the time to watch much Korean drama, I have enjoyed pretty much all I’ve seen so far.

The last K-drama I watched was the 2018 show, Are You Human? In this one, a brilliant robotics engineer is forced to leave the country after her husband (supposedly) commits suicide and their little son, Nam Shin, is taken away by her tyrannical father-in-law, who’s a very wealthy and powerful chaebol. The engineer, missing Nam Shin desperately, creates a marvel of AI, a robot designed to be exactly like her son. Twenty years pass, and Nam Shin, now grown up, is nearly killed in an attempted murder and goes into coma. To stop his company (he’s on the verge of inheriting his grandfather’s business empire) from sliding into the hands of baddies, his mother, along with a couple of friends, gets the robot to impersonate Nam Shin.

While the story was entertaining enough, what really struck me about Are You Human? was the acting of the male lead, Seo Kang Joon. The human Nam Shin is an abrasive, arrogant man who hides pain and trauma behind a façade of swagger and brusqueness. The robot Nam Shin is completely different: guileless, innocent, emotionless but with the rule to help humans hardwired into him. Two diametrically different personalities, and Seo Kang Joon played them brilliantly. It wasn’t as if these two characters looked different—they were identical—but Seo Kang Joon, just through body language and expressions (his eyes!), was able to show the difference between them even without dialogue. Brilliant.

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Apradhi Kaun (1957)

The world of Hindi cinema is peppered with names that anyone familiar with the industry (at least the industry of the 50s and 60s) can quickly slot into categories. Star. Villain. Comedian. Character actor. There are many, many names that automatically fall into (almost exclusively) one of these categories. Those that have shifted from one category to another—like Pran, for instance, once the quintessential villain but in later years the more interesting ‘good man’, or Ajit and Premnath, both initially hero and later villain—have again usually not done too many shifts.

Abhi Bhattacharya is one of those relatively rare individuals who seem to have appeared in a wide variety of roles, a wide variety of films. He was the idealistic school teacher of Jagriti, the ‘other man’ of Anuradha. The kind-hearted, principled example of the bhadralok in films like Amar Prem, and the straying older brother of Dev Anand in Love Marriage. He played Krishna and Arjun and Vishnu (the latter in a slew of mythologicals). He even played the villain, in the Vinod Khanna-Yogita Bali starrer, Memsaab.

This year marks the birth centenary of Abhi Bhattacharya (as far as I’ve been able to find out, he was born in 1921, though I’ve not been able to discover exactly when in 1921). To commemorate his career, I wanted to watch a Bhattacharya film, but a dilemma presented itself: which one? Hindi or Bengali? (since Bhattacharya had what seems to have been a very successful career in Bengali cinema as well). Eventually, I homed in on this film, a rare whodunit in Hindi cinema that’s pretty well made too.

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