Director: Mahesh Bhatt
Music: Anu Malik; Lyrics: Javed Akhtar
Year: 1998
Running Time: 2 hours 34 minutes

One characteristic of Indian cinema that might strike those from the West as rather odd is the frequency in which film plots revolve around look-alikes. While in the West this plot device has generally become relegated to either horror or Jean Claude Van Damme films, in India it is considered a high status award for an actor to be in a film in which he gets to convey two different roles. At some point practically every male star (and many female stars) has had such a project and in fact according to one book* I read the man considered India’s greatest actor, Amitabh Bachchan, was in over ten films in which he had double roles.

In Duplicate the actor honored with a double role is Shahrukh Khan and he approaches this opportunity with delightful relish and creates two distinct and in their own way intriguing characters. His Babloo is a complete simpering mama’s boy, while his Manu is a snarling dangerous criminal. Watching Shahrukh shift between the two of them gives you a good idea why he is considered by many to be India’s finest modern actor. Everything about them is different from the voice, the look, the facial expressions, vocal delivery and body language and yet both feel like complete characters. Babloo is all pursed lip respectability and Manu is animalistic fury who can handle a woman or a gun with equally rough efficiency. Since the film is generally a broad comedy, Shahrukh brings a bit of caricature to them both, but avoids overstepping the boundary of silliness and manages to make Babloo very endearing and Manu frightening.
Babloo loves cooking and his mother (Farida Jalal) to the point of almost being a fetish – at one point he sleeps in the same bed as mom and at another dances with various vegetables! He dreams of becoming a chef and gets his chance when he bowls over a banquet manager (Juhi Chawla) with his simplistic charm. He is given a test – to prepare a Japanese meal within fifteen minutes and in a musical showstopper that Busby Berkely would be proud of Shahrukh spins through the kitchen making merry with cooking utensils, food and a bevy of beautiful black or plaid skirted apprentices.
At the same time this is occurring, Manu has escaped from maximum security and is intent on reaping retribution on the ex-gang members who set him up. A master of disguise, Manu infiltrates their locations – one time attired as a vampish female dancer – and at another time just as he is about to be discovered in a cabaret he seamlessly joins the dance on stage – and kills them off one by one. In a John Woo inspired set piece, Manu has a shoot out with the gang that has bodies flying and encompasses Woo’s classic gun to the head stand off as well as the famous Chow Yun Fat two guns blazing back on the ground move. When he is not busy killing, Manu finds the chance to make mattress time with his cabaret dancer girlfriend – the hot as melting steel, Sonali Bendre, who torches the screen in her dance numbers.
Things are looking good for Manu until he decides to mix it up with the quivering but determined lip of Babloo – big mistake! Realizing that he has a duplicate, Manu tries to take advantage of the situation by taking Babloo’s place – even to romancing Juhi – but this proves too much for sweet Babloo and he finds his hidden backbone and decides to take Manu’s place. In a few delicious scenes, they face off against one another with Shahrukh in a sense now creating four characters – as their impersonations of each other are just enough off to make them amusing – especially Babloo trying to be menacing and salacious with his tongue but getting it all wrong. It’s all lightweight goofy stuff (with some decent action though) that should be covered with a thick layer of dust, but the simple charm of the film and the performers has a way of winning you over. Shahrukh is great to watch in his various incarnations, but he also receives very good support from the winsome Juhi and the sensuous Sonali. Also as an added pleasure - look for the quick as a blink cameo from Kajol at the train station.
Thrown into this mix are some solid bouncy tunes, but the real strength of the musical pieces is the infectious choreography from Farah Khan and the energy of the actors. The kitschy kitchen number – Wahji Wah – with its wailing sax is great fun, in Keh Rahi Hai Sonali sizzles as she first rips out your eyeballs attired in black hotpants an then goes through various costume changes that all compliment her fabulous gams and the other songs are hummable and charming as well.

My rating for this film: 7.5

Song 1

Song 2

Song 3

Song 4

* - Bollywood: The Indian Cinema Story by Nasreen Munni Kabir