1998 may well be the year of great comedies for Hindi cinema. Yugpurush has a strong chance of remaining my favourite film of the year, but last week´s release Aunty No. 1 had me rolling in the aisles. Close on ugly aunty´s heels comes a rib-tickler from the combination of Yash Johar and Mahesh Bhatt. Soon to follow are Bade Miyan Chotte Miyan, Biwi No. 1 and Gharwali Baharwali. I really enjoyed Judwaa in 1997, but there is no mistake, this tale of mistaken identity is more fun.
Manoo and Babloo (both Shahrukh Khan) are two unrelated humshakals. The former is an escaped prisoner seeking vengeance upon his double-crossing partners in crime. Meanwhile, Babloo is an aspiring chef cum bawarchi, who´s Punjabi lineage is that of wrestlers. Poor guy is a real disappointment to his dead father, his mother (Farida Jalal) repeatedly reminds him. The film revolves around the movie´s other characters repeated errors in differentiating the protagonist from the antagonist. And be sure that Babloo and Manoo take advantage of the other characters´ confusion.
Some stars never fail to surprise me. When I saw Shahrukh´s debut in Deewana, I wrote the guy off as an over-actor. Last year, he blew me away with an extremely subdued and intelligent performance in Pardes. Now, Duplicate has completely reversed my initial opinion. It proves Shahrukh to be one of India´s most talented artistes ever.
Name another actor who can exude innocence as perfectly as with Babloo, evil as well as with Manoo, and maintain a distinction so clear between the characters? When Babloo does impersonations of Manoo´s tongue tweeks, one cannot help but laugh at the pathetic attempts. Shahrukh has played both characters so distinctly that the audience has no difficulty differentiating between the two.
Of the supporting cast, Juhi is as always, gorgeous and at her element in comedy. Sonia Kapoor, banquet manager at the restaurant where Babloo works, is a stereotypical Indian aspiring to move forward in society. She clings to her Indian values, but when in a predicament, she spouts non-sensical English lectures to sound important. Farida Jalal, like Juhi, is always a pleasure to watch on screen. Particularly when she is given interesting roles like Babloo´s strong, clingy, caring and loving Bé-bé.
On the down side, Sonali Bendre needs to go back to acting class. She looks sexy enough as Lilly, the gangster´s moll, but it puzzles me why she can´t convey the sultriness in her dialogue delivery and intonation. Her introductory scene has Shahrukh chewing the lime-light, even though the scene was designed to attract attention to her acting skills. (If it´s any consolation to her fans, her monologue at the end of the movie is well delivered.)
The songs of Duplicate are a pleasure to watch as are the special effects. Farah Khan´s simple and youthful choreography is highlighted by slick camerawork and effects. What also adds to the enjoyment is how the visuals compliment the narrative, as in "Ladna Jhagadna" and "Wah Ji Wah".
Some folks might not like Duplicate. It is a bit David Dhawan-esque at times, but I think that is a compliment to Mahesh Bhatt. He has always been unfairly praised more for his dramas than his superlative comedies. Critics attempt to lambast comedies to appear more intellectual and be taken more seriously. I could care less. Sit back, relax and return to your childhood. Duplicate delivers on its promise to entertain. Double time.