When a double role is simply not enough for movie stars

Five roles? Nine? A dozen? How much is enough?

Noomi Rapace plays seven characters in What Happened To Monday, which can be streamed on Netflix from August 18. Rapace stars as identical sisters named after each day of the week. They have to dress up as a single person every day to avoid the eyes of the Child Allocation Bureau in a world in which a couple is allowed to have only one child. Things go haywire when Monday goes missing.

The conceit of a single actor playing multiple roles is exceedingly familiar in Indian cinema, where double and triple roles are common enough. When actors play multiple roles, it becomes a “Look ma!” opportunity for stars, especially those with some kind of control over their projects.

One of the earliest instances of actors playing multiple roles was DG Phalke’s Lanka Dahan (1917), in which Anna Salunke is both Ram and Sita. One of the earliest talkie films to make double roles popular was Gyan Mukherjee’s Kismet (1943), which catapulted its hero Ashok Kumar to stardom.

Kismet (1943).

Double roles have been fairly common over the years: Amitabh Bachchan (Don, Aakhree Raasta, Sooryavansham), Dev Anand (Hum Dono), Dilip Kumar (Ram Aur Shyam), Hema Malini (Seeta Aur Geeta), Sridevi (Chaalbaaz), Kamal Haasan (Appu Raja), Shah Rukh Khan (Duplicate) and Varun Dhawan (the upcoming Judwaa 2) .

Triple roles are less frequent. Stars of different eras, including Dilip Kumar and Amitabh Bachchan, attempted the triple role in Bairaag (1976) and Mahaan (1983) respectively. The set-up is the same – a father and his twin sons with diametrically opposing characteristics in a lost-and-found story.

While Bairaag and Mahaan flopped, Rajinikanth’s triple treat, Moondru Mugam (1982), was a smash hit. Rajinikanth’s role as the hard-boiled police office Alex Pandian in the movie even inspired a 2013 Karthi-starrer with the same title.

Rajinikanth as Alex Pandian in Moondru Mugam (1982).

In between the double and triple roles lie the double sets of double roles seen in the Bengali superhit Bhranti Bilas (1963), inspired by William Shakespeare’s play The Comedy of Errors. Uttam Kumar and Bhanu Bandhopadhyay play identical sets of masters and servants leading, to immense confusion among the other characters. The hit film was adapted twice in Hindi – first as Do Dooni Char, starring Kishore Kumar and Asit Sen, in 1968, and then as the very popular Angoor (1982), starring Sanjeev Kumar and Deven Verma in the lead roles.

Six years after Do Dooni Char’s release, its star Kishore Kumar wrote, directed and starred in Badhti Ka Naam Dadhi (1974), which featured the versatile performer in five different roles. The nonsensical comedy, filled with trademark Kishore Kumar gags, revolves around a rich man Seth Bandookwala (IS Johar) leaving his wealth to the man with the longest beard. Kumar plays one of the two top candidates (the other being played by KN Singh, in a rare comedic performance), alongside the bit roles of a police commissioner, his constable, a havaldar, and a filmmaker with a toothbrush moustache.

Badhti Ka Naam Dadhi (1974).

Years later, Madhuri Dixit played five roles in painter MF Hussain’s Gaja Gamini (2000). Dixit stars as the titular timeless woman – an inspiration for artists across generations and cultures, including Kalidasa (Mohan Agashe) and Leonardo Da Vinci (Naseeruddin Shah). Even Kaamdev (Inder Kumar), the Hindu god of desire, descends from the heavens to court her. Dixit plays four other incarnations of Gaja Gamini: Sangeeta (a blind woman in Benaras), Shakuntala (the heroine of Kalidasa’s play), Mona Lisa (the inspiration for Vinci) and Monika, a contemporary, westernised woman.

Sivaji Ganesan attempted a record nine roles in the Tamil superhit Navarathri (1964). The characters were inspired by the nine rasas. The film was remade in Telugu (Navarathri, starring Akkineni Nageswara Rao) two years later and in Hindi as Naya Din Nai Raat, starring Sanjeev Kumar, in 1974. Kumar is particularly good in three roles; the fugitive on the run for vengeance, an effete theatre artist, and a conniving godman.

Kamal Haasan, who has always pushed the envelope when it comes to altering his looks and accepting unusual roles, took up the challenge of doing one better than Ganesan in Dasavathaaram (2008). In the out-and-out vanity project, Haasan stars in 10 minor and major supporting roles. Besides playing the hero and the villain (an American intelligence agent with terrible white paint and prosthetics), Haasan plays, among others, an old woman, a Japanese martial arts master, a really tall Muslim man named Kalifullah, a black-faced Dalit social activist, a Punjabi pop singer and even former American president George Bush.

Oh...Ho...Sanam (Dasavathaaram, 2008).

Priyanka Chopra beat Haasan’s record the following year in Ashutosh Gowariker’s epic-length romantic flop What’s Your Raashee? (2009), co-starring Harman Baweja. Chopra plays 12 women corresponding to the zodiac signs. Yogesh (Baweja) meets each of these women to select a prospective bride from among them. What could have been a breezy and brisk entertainer is stretched to 211 minutes, but Chopra aces all her roles even though she enters the screenplay 40 minutes into the film.

However, you don’t always need a star to make multiple roles work. The one Indian film that uses an actor in three roles not as a gimmick but as an organic necessity of the screenplay is Dibakar Banerjee’s Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! (2008). While Abhay Deol plays the titular super-thief, Rawal plays Lucky’s father, don Gogi Arora, and Handa – three men who are father figures to Lucky for a while before they backstab him. These three characters transform Lucky from the boy into the man he eventually becomes. The triple roles deserved one single actor of immense talent, and Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! is certainly Paresh Rawal’s finest moment in his career.

Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! (2008).
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Ten awesome TV shows to get over your post-GoT blues

With those withdrawal symptoms kicking in, all you need is a good rebound show.

Hangovers tend to have a debilitating effect on various human faculties, but a timely cure can ease that hollow feeling generally felt in the pit of the stomach. The Game of Thrones Season 7 finale has left us with that similar empty feeling, worsened by an official statement on the 16-month-long wait to witness The Great War. That indeed is a long time away from our friends Dany, Jon, Queen C and even sweet, sweet Podrick. While nothing can quite replace the frosty thrill of Game of Thrones, here’s a list of awesome shows, several having won multiple Emmy awards, that are sure to vanquish those nasty withdrawal symptoms:

1. Billions

There is no better setting for high stakes white collar crime than the Big Apple. And featuring a suited-up Paul Giamatti going head-to-head with the rich and ruthless Damien Lewis in New York, what’s not to like? Only two seasons young, this ShowTime original series promises a wolf-of-wall-street style showcase of power, corruption and untold riches. Billions is a great high-octane drama option if you want to keep the momentum going post GoT.

Watch Billions Now

2. Westworld

What do you get when the makers of the Dark Knight Trilogy and the studio behind Game of Thrones collaborate to remake a Michael Crichton classic? Westworld brings together two worlds: an imagined future and the old American West, with cowboys, gun slingers - the works. This sci-fi series manages to hold on to a dark secret by wrapping it with the excitement and adventure of the wild west. Once the plot is unwrapped, the secret reveals itself as a genius interpretation of human nature and what it means to be human. Regardless of what headspace you’re in, this Emmy-nominated series will absorb you in its expansive and futuristic world. If you don’t find all of the above compelling enough, you may want to watch Westworld simply because George RR Martin himself recommends it! Westworld will return for season 2 in the spring of 2018.

Watch Westworld Now

3. Big Little Lies

It’s a distinct possibility that your first impressions of this show, whether you form those from the trailer or opening sequence, will make you think this is just another sun-kissed and glossy Californian drama. Until, the dark theme of BLL descends like an eerie mist, that is. With the serious acting chops of Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman as leads, this murder mystery is one of a kind. Adapted from author Liane Moriarty’s book, this female-led show has received accolades for shattering the one-dimensional portrayal of women on TV. Despite the stellar star cast, this Emmy-nominated show wasn’t easy to make. You should watch Big Little Lies if only for Reese Witherspoon’s long struggle to get it off the ground.

Watch Big Little Lies Now

4. The Night of

The Night Of is one of the few crime dramas featuring South Asians without resorting to tired stereotypes. It’s the kind of show that will keep you in its grip with its mysterious plotline, have you rooting for its characters and leave you devastated and furious. While the narrative revolves around a murder and the mystery that surrounds it, its undertones raises questions on racial, class and courtroom politics. If you’re a fan of True Detective or Law & Order and are looking for something serious and thoughtful, look no further than this series of critical acclaim.

Watch The Night Of Now

5. American Horror Story

As the name suggests, AHS is a horror anthology for those who can stomach some gore and more. In its 6 seasons, the show has covered a wide range of horror settings like a murder house, freak shows, asylums etc. and the latest season is set to explore cults. Fans of Sarah Paulson and Jessica Lange are in for a treat, as are Lady Gaga’s fans. If you pride yourself on not being weak of the heart, give American Horror Story a try.

Watch American Horror Story Now

6. Empire

At its heart, Empire is a simple show about a family business. It just so happens that this family business is a bit different from the sort you are probably accustomed to, because this business entails running a record label, managing artistes and when push comes to shove, dealing with rivals in a permanent sort of manner. Empire treads some unique ground as a fairly violent show that also happens to be a musical. Lead actors Taraji P Henson and Terrence Howard certainly make it worth your while to visit this universe, but it’s the constantly evolving interpersonal relations and bevy of cameo appearances that’ll make you stay. If you’re a fan of hip hop, you’ll enjoy a peek into the world that makes it happen. Hey, even if you aren’t one, you might just grow fond of rap and hip hop.

Watch Empire Now

7. Modern Family

When everything else fails, it’s comforting to know that the family will always be there to lift your spirits and keep you chuckling. And by the family we mean the Dunphys, Pritchetts and Tuckers, obviously. Modern Family portrays the hues of familial bonds with an honesty that most family shows would gloss over. Eight seasons in, the show’s characters like Gloria and Phil Dunphy have taken on legendary proportions in their fans’ minds as they navigate their relationships with relentless bumbling humour. If you’re tired of irritating one-liners or shows that try too hard, a Modern Family marathon is in order. This multiple-Emmy-winning sitcom is worth revisiting, especially since the brand new season 9 premiers on 28th September 2017.

Watch Modern Family Now

8. The Deuce

Headlined by James Franco and Maggi Gyllenhaal, The Deuce is not just about the dazzle of the 1970s, with the hippest New York crowd dancing to disco in gloriously flamboyant outfits. What it IS about is the city’s nooks and crannies that contain its underbelly thriving on a drug epidemic. The series portrays the harsh reality of New York city in the 70s following the legalisation of the porn industry intertwined with the turbulence caused by mob violence. You’ll be hooked if you are a fan of The Wire and American Hustle, but keep in mind it’s grimmer and grittier. The Deuce offers a turbulent ride which will leave you wanting more.

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9. Dexter

In case you’re feeling vengeful, you can always get the spite out of your system vicariously by watching Dexter, our favourite serial killer. This vigilante killer doesn’t hide behind a mask or a costume, but sneaks around like a criminal, targeting the bad guys that have slipped through the justice system. From its premier in 2006 to its series finale in 2013, the Emmy-nominated Michael C Hall, as Dexter, has kept fans in awe of the scientific precision in which he conducts his kills. For those who haven’t seen the show, the opening credits give an accurate glimpse of how captivating the next 45 minutes will be. If it’s been a while since you watched in awe as the opening credits rolled, maybe you should revisit the world’s most loved psychopath for nostalgia’s sake.

Available starting October

10. Rome

If you’re still craving an epic drama with extensive settings and a grandiose plot and sub-plots, Rome, co-produced by HBO and BBC, is where your search stops. Rome is a historical drama that takes you through an overwhelming journey of Ancient Rome’s transition from a republic to an empire. And when it comes to tastes, this series provides the similar full-bodied flavour that you’ve grown to love about Game of Thrones. There’s a lot to take away for those who grew up quoting Julius Caesar, and for those looking for a realistic depiction of the legendary gladiators. If you’re a history buff, give this Emmy-winning show a try.

Watch Rome Now

For your next obsession, Hotstar Premium has you covered with its wide collection of the most watched shows in the world. Apart from the ones we’ve recommended, Indian viewers can now easily watch other universally loved shows such as Silicon Valley and Prison Break, and movies including all titles from the Marvel and Disney universe. So take control of your life again post the Game of Thrones gloom and sign up for the Hotstar Premium membership here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Hotstar and not by the Scroll editorial team.