Right now, doubles roles are in the news, with several stars—Kangana Ranaut again after Tanu Weds Manu Returns, Salman Khan in the Kick sequel, Saif Ali Khan, Katrina Kaif and others working on films in which they are playing double roles.
But the doubles plot is not new—way back in 1942, Babubhai Mistry and Nanabhai Bhatt had made a film called Muqabla produced by JBH and Homi Wadia, in which Nadia of Fearless fame played twin sisters.
In those days, without the sophisticated technology available today, the directors managed to do a great job. Babubhai Mistry was a “trick photographer”—today he would be called a special effects wiz—and used ingenuity where today’s filmmakers would use computer graphics. He used split screen and back screen projection in the days when these scenes could not be done at the touch of a keyboard.
The plot has been used so often since then, that it has become a Bollywood cliche. The villain kidnaps one of two twin girls, to punish their father. He raises Rani and turns her into a dancer in his clandestine bar. To underline her vamp status she smokes and wears slinky gowns with thigh-high slits.
The other twin Madhuri is found by a rich man who brings her up along with his own daughter. She grows into a happy-go-lucky young woman with a protective pet dog called Gunboat.
Usually in films with look alike women, one is meek and good, the other bad and bold. In Muqabla neither of the two is submissive—which is not surprising, since Nadia was known for her stunt films, in which she did the action scenes herself.
The well brought up Madhuri has a fight scene with the villains thugs early on; when the hero (Yakub) and his sidekick (Agha) gallantly jump into help, she looks down her nose at them. She doesn’t give the besotted fellow the time of day, and tells her adoptive sister there is more to life than men!
When the villain kidnaps the man who adopted her, Madhuri and Gunboat rush to rescue them. That’s when the two sisters come face to face, and Mistry worked his magic in the scene where they cross in front of a mirror.
Seen today, Muqabla seems loosely scripted and overlong with too many songs and comic interludes, but imagine in 1942, how thrilling it must have been for the audience to see two Nadias in one film.