The Magic of `Double Roles’ in Mollywood

Let's Talk Movies

by Neelima Menon

6 min read
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When Manju takes out her whip and mercilessly flogs Tribhuvan, I was elated that finally justice was being served to Anju, her shrinking violet of a twin. If the sari-clad Anju with quivering lips and big eyes looked perennially terrified of humans, Manju with her outlandish clothes and red-stained lips, who picks brawls on the streets and tricks men into buying her beer, never confers to any prototype. Manju in Chaalbaaz was one of my childhood superheroes. I don’t remember the number of times I have seen the film, just to watch Manju unleash herself on screen. The fiery, impudent, funny, manipulative, feminine, and independent woman who made her own set of rules and lived by them. Sridevi reduced Rajnikant and Sunny Deol into mere props whenever she masqueraded as Manju. With Manju around, you didn’t need a hero to rescue you. She ruled the screen like a boss.

Strangely double roles have always worked around this binary in cinema. Between good v/s evil. Between smart v/s dumb. Between aggressive v/s submissive. Between rich v/s poor. Identical twins (parent trap) are often shown as switching places, playing practical jokes, or dangerous murder games (Charulatha).

That way Iratta directed by Rohit MG Krishnan treads on uncharted waters. It’s between flawed v/s grey. Joju George plays identical twins, DySP Pramod and ASP Vinod. And despite the absence of any external bulwarks to differentiate between the two, the actor brilliantly delineates between the twins by adding subtle nuances to the body language. At the onset, both are complex individuals with their own set of mess-ups in life. There is a backstory about an abusive father who forcibly keeps Vinod with him, while Pramod lives with his mother. After being at the receiving end of his father’s abusive treatment, Vinod who feels betrayed and abandoned by his mother refuses to accompany them after his father’s death. Though we aren’t shown much of Vinod’s life after his father’s death, it is fair to assume that he grew up with a deep hatred for his twin, whom he felt got a secure home which he was as much a recipient of.

'Iratta' movie poster

Pramod is shown to have an alcohol problem resulting in his wife walking out of the marriage with their infant daughter. But otherwise, it is Vinod who seems to be struggling with many unresolved issues. At work, he is at loggerheads with his colleagues and also considers women as playthings. But oddly despite his resentment for his twin, Vinod has a tender side to him in the way he goes in search of Pramod’s estranged wife and baby and also gifts her toys. And Vinod keeps taunting Pramod about his failure to uphold his family. If the world and Vinod think he has only one adversary in Pramod, the latter has only poignant memories of his twin.

Though explaining anything more would be giving away spoilers, what makes this story of twin brothers intriguing is how it digs deeper into the complexity of finding your own identity when you look in the mirror. But it is this identity that turns out to be their unlikely nemesis, pushing them down into an abysmal dark hole from where there is no return. It is said that identical twins share an intense psychological bond but here, that’s tragically manifested.

In Sasi Shankar’s Kunjikoonan, Dileep plays Vimal Kumar, the hunchback who runs a phone booth, and his lookalike Prasad, the light-eyed college boy who displays all aggressive masculine traits. Somehow in the film, the actor seems to be on a vanity trip. Even in the duality, though he plays the dusky hunchback with bucktooth, he is finding solace in playing his glamorous self as well. The actor and the star cohabit comfortably in one frame. It is similar to what he did in Pachakuthira—Dileep played Junior artist Anandakuttan who agrees to take care of his autistic long-lost identical twin Akash Menon for monetary benefits. It is a performance that relies heavily on the external crutches—large framed glasses fitted over a clean-shaven face, clumsy walk, and gibberish talk. While Anandakuttan gets the token song and dance and the heroine.

Dileep, Navya Nair in 'Kunjikoonan' | Screengrab

The father and son in Ranjith’s Ravana Prabhu are placed together as one alpha male entity. And just when you think the younger, energetic son will appear at crucial junctures in the film, it is the senior who quietly does his job and walks away with the applause. Though mellowed, Mangalasseri Neelakandan carries vestiges of his younger aggressive self while the son, Karthikeyan is a more showy variant. Mohanlal oddly inspires more affection in the grey getup, while the younger self comes across as a cocky poor copy of his father.

Mohanlal in 'Ravanaprabhu' | Screengrab

Mohanlal did a far more complex and darker version of a father-son duo in Padamudra. He played the lascivious and free-spirited Pappadam seller Mathu Pandaram as well as his illicit son, Soap Kuttappan. Having grown up listening to the barbs of the villagers, he turns into a morose, disgruntled young man who feels a sense of displacement by his surroundings. His physical likeness to his father (especially) haunts him all through his life.

Mohanlal in 'Padamudra' | Photo: Mathrubhumi

In Aparan Viswanathan’s career and personal life are at stake due to his doppelgänger criminal. What begins as a harmless incident soon threatens to take over his existence. Not only does he need to keep explaining to his own kith and kin about his intents, but he is fast losing face in society. But Padmarajan ends the film hanging by the thread. And we are left groping in the dark whether the doppelganger existed or was he Viswanathan’s alter ego. It’s interesting how you are made to feel the diabolical twin character without ever seeing him on screen.

Parvathy, Jayaram, Madhu in 'Aparan' (1988) | Photo: Mathrubhumi

Lijo brings a sense of the fantastical when the Kerala Christian James quietly walks into a village in Tamil Nadu and switches into the Tamil-speaking Sundaram in Nanpakal Nerathu Mayakkam. The whole village looks on with bewilderment as James slips into Sundaram’s outfit and familiarises himself with them. While James' family is waiting for him to snap out of his delirium. Even as various theories are going around regarding this eerie switchover, one gets the feeling that the whole film eventually comes to that one point when Sundaram sees himself in the mirror and James breaks out of his reverie.

Mammootty in 'Nanpakal Nerathu Mayakkam' | Photo: Facebook

While Sibi Malayil’s Parampara is the story of an estranged father and son. Mammootty plays underworld don Lawrence dressed in heavily padded suits, white hair, moustache, and a heavier baritone as well as his son Johny in jeans and t-shirts and an awful wig. But it is the father who has a far more heroic sketch than the son. One of those double roles which gave the impression that the actor was more invested in one character than the other. The same can be said about Dada Sahib in which the actor played father and son. Mammootty was all guns blazing as senior Dada Saheb who is a freedom fighter as opposed to his tepid younger version.

In Palerimanikyam: Oru Pathirakolapathakathintey Kadha Mammootty comes in triple roles—as a feudal womanising father, his prodigal son, and as the detective who is unrelated to the family. It’s easily one of the most notable instances of twin roles in Malayalam cinema. But the lion’s share of the screenplay is devoted to Ahmed Haji and his debauched lifestyle, which the actor aces. The other two roles are weakly written and hardly cause a flutter.

Mammootty in 'Paleri Manikyam' | Photo: Screengrab

But Anwar Rasheed’s Annan Thambi was a fun, irreverent entertainer that revolved around a pair of irrepressible identical twins, Appu and Achu. If Appu is the troublemaker, the mute Achu, though far more domesticated, packs a punch. Though Appu is the manipulative and mischievous thug who can’t see eye to eye with his twin, Achu adds more hilarious drama with his disability.

Mammootty in 'Annan Thampi'

Ranjith tries a locally flavoured Anju and Manju with Bhama and Bhadra (twin Kavya Madhavan) in Mizhi Randilum. So you have the kind, gentle, and immensely tame Bhadra who fends for her family, including funding her twin’s education, at the centre of the narrative. But Bhama is more an afterthought, though we are reminded that they are as different as chalk and cheese. If Bhadra is seen in modest cotton saris, Bhama wears only salwar kameez. Bhama is no-nonsense while her twin lets others decide for her. But there are some bewildering scenes though.

Kavya Madhavan in 'Mizhi Randilum'

After the hero falls in love with Bhadra, his sister talks to her family who thinks he likes Bhama. And when the mystery of the twins gets unravelled, oddly the sister decides whether it is Bhama or Bhadra what difference does it make? The hero eventually picks Bhama as he thinks she is more liable to take care of his disabled sister. True, that hardly sounds empowering. But it’s a Ranjith film and his blinkered vision cannot be more apparent when he crafted Bhama and Bhadra.

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