All of us have been used to double roles in cinema, but this is one double role we do not appreciate. After all the dirty linen that has been washed, it is only the ultimate Gods—the audience—that will decide which of the two films with a similar topic—Ujda Chaman releasing on November 1 or Bala coming out on November 8—will be accepted by them.
Terms and conditions apply, of course: It is not necessary that one will be chosen. Both can be accepted (very rare when the difference is just one week in the release) or rejected. Neither premature balding nor dirty tactics about my-film-first are funny.
Occasionally, such cinematic ‘humshakals’ have been generated, deliberately or by default, within a small space of time. And here are the results of such aberrations.
Shakti and Farz Aur Kanoon released within weeks. The latter film released first, but both were inspired from the 1974 Tamil hit Thanga Pathakkam. Farz… was made by the same producers-director team as the 1981 Telugu remake Kondaveeti Simham. While Salim-Javed (masters at taking inspiration and coming out with an original script, keeping the core intact) thought big and got Dilip Kumar and Amitabh Bachchan in a historic cinematic face-off, Farz… had Jeetendra in a double role with an additional negative character in Raj Kiran.
Due to its lower budget, the South-made film was declared a hit. Made more classily and on a much bigger scale, Shakti was—as per lobbies!—declared either average or a flop. Today, Shakti, which also picked up a few awards, is considered a classic, while the other film is forgotten.
Two South potboilers on the theme of a mission against political corruption were launched within weeks of each other. With Amitabh Bachchan in Inquilab (in the immediate aftermath of his blockbuster Andhaa Kaanoon) directed by T. Rama Rao again, and Rajesh Khanna (post Avtaar and Souten in his final burst with glory) cast in Aaj Ka MLA Ram Avtar, it was a race to the finish in terms of release as well. Unfortunately, both films were ‘finish’ed!
Arch-rivals of the 1970s and 1980s, Manmohan Desai and Prakash Mehra, fired their last salvos with Amitabh Bachchan cast in both films as a magician. Both filmmakers had to recover from duds (Gangaa Jamunaa Saraswati and Muqaddar Ka Faisla) and this was their last-ditch attempt to stay afloat. But both the films, Toofan and Jaadugar, ended up as big-time disasters.
A rare case when both films on a similar theme of lovers and feuding fathers did very well was on Subhash Ghai’s Saudagar and Saawan Kumar’s Sanam Bewafa. Again, the window-dressings were different, the scale was unequal, and the former film had Dilip Kumar in a memorable clash with Raaj Kumar. The latter film had two starlets (a love triangle was built in) and became Salman Khan’s first hit after Maine Pyar Kiya.
Buzz then said that both were inspired by the same 1985 Pakistani film, Haq Mehr. Ghai, however, had smartly woven the script in a different manner to fit in two thespians with huge egos. The other film starred Pran and Danny Denzongpa.
In 2002 came an epidemic of Bhagat Singh films. While Sonu Sood’s debut, Shaheed-E-Azam Bhagat Singh, was a non-starter, and the small film Shaheed Bhagat Singh never got a theatrical release, two biggies were egoistically pitted against each other by coming to theatres together on June 7! These films were Ajay Devgn’s The Legend Of Bhagat Singh (directed by Rajkumar Santoshi) and the Deols’ 23 March 1931 Shaheed! Though Ajay and Bobby were close friends, the ego issue came between actor-director Sunny Deol and director Rajkumar Santoshi, who were then on inimical terms.
And though Santoshi’s film was praised and Ajay won a National award, no one had the patience to watch either.
This time, both films were imaginatively treated and became super-hits: Sultan, a fictional story about a wrestler from Haryana, and Dangal, the real biopic on Haryanvi wrestler Mahavir Singh Phogat and his daughters. While Dangal remains the highest Hindi film grosser ever, Sultan (clearly inspired and ingeniously reworked into a romance from the same idea) also crossed the Rs. 300 crore landmark. Powerful performances from crowd-pullers Aamir Khan and Salman Khan, a solid emotional punch and a strong message of gender equality along with perfectly-timed premium release dates (Eid for Salman, Christmas for Dangal) took both films to the sky.
Two small films with the subject of prisoners bringing out the dormant musicians in them in jailhouse music competitions, mixed obviously with plans of escaping from captivity—Lucknow Central from Emmay Entertainment and Qaidi Band from Yash Raj Films—did not even take off. Obviously, neither “musicals” had any song worth humming. And jailhouse rock does not work in India. But above all, the films were terribly made.
And that’s the bottom-line: Two well-made but diverse films on similar subjects, preferably with a decent gap in between, can work: check Masti (2004) and No Entry (2005). When you clash for the sake of it, or to cash in on another perceived hit or gold-mine, you invite trouble.
And that’s the ‘bald’ truth!