"Double Shah Rukh, single rate, aao dekho Duplicate."
That was a humorous marketing slogan for Mahesh Bhatt's 1998 action comedy film Duplicate, starring Shah Rukh Khan, Juhi Chawla, Sonali Bendre, Mohnish Behl, and Farida Jalal. Shah Rukh Khan played a double role - two characters who seemed to be polar opposites in nature.
Good guy Bablu Chaudhary is endearingly awkward and clumsy - except in the kitchen where he is a master chef. He meets Sonia Kapoor when he interviews for head chef in a hotel. He is honest and sincere in his life and passionate about his work. He also discovers a passion for Sonia. In an on-set interview, Juhi Chawla talked about the roles of Sonia and Bablu:
"I play a sort of high-society, la-di-da kind of executive and I fall in love with the good guy, Bablu, who's working with me at a hotel. Basically, I have a lot of light scenes, a lot of funny scenes. The comic part is with us. Actually, Bablu is a very cute, very, very nerdy little character that is being played by Shah Rukh. He's very interesting on screen. A little bit of - a sort of Charlie Chaplanesque sort of touch to him. Good at his work but always getting into trouble, falling into little traps or making mistakes, doing silly things. He's very, very cute."
Bad guy Manu is a master of disguises. But Manu won't need a disguise when he discovers his duplicate in Bablu. Manu has escaped from jail and wants to get the loot from the bank heist that put him in jail. He schemes to eliminate the three colleagues who helped him pull off the robbery then betrayed him. He is working on carrying out his revenge spree when he happens upon his look-a-like.
This is no Prince and the Pauper story. Manu is deadly and Bablu is honest to a fault - a fault which Manu leverages to his advantage. When Manu becomes Bablu and Bablu becomes Manu, the story becomes twice as interesting. Each character carries over their own moral code - or lack thereof - into their new role.
The item song "Ladna Jhagadna" is a polka that visually (and humorously) depicts how switching Manu and Bablu impacts Lily and Sonia. During the shooting of the film, Sonali Bendre reflected on the importance of the character of Lily:
"She is the gangster's moll, the gangster's girlfriend. It's completely a very hard type of character. She dances in the club. She's this very sensuous woman. It's all very openly sexy. Which is something which I don't think we do enough in Hindi film - we don't have such openly sexiness as a heroine. I mean a heroine does not do this kind of open sexiness. And it's just completely opposite to what I am as a person, so it was a major challenge to do it."
Bablu and Manu become integrated into the fabric of each other's lives despite feeling that they don't really belong. Manu is out for revenge while Bablu tries to save the lives of those he loves. Eventually, Manu leads everyone into a trap and Bablu's strength of character is tested. In an Indian Express interview, Shah Rukh Khan explains:
"The message of the film is that no one is as dumb as you think they are. Just because they are nice, don't misconstrue that they are idiots."
You may notice some of the imperfections in the special effects, but most likely you will be more engaged in the story (and subtitles) so many of these small flaws pass by unnoticed. The strength is less in the special effects and more in the characterizations which are well drawn by the actors.
This was the first time Shah Rukh Khan played a true double role in a film and he keenly felt the importance of doing a credible job. In an on-set interview he explained,
"I believe you have to be a very good actor to be able to do a double role like, say, Dilip saab or Bachchan saab, who have done a lot of justice to double roles ... You need an experience of at least 5, 10 years. So, I personally feel I've done this film a little earlier than I should have."
Because Shah Rukh Khan excels at physical comedy, this was the perfect film to test out his double role wings - and he soars. It helped to have the talented Juhi Chawla as a costar. Juhi brings excellent comic timing to her role without acting like a comedian. The storyline, item songs, and character interactions make this an entertaining film worth repeat watching.