By Pradeep Menon Aug. 20, 2022
Dobaaraa has plenty of things working work it including Tapsee Pannu’s acting and Anurag Kashyap’s direction. In fact, it possibly outdoes the original.
There are two electrical storms separated by 25 years that seem to cause all of the space-time kerfuffle in Dobaaraa. But this is a film that’s powered by two other forces of nature. The first is director Anurag Kashyap, who’s a lot more versatile than people usually give him credit for. The other is Taapsee Pannu, who is evolving constantly as an actor. On her day, she can be undeniable, gluing your eyes to the screen. The two of them – along with a third secret weapon, who I’ll come to – deliver a largely compelling thriller that actually outdoes the original film it is based on. Imported adaptations seem to be quite the rage in Hindi cinema this August, but Dobaaraa works because it is both moody and energetic while it lasts, with a sufficiently rewarding emotional payoff in the end to make it worth your while.
Dobaaraa works because it is both moody and energetic while it lasts, with a sufficiently rewarding emotional payoff in the end to make it worth your while.
The mood comes from Kashyap’s stewardship, the energy from Taapsee Pannu’s portrayal of her character Antara, who unwittingly changes the past during the aforementioned electrical storm(s). You see, while Antara in 2021 is trying to make the best of her married life and be there for her daughter Avanti, she meets school-going Anay in 1996, through an old, analog television and camcorder. Anay died back in her current timeline, in an accident that occurred shortly after he was eyewitness to a murder. The incredulous storm-caused connection between Antara and Anay means that she is able to prevent that accident, saving Anay’s life. This in turn alters her future in a devastating way – suddenly, there is no daughter, no Avanti. The storm will last for 72 hours, so that’s the ticking clock she has, to somehow figure out how she can be reunited with a daughter that no one else believes exists, in this new changed timeline for her.
Taapsee Pannu seems be making ‘Oriol Paulo Adaptation Protagonist’ a little sub-genre for herself. She commits to this one hard, making it work shades better than her turn in Badla. It helps that the cast around her is fairly solid. Pavail Gulati plays the cop investigating Antara’s seemingly far-fetched claims and her missing daughter. His character has a bit of a journey as he gets embroiled in this extraordinary situation, and Gulati makes you invest in him slowly. The excellent Rahul Bhatt plays Antara’s husband – Avanti’s father – in the original timeline. In the new one, he doesn’t even recognize Antara. In both timelines, he’s a questionable husband and perhaps the only source of the film’s humour. He doesn’t quite get a meaty part like in Kashyap’s own Ugly (2013), but Bhatt is somehow always fun to watch, as long as he’s not brooding too much. But then, how much you buy into a story like this ultimately depends on much more than just good characters.
Fitting in a decent time travel tale into a feature film is tricky, because it is one of those science-fiction elements that often demand too many leaps of faith.
Fitting in a decent time travel tale into a feature film is tricky, because it is one of those science-fiction elements that often demand too many leaps of faith. Every viewer will have a slightly different degree of how much they’re buying in to the story, and how much they’re willing to suspend their disbelief. Sometimes it may also depend on the level of proficiency in special and general relativity, even if the film doesn’t explicitly turn into a physics lesson. Which means, if you don’t nail the tightrope walk between smarting up and dumbing down, the film will crash.
This balance is critical to the intrigue that Dobaaraa’s sustains, and the person responsible for that is editor Aarti Bajaj. How much do you explain the mechanics of things? How much time do you give the audience to breathe and process? What do you speed through so that the audience does not have time to overthink and find loopholes? How much do you trust the viewer to follow you on an ostensibly outlandish story, when they are always a little smarter than Bollywood filmmakers tend to give them credit for? Bajaj has saved and/or elevated many a movie in her illustrious career (including a certain Imtiaz Ali film about a Rockstar). Not that Dobaaraa required too much saving, but it certainly needed an understanding of how much time to spend on the various twisted milestones a journey like this one takes you through. Bajaj is the film’s secret weapon.
How does little Anay process this future-past time trouble happening to him as a little boy? Simple – he’s already wise to the possibilities, as a fan of Terminator and Back to the Future
Where the film manages to distinguish itself in flavour from the original film, Oriol Paulo’s Mirage (2018), is in the little details. How does little Anay process this future-past time trouble happening to him as a little boy? Simple – he’s already wise to the possibilities, as a fan of Terminator and Back to the Future; he wears merchandise about them and even references the former multiple times. Touches like that, from Kashyap and writer Nihit Bhave, who has adapted the original script, make sure that the film keeps you on your toes. I’m not sure if the current hostility towards movies out of Bollywood will help Dobaaraa’s case at the ticket windows, but it isn’t often that Hindi cinema gives you a satisfactory thriller that you can recommend. If you’ve watched Netflix’s deep, dark, German thriller Dark, this one will feel like Dark-lite – and that isn’t a bad thing at all.