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Dobaaraa review: Only works when it’s having fun- Cinema express

Dobaaraa review: Only works when it’s having fun

Anurag Kashyap’s sci-fi thriller starring Taapsee Pannu is funny but unremarkable

Published: 19th August 2022

When not playing bright, beleaguered sportswomen, Taapsee Pannu busies herself with films of a peculiar ilk. Game Over, Looop Lapeta and now Dobaaraa all turn on some notion of second chances. They’re all thrillers, small-scale but evidently high-concept. In each, the laws of physics or destiny or mortal reality are suspended so Taapsee can go back in time and fix the unfixable. I wonder if this obsession stems from some kind of personal wish (for instance, if transported to 2017, would Taapsee walk out of Dil Juunglee and Judwaa 2?).

Director: Anurag Kashyap 

Cast: Taapsee Pannu, Pavail Gulati, Rahul Bhat, M Nassar, Sukant Goel, Saswata Chatterjee, Himanshi Choudhary

Dobaaraa is directed by Anurag Kashyap, who’s returning to feature films after the underwhelming Choked two years ago. Committing the cardinal sin of auteurist cinema (he came down hard on the term in a recent interview), Anurag has gone ahead and done a remake. The original, Mirage (2018), by Spanish director Oriol Paulo, is on Netflix. I watched both versions, and while there are differences (Dobaaraa, for example, is a much funnier film), Anurag has largely stuck to source. It’s both heartening and a little disappointing to see one of our most individualistic filmmakers tell a story straight—and not impose a personal signature.

In 1996, in Pune, a young boy witnesses a scuffle in a neighbouring house. He tries to help but is crushed under a passing truck. Years later, Antara (Taapsee), a glum, unambitious surgical assistant, wakes up in the same house once belonging to the deceased boy. She’s recently moved in there with her daughter, Avanti, and husband, Vikas (Rahul Bhat). Their marriage has palpably soured — “I used to listen to your nonsense earlier,” Antara tells Vikas, with all the succinct directness of an Anurag Kashyap heroine. “But now it just irritates me.”

In a room upstairs, they find a rusty old television set hooked to a camcorder. That night, amid news of a ‘geomagnetic storm’, Antara has a close encounter of a weird kind: the boy from 1996 turns up on the TV screen and is able to see and hear her in return. Antara cautions him to stay put, without realizing how her decision in that split-second will radically alter her reality in the here and now.

Anyone unaccustomed to time-travel tropes in Hindi movies—that is, anyone unscarred by Baar Baar Dekho and Action Replayy—will enjoy the middle section of Dobaaraa. When Antara turns up at work the next day, everyone refers to her as ‘doctor’. Her daughter’s gone missing — “She doesn’t exist,” a cop, played by Pavail Gulati, tells her. This is a late change-of-gears for Anurag, a director most associated with gritty dramas and gangster flicks. Here, by way of exposition, he and screenwriter Nihit Bhave pay tribute to several sci-fi classics: Terminator, Back to the Future (Great Scott!), Dr. Strange. These references may help in putting a lay audience at ease, but they also reveal an inferiority complex Bollywood generally feels when it comes to tackling sci-fi themes. Furthermore, invoking Christopher Nolan in a scene explaining time portals is basically Anurag going: “This is not me. Please bear with me.”

Taapsee delivered one of her better performances in the director’s Manmarziyaan (2018); the results are considerably dull this time around. All that frantic running-around and temporal investigating leaves little room for character development. Dobaaraa would be too heavy and unrelieved if not for its supporting cast: Saswata Chatterjee, memorable as a murder suspect, and Rahul Bhat as the hilariously harried Vikas. There is a chunk of English in the dialogue—an awkwardness for Anurag—which is why I laughed when someone compares Vikas’s Risotto cooking to spruced-up ‘khichdi’.

In the original film, the fall of the Berlin Wall—a different kind of portal—is nicely employed as a historical reference point. Dobaaraa, by contrast, could be taking place anywhere, anytime. The absence of a single Marathi-speaking character in a film set in Pune further escalates this feeling. Just once, the film gets vaguely political, when a cop warns that nowadays people get picked up for no reason. But that’s just a stray defence shot from a director with a strike rate of 100.

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