Playing in Rotterdam, Urf is a bittersweet exploration of Bollywood looks

Urf is playing at the Rotterdam International Film Festival.

Urf is playing at the Rotterdam International Film Festival.

In Bombay, everyone is behaving like they have a camera. It’s the result of being close to celebrities and living in a city where dreams are flourishing. The place is designed in such a way that it hangs with a half chance to keep the desires, to be discovered and to change life in an instant. Everyone here is an open fan and close artist, waiting for auditions and displaying their admiration on the sides. Some fail, some succeed in succeeding. There are also those who find themselves in the middle ground behind celebrities, gaining fame from celebrities. They are the closest to stardom, but the farthest. The lyricist Narang Abbasi’s aka, the bitter documentary playing at the International Film Festival in Rotterdam, is about them: body doubling, good impersonators, doppler gangers.

Urf, also known as ‘Also Known’ in English, marks the lives of three iconic figures in Bombay – Kishore Anand Bhanushali (Jr. Dev Anand), Prashant Valde (Shah Rukh Khan’s Body Double), Feroz Khan (Amitabh Bachchan’s Doppler). All three share similarities with the said actors. From this similarity they have shaped a career. Bhanushali has acted in films like Dil and Ramgarh Kay Sholay (his Wikipedia page has over 100 acting credentials). Professionally an engineer and choreographer, Walde has starred in commercials, and Khan has starred in a number of films and TV series, including Bachchan’s Look.

In many ways aka is an exercise in decency. Throughout the documentary’s 93-minute runtime, Abbasi digs into the craft of acting on the merits of impersonation and tries to find the person behind the scenes. What we dismiss as mimicry is hours of observation and modulation. Khan shares a scene where he has seen the show more than 250 times. In another touching sequence, Walde sits for makeup and finds his hands on Adam’s apple, and that resemblance to Shah Rukh Khan flows across his face. Bhanushali recalls being called and congratulated by Dev Anand after the release of Dil (1990).

They are all actors in their own rights that are in line with the work of their profession. If Bollywood is a seductive industry, Abbasi says it has a lot of teeth on the wheel. She added a parallel description of Aamir Khan, Shah Rukh Khan and Salman Khan in three appearances, making a pulpy film titled ‘Aamir, Shah Rukh, Salman’. These references tell our dissatisfied followers of them like the constant attraction of the stars. In a happy moment, Salman Khan says that if the real stars make a similar film now, it will be a copycat.

But there is nothing wrong with this borrowed identity. In an industry that has always been enthusiastic about stereotypes, the look-alike shrink by their resemblance. Bhanushali shares that she has not acted for more than a decade and is tired of being told over and over again. Walde Roos is not getting enough jobs and the dry run of Shah Rukh Khan commercially may also be the reason for this. Khan allowed his daughter to queue for auditions where he should not be Amitabh Bachchan.

Abbasi chooses a clean and joyful approach, shaping their stories in the context of full devotion. Actors mostly speak from their homes with wives and children. Relics of their own worship hanging as posters on the walls. All three enjoy a huge fan following them. Walde remembers asking Shah Rukh Khan for a picture after a shoot. Following this, a group of boys gather near him for a picture. Depending on the accomplishments, there is happiness and misfortune in connecting one person’s destiny with another. The feeling is similar to being doomed to eat from a shared plate.

The filmmaker’s unwavering inclination reveals the extent and doubts of their reputation, giving them a personality despite their chosen career. The documentary develops Urf through three acts that try to infer emotions about their role as people and their work as professionals and ultimately their defining role in life. In the final step, Abbasi allows their family members to make a comment. Children express their opinion about the father’s choice to live under the shadow.

Urf covers a lot of ground on paper. Documentary has an easy liking (charged by themes), which makes it even more popular. But it is reluctant to expand or expand. Ironically, the small moments involved – such as Wade’s mockingly portraying a ‘duplicate Shah Rukh Khan’ on a dance reality show – underscore the need for in-depth exploration.

In my mind, finding the life of a single sight together would have created a more in-depth visual experience. It would have been more compelling to unveil the outline of their daily activities and their discussions with approval. Urf also does not examine the broader social equations for looking at the look-alike industry as a whole, nor does it come close to introducing us to the structure of their struggles. For example, in the larger context they are subject to depreciation, but we do not study the complexities of their value or how much they earn. The lack of these answers gives ambiguity to her choice of topics. Because, in an industry full of looks, why should we invest in Bhanushali, Wad and Khan?

Abbasi’s refusal to include these conversations makes Urf a better primer, and his attempt to become someone destroys their ability to be someone else. But by providing a center stage for actors who contain the art of acting performed by another artist, documentary acting incorporates mimicry and dignified imitation.

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