Starring Shashi Kapoor, Rakheee, Ranjeet, Iftekhar, Nazir Husain, Narendranath, Anita Guha, Asit Sen (guest appearance)

Double role by a lead actor has been a convenient technique that has seldom failed to appeal to Hindi cinema audience — the clash of good and evil. There are, however, very few examples of such dual acts in Hollywood. Peter Sellers in “Dr Strangelove”, Mike Myers in “Austin Powers”, Lee Marvin’s Best Actor Academy Award in “Cat Ballou” are some performances that instantly come to mind. In India, especially in Bollywood, it has been somewhat more frequent but, invariably, to good effect even if somewhat technically weak. Filmmaker Govind Nihalani, who though has never used the devise in any of his ventures, defines it as “an almost genre in itself.”

While Rajesh Khanna did dual roles in 10 films, his successor at the box office, Amitabh Bachchan, has essayed double, or even triple roles in 11 flicks. For the leading ladies, it seems to have begun with Nargis in Khwaja Ahmad Abbas’s first commercial venture, “Anhonee”. Others who have set the screen on fire with their double acts are: Sadhana in “Woh Kaun Thi” and “Mera Saaya”; Hema Malini in “Seeta aur Geeta” (Ramesh Sippy’s take on “Ram Aur Shyam”); Sharmila Tagore in “An Evening in Paris” and “Mausam”; Sridevi in “Chaalbaaz” (yet another version of ‘Ram Aur Shyam”; Madhuri Dixit in ‘Sangeet’; Kajol in “Dushman”, and others. Amongst the more unforgettable is Rakhee in “Sharmilee”, which was only her second Hindi film.

This was first of the 10 films that Shashi Kapoor and Rakhee worked together in between 1971 and 1985, six of which were big hits. Made under the banner of Subodh Mukherjee Productions and directed by Samir Ganguly, “Sharmilee” has grossed over Rs 2,60,00,000 since its opening. Neeraj’s lyrics and S. D. Burman’s compositions contributed substantially to its successful performance at the box office. Who would forget the songs — “Megha Chhaye Aadhi Raat”, and the female version of “Khilte Hai Gul Yahan” by Lata Mangeshkar (the male version was rendered by Kishore Kumar), “Kaise Kahen Hum”, “Oh Meri Sharmilee”’ (Kishore solos), “Reshmi Ujala Hai Makhmali Andhera”’ (Asha Bhosle) and the Kishore-Lata duet, “Aaj Madhosh Hua Jaye Re”’. The film was based on a story by Hindi pulp fiction master Gulshan Nanda, and scripted by in-house writers. Vijendra Gaur authored some fine dialogue for it.

The narrative opens with the introduction of twin sisters, the shy simpleton sporting traditional outfits, Kanchan, and perky, playful, educated Kamini (Rakhee). While stealing food for herself and her stranded friends from the army mess in a remote area of Kashmir, the effervescent, westernised Kamini is chased and caught by Captain Ajit Kapoor, an orphan adopted by Father Joseph (Nazir Husain). Expectedly, it is love at first sight. Ajit accepts the proposal but Kamini disappears before the event and also faces a murder charge. She kills Kundan (Ranjeet in a miniscule role), the henchman of Tiger (Narendranath). Kanchan is then forced to marry Ajit, but her letter of warning and truth never reaches him, and misunderstanding and disowning follows when she owns up her true identity.

While on the hunt for invaders near the frontier, Ajit runs into Kamini again who helps him regain his comfiture. But amongst the enemies is also a woman who closely resembles the twins. Quick turns and twists keep the 165-minute narrative alive till the very climax backed by Burman’s score at its very best. The lead pair excels. Rakhee trots through divergent characters effortlessly while the subsidiary cast runs through its act mechanically.

Technically, N. V. Srinivas’s cinematography backed by some sharp editing by V. K. Naik succeeds in keeping the pace steady. The underworld plot in the film seems an unnecessary juxtaposition, so was a terribly composed action sequence during the climax thus affecting the overall impact — bad dessert after a wholesome meal.