Review: ‘Dobaaraa,’ starring Taapsee Pannu and Pavail Gulati

August 27, 2022

by Carla Hay

Taapsee Pannu in “Dobaaraa” (Photo courtesy of Bulaji Motion Pictures)

“Dobaaraa”

Directed by Anurag Kashyap

Hindi with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in 1996 and in 2021, in Hinjawadi, Pune, India, the sci-fi drama film “Dobaaraa” (a remake of the 2018 Spanish film “Mirage”) features an all-Indian cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A woman in the medical profession finds out that she can see the past through a television set, and she tries to prevent the death of a boy who was killed in an auto accident 25 years earlier. 

Culture Audience: “Dobaaraa” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of stars Taapsee Pannu and Pavail Gulati; the original “Mirage” film; and suspenseful movies about time traveling and alternate realities.

Pavail Gulati in “Dobaaraa” (Photo courtesy of Bulaji Motion Pictures)

The last 15 minutes of “Dobaaraa” try to rush in a lot of convenient solutions, but this sci-fi thriller (a remake of the 2018 Spanish film “Mirage”) is riveting from beginning to end. Some parts of the movie are predictable, while others are not. Fans of alternate-reality stories should enjoy “Dobaaraa,” but viewers must be willing to pay full attention, in order for the movie to have its intended impact. In other words, the alternate realities in the story might confuse people who aren’t fully engaged or are easily distracted by other things while watching the movie.

Directed by Anurag Kashyap and written by Nihit Bhave, “Dobaaraa” (which translates to “second time” in Hindi) goes back and forth between the years 1996 and 2021, but the story takes place mostly in 2021. “Dobaaraa” opens in 1996, in Hinjawadi, Pune, India. On the night of an electrical storm, a 12-year-old boy named Anay (played by Arrian Sawant) is witnessing a disturbing crime in the house directly across the street from the house where he lives: A woman named Rujuta (played by Medini Kelamane) is being beaten severely by her cruel and abusive husband Raja Ghosh (played by Saswata Chatterjee) during a domestic violence argument.

During this attack, Rujuta is knocked down to the floor. Not quite believing what he just saw, Anay runs over to the Ghosh house to see if Rujuta is okay. When he goes in the house (the front door is unlocked), Anay sees Rujuta’s bloody and lifeless body on the living room floor. Suddenly, Raja appears in the doorway and sees that Anay knows that Rujuta is dead.

“Who are you?” Raja yells at Anay. A frightened Anay runs away as Raja chases after Anay. Anay runs out into the street to go back to his house, but he is tragically hit and killed by a fire truck before he makes it back to his house.

Anay was an only child who lived with his single mother Shikha Vats (played by Vidushi Mehta), who is a loving and devoted parent. At the time of Anay’s death, his parents were separated and headed for divorce. Anay’s father was not been involved in raising Anay since the separation. Anay missed his father immensely, so Anay would often make home video messages that he wanted his father to eventually see.

When Anay made these video messages, he usually set the video camera up on the television in his bedroom. This television becomes an important element of the story, because the TV becomes a time portal where someone from the future can see Anay. It’s also mentioned several times in the movie that Anay was a big fan of the 1984 sci-fi action film “The Terminator,” which had a time-traveling aspect to the story where someone from the future must save someone from the past.

The movie then fast-forwards 25 years after Anay’s death to 2021. The perspective shifts to a nurse in her late 30s named Antara Bhatt (played by Taapsee Pannu), who works at Blue Cross Hospital, where she often assists a surgeon named Dr. Sethupathi (played by Nassar). Antara is somewhat of an unconventional hospital nurse because she wears a nose ring. She is happy in her job but unhappy in her marriage to Vikas Awasthi (played by Rahul Bhat), who works as a hotel manager.

The discontent in their marriage is shown early on, in a scene in the couple’s kitchen, where Antara tells Vikas that his nonsense used to be music to her ears. “But now, you irritate me,” she coldly says to him. The couple apparently had conversations about splitting up before, but these conversations are not in the movie. However, Antara and Vikas have already decided that they are going to separate.

Vikas tells Antara that they should wait one month before they discuss the separation with their daughter Avanti (played by Myra Rajpal), who’s about 6 or 7 years old. Avanti is the couple’s only child. Vikas and Antara both adore Avanti, but Antara is the more attentive parent.

The decision to separate has come at an awkward time because Antara and Vikas have recently moved into a house. Antara has a platonic male friend named Abhishek (played by Sukant Goel), whom she met when they both attended the same university. Abhishek is one of two guests who attend a small housewarming dinner party hosted by Antara and Vikas.

Abishek tells Antara that he’s very familiar with this house because it’s where his childhood friend Anay used to live before Anay was tragically killed when he was hit by a fire truck on a rainy night. Abishek also says that Anay was died after witnessing a domestic violence murder at a neighbor’s house. The guilt-ridden neighbor confessed to his wife’s murder and admitted his role in inadvertently causing Anay’s death.

And guess who is also with Abhishek at this party? Anay’s mother Shikha, who became a mother figure to Abhishek after Anay’s death. Abhishek tells Antara stories about his childhood memories of Anay and how they used to love watching “The Terminator” together. Antara also hears about Anay’s video messages to his father.

The TV set that Anay’s family used to have is still in the house in the room that used to be Anay’s bedroom. Abhishek is amazed to see that this old TV is still there. Shikha is overcome with emotion and she can no longer stay in the house because it brings back painful memories. Her sadness puts a damper on the dinner party, which soon ends.

After the guests leave, a curious Antara turns on the television set. And she sees a boy on the screen who is filming himself and making a video message. To Antara’s shock, the boy on the TV can see and hear her too. She asks the boy what his name is, and he says his name is Anay. Antara notices that it’s raining heavily where Anay is, while Anay notices that Anatara is in a room that looks like his bedroom.

And when Anay tells Antara that he can hear the neighbor spouses fighting in the house across the street, Antara immediately knows that she’s looking into the past on the night that Anay was killed. Antara begs Anay not to go outside, because she says she’s from the future, and she knows that he will be hit by a truck if he goes outside. Anay doesn’t believe she’s from the future until she tells him about Abhishek.

The rest of “Dobaaraa” is somewhat of a mind-bending ride where alternate realities come into the picture, based on decisions that change the lives of people in the movie. It’s enough to say that Antara convinces Anay not to go outside on that fateful night. And the next day, Antara wakes up and finds out that her life is very different.

Antara is now a surgeon, not a nurse, at Blue Cross Hospital. Her nose ring is gone, and she has a shorter hairstyle. Her confusion turns to utter panic, when Antara goes to her daughter Avanti’s school to watch Avanti during swimming practice and finds out that Avanti has disappeared. Even worse: No one but Antara remembers or knew that Avanti existed. Vikas is still a manager at the same hotel, but when Antara goes there to talk to him, Vikas denies knowing Antara and says that he does not have a child.

Antara reports Avanti as a missing child, but since there are no records of Avanti, the police generally treat Antara as if Antara is mentally ill. Only one cop takes her desperate search for Avanti seriously: Deputy Commissioner of Police Anand (played by Pavail Gulati), who is about the same age as Antara. He offers to help Antara solve the mystery of why Avanti has disappeared and why many aspects of Antara’s life are very different from what she remembers before she woke up that day.

As the frantic mother Antara, Pannu gives an admirable performance that will keep viewers curious to see what will happen next. Kashyap’s direction of “Dobaaraa” maintains a suspenseful tone, while the film’s musical score by Shor Police skillfully conveys the right moods for every scene. The last third of the movie stumbles a bit with a plot development resembling a soap opera, but it doesn’t detract too much from the overall story.

Just like a lot of movies involving time traveling and alternate realities, based on people’s life-changing decisions, “Dobaaraa” has themes about fate versus free will. It’s a movie that will also make people think about how regret or gratitude about how one’s life has turned out can influence decisions that have ripple effects on one’s own life and the lives of others. “Dobaaraa” is more of a sci-fi thriller than a story heavily steeped in life philosophies. And therefore, it’s an entertaining but flawed story that thankfully doesn’t want to preach to its audience and lets viewers enjoy the ride as the story’s mystery is solved.

Balaji Motion Pictures released “Dobaaraa” in select U.S. cinemas and in India on August 19, 2022.

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