WILD CARD: The Despair At the Heart of Anurag Kashyap’s Movie Dobaaraa

K-dramas, masala movies, arty films, streaming shows — if it’s on a screen, Deepanjana Pal has an opinion on it
WILD CARD: The Despair At the Heart of Anurag Kashyap’s Movie Dobaaraa

If you're one of those people who decides whether or not to watch a film based on the reviews it gets, director Anurag Kashyap's Dobaaraa (2022) is a dilemma. Look no further than Film Companion to see the range of opinions it has evoked. While Anupama Chopra found it "middling and muddled", Rahul Desai said the film "speaks to the messy chemistry between art and life" (this is a good thing, in case you were wondering). If you're one of those people who is more interested in ideas and how they may be interpreted, rather than the actual nitty-gritty of the film, read on.    


Dobaaraa is a thriller about time travel in which the protagonist Antara (Taapsee Pannu) alters the timeline to create a new future. When Antara is able to go back in time, she prevents the death of a child named Anay. You would think this is a good thing and in some ways, the changed future in which Antara finds herself does seem rosier. Much of what she disliked about her life in the other timeline has either been erased or transformed. However, there are costs to this ostensibly improved version. Antara is now a doctor in the altered timeline (she was a nurse in the unaltered past), but as is invariably the case in fiction, a woman's professional success has to come at the cost of a personal life. And so, unlike the other Antara who was a mother, the altered Antara has no family. As Dobaaraa plods on, it turns out that there's a lot of truth to ye olde saying, "no good deed goes unpunished". The consequences of Antara's original action include her longing for her missing child and plunging one of the characters in the film into a traumatic existence (so much so that death seems to be a better option). 

The message in Dobaaraa seems to be to focus on and live in the present, no matter how utterly awful it might be. The film takes the idea of change being a good thing, and turns it on its head. Being proactive and pushing to make a difference leads to circumstances that are far worse. The consequence of ensuring a child doesn't die is to leave a mother pining for her own kid and an audience wishing there hadn't been any intervention. It's almost as though Dobaaraa is encouraging us to be apathetic: Accept your lot and the unhappiness that comes with it, because pushing for change will make things worse than you can imagine in the present. This is hardly uplifting as a thought, particularly at a time when the news must surely make you wish you could change the way institutions are functioning in India today. Nestled within this despair is also a sense of defeat because even with fantastical devices like time travel, Dobaaraa can't imagine a better future. Rather, it chooses not to, and that is a truly depressing thought. 

Because the imagination should be about eking hope out from all that seems hopeless in the real world. Perhaps one of the most charming examples of this is Jean-Pierre Jeunet's Amelie (2001), which still feels magical as much because of the visual quirks that Jeunet infused into his imaginary Paris as for the flights of fantasy that Amelie takes. Under the vivid colours and eccentric flourishes of Amelie is the story of a little girl who has always turned to her imagination to make her reality bearable. Her early life is a sequence of events that are increasingly traumatic — her father neglects her, she loses her (suicidal) pet goldfish, her mother is killed in front of her — and Amelie's response is to imagine a different reality in which she and those around her are happy. 

Both Antara and Amelie's actions prove to be life-changing; only in Amelie, the storytelling rewards its protagonist for trying to make a difference whereas Antara is punished for it. While Kashyap's Dobaaraa leaves us in a cocoon of apathy, Jeunet's film offers both Amelie and the audience an assurance that happiness and hope are there for the taking. Perhaps that kind of optimism is no longer possible, even in the world of make-believe that is cinema. 

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