I watched Double Barrel! Only one Pellissery left to see. And I think this might be my least favorite of all the Pellissery’s I have seen? Which doesn’t mean I didn’t like it, just means I didn’t like it as much.
In my other Pellisery reviews I talked about how the amazing filming achievement of each film might also be the best way to find the deeper meaning within the film. In this film, the defining characteristic is that nothing is as it appears. Angle changes, fancy editing, perspective tricks.
I think what this is all trying to do is give us a world unmoored from any certainties. Up is down, dead is alive, left is right and right is left. Part of this confusion is the doubling in the film. I’m not sure I can say this clearly, but what I mean is that if you have two people, one is always first and the other is always last, one is always on top and the other is on bottom, one is left and one is right. You can flip them or turn them or re-order them and it is still equal. If you have 3 people, that doesn’t work.
The other reason for the doubling, at least for our central pair, is to add a particular layer of disturbing for the Indian film audience since they are so clearly based on our most moral characters, Jai and Veeru from Sholay. The Sholay images recur constantly, not just with Prithviraj and Indrajith’s characters, but with Thakur Sahib and his faithful attendant, and the villain unsubtly named “Gabbar”. But this is Sholay through the looking glass, where all the values have disappeared.
In the original Sholay, Jai and Veeru were delightful con men, enjoying a wild life with no responsibilities or concern for others. But what we find out at the end of the film, very dramatically, is that all their choices that appeared random were in fact moral decisions. And therefore the entire film has a moral underpinning, not from following the rules of society, but from following an inner guide.
But this is Sholay without the double-sided coin. A Sholay where our heroes really are just following their own random impulses. Where Thakur Sahib really is a coward just hiring others to do his bidding, where Radha is faithless, where it all ends not with a true sacrifice but with playing possum and escaping. Very disturbing!
Of course, it’s not all Sholay. It’s not even mostly Sholay, it’s mostly a bunch of random other stuff. There are so many different character groups, I don’t even know if I can remember them all. There are 3 major fight sequences and I-don’t-know-how-many minor ones. There’s even a massive opening credits sequence which is a contained cartoon history of civilization.
My problem with this film is, out of all of these characters and scenes, there is no one I connect to, no one I care about. And I think that is the goal? This is supposed to be a film watched with detachment, not a film watched with emotional investment. Because this is a backwards world where none of the people are “real” people. An Alice Through the Looking Glass kind of world. Only without an Alice to be our guide.
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This is going to be kind of a mess because even after watching it twice, there are still huge storylines I don’t understand fully. But I kind of get the general idea, I think. I know it all starts out with two diamonds, “Laila and Majnu”. One is red and one is yellow, but they only truly shine when they are together. Thomas Berly owns them currently, but does not want his hated son Gabbar to get them. And so, with the assistance of his loyal martial artist assistant “Sweety”, he offers to sell them to two rough thief and fighter types, Prithviraj and Indrajith, for much less than they are worth. Planning merely to use them as catalysts to start off a “game”. This is our first shocking moment of immorality, our new age Jai and Veeru hired by our new Thakur not because he is driven to desperation and trusts their inherent goodness, but because he is driven by pique and trusts their inherent chaos. Oh, and we also have a reverse call-back of our new Radha/Jaya character “Sweety” telling them not to touch anything and them reacting by making fun of her behind her back, instead of her giving them the keys to the safe and them reacting by becoming serious.
Indrajith and Prithviraj go back to their home town and talk to old friends to arrange a robbery from the local gang in order to raise the money to purchase the diamonds. And they also arrange to sell the diamonds to a Russian gang. The robbery is successful, but the local gang is determined to find them, and starts chasing them down in a new SUV stolen as a wedding present for the gangleader’s brother, and stuffed with the entire gang plus the new bride and groom. The Russians are also chasing down the diamonds, and a silent assassin is chasing down the Russians.
The second important “pair” is Majnu and Diesel, assistants of a different Don, played by Arya (who I have seen in Vettai) and Chemban Vinod Jose (who I have seen in a bunch of stuff). Their boss orders them to take away the frozen body of his girlfriend and bury it, and as a thank you he gives them his priceless drugs. Arya takes the drug and starts hallucinating that the girlfriend is still alive and in love with him. Arya is, arguably, the only “hero” in this film, doing it all for love. But it is a crazy love, a love for a hallucination. And not a sincere hallucination either, but a vision of her as he wants her to be, always loving and doting and cartoonish in how she is fawning on him. Which I appreciate, as a female audience member, that the director is clearly aware that this is an exaggeration of how women are not a reality. But which I don’t appreciate as a general audience member, because it means he isn’t really “doing it all for love”, he is doing it all for his vision of love. Which means I still don’t have someone to identify with in the cast.
There are a few other options for audience identification. The very opening of the film is an unpleasant couple having an argument in a restaurant. An argument with a very Waiting for Godot kind of dialogue. This will recur throughout the film, a consciously stilted kind of dialogue that is more about being aware of the artificiality of the film construction than characters actually communicating with each other. It’s not that couple which is our option for audience identification. That couples’ unpleasant argument is interrupted by a hitman (Sunny Wayne) coming in and shooting someone at the next table. And then shooting them as witnesses. Which leaves the little silent 5 year old they were ignoring at their table. Who smiles and holds up his squeaky toy at the hitman. Who picks him up and carries him away.
The hitman and his new 5 year old keep popping up throughout the film. It’s a pair that was created and we can watch their relationship build, unlike all the other pairs that are just static throughout the film. It even has a heartwarming ending, the hitman being distracted from taking a shot by the child smiling at him. And then the two of them going off into the sunset together.
There are a few heartwarming endings. Our wedding group finds a hidden cash pile and takes off with loads of money for the honeymoon. Prithviraj and Indrajith end up with the priceless jewels.
Our most obvious audience identification couple also gets a happy ending. Just before the first major fight sequence, a young couple pulls into the deserted parking lot looking for a make-out spot. And then end up witnessing a massive shootout. They leave the parking lot to go to a hotel where, once again, they end up sitting in silent witness to a gunfight. And finally, they park in the middle of an empty field, to witness the massive last shootout. As pure voyeurs, never acting in the action, just witnessing it, they are obvious audience stand-ins. And they get a happy ending too, after the last shootout, the woman walks away from the car, the man chases after her, and they finally embrace and kiss.
But ultimately, none of these connections and couples feel “real”. It’s all like the stilted dialogue and over the top costuming, a pretense of emotions and relationships and feelings, nothing that a real person can actually connect with. There is only one moment that felt “real” to me. Way at the end, Arya is having another vision of his dead girlfriend. But this time she seems aware that she is dead, and she asks him if he can bury her in consecrated ground, instead of an unmarked grave, that is all she wants. Arya does it, and then leaves her (both her actual body and his vision of her) behind him in the cemetery. And as he and his partner walk away, she stays behind, and we see a vision of all the other dead joining her on the hill. It’s a moment of real sacrifice, Arya giving her the resting place she wants and letting go of his vision of her. And it’s also a moment of real beauty, seeing all the dead gather together.
I think Pellissery must have known that moment was something special because he put the ending credits frame right after it, and only then added a tag back to the irreverent version of Jai and Veeru (Prithviraj and Indrajith) celebrating their amoral victory.