Movies are a form of deceit. What you see on the screen is often concocted to look real. Those big buildings on the screen could be miniatures, blown up through special effects to look larger than life. An actor walking through amazing backdrops could merely be someone walking across or standing in front of a blue or green screen known as a chroma, and the backdrop is inserted during editing. In keeping with the deception, the actor performing amazing stunts is usually not the star but their body double.
Often, it is difficult to distinguish between the star and the double (even in close-ups), thanks to the skillful work of makeup and wardrobe specialists, as well as the emulating abilities of the body double.
Witness the work of Prashant Walde, 46, who is Shah Rukh Khan’s double, and Krupali Madhvi, Alia Bhatt’s look-alike, who have successfully “fooled” audiences in some of the blockbusters featuring these stars.
That said, these doubles do not lead the charmed lives of the ones they imitate, but they do have careers and are recognised for their work in Bollywood. Often hailed on the street as the star, they are quickly dismissed upon closer inspection as mere copycats.
Do they feel humiliated by such dismissals? Although, sometimes, it pays to be in someone else’s skin. In the absence of the original, fans mob them for selfies, satisfying themselves that somehow they have connected with their icon. This deception works at all levels, keeping both the fans and the duplicates satisfied, particularly if it supports the lifestyle of the latter.
Shah Rukh Khan, who ironically made a film called Duplicate where he plays himself as well as his own double, has a 46-year-old duplicate whom he calls “beta”—at least that’s what Walde says.
Prashant Walde’s story
Walde, originally from Nagpur, dropped out of his B.A. programme during his second year and pursued a diploma in engineering. He later took on odd jobs, but his heart was set on becoming an entertainer. In 2001, he formed his own dance troupe and noticed that people started referring to him as SRK’s look-alike. Gradually, event organisers began asking him to dance and deliver Shah Rukh’s famous dialogues on stage. This attention sparked his realisation that he wanted to pursue a career in the city of dreams, just like his idol, Shah Rukh Khan.
With the desire to carve a niche for himself as an actor, Walde left his wife and young son in Nagpur and headed to Mumbai in search of that elusive “break”. He faced a struggle, lacking a godfather in the industry. The break came in the form of a Kurkure advertisement with Juhi Chawla, where he played Shah Rukh Khan’s double. After that, he was offered the opportunity to be his double again in Om Shanti Om, and from there, his career took off.
Walde refers to SRK as his “inspiration” and “godfather”, claiming to have learned everything from him. He mentions that SRK’s office, Red Chillies, gives him a lot of respect and treats him like a son. Although Walde has no formal training as SRK’s body double, he learns by observing him on set and on screen. He never refuses any stunt, even if some of them could be life-threatening. “I do whatever I am given,” he says. “SRK is my guru. He trusts me. I kept doing, doing, and that is how I learned my craft.”
Thanks to SRK’s encouragement, Walde was able to branch out as a writer, producer, and actor in his own production—a horror flick titled Prematur. He played the lead role opposite his wife. The film premiered in May 2021 at PVR in City Mall, Mumbai, and was subsequently released in 150 theatres. Many people from Red Chillies attended the premiere and gave him a standing ovation. Currently, the film is available on the OTT channels Hungama and MXPlayer.
To resemble SRK’s body double, Walde follows a fitness regime. He does not aim for SRK’s photogenic six-pack look but spends his spare time, after a busy schedule of shoots and shows, exercising in the gym and practising stunts and sword fights.
There is also a flip side to this career. Occasionally, people accuse him of having the airs of a hero when he is “just a body double”. In response, Red Chillies provides a ready answer: “He’s only doing his job.”
Some people suggest that he should establish his own identity, but the irony is that he has already done so as a filmmaker and actor. Prematur would not have been possible if he had not found success as SRK’s body double. In the future, he wants to continue making his own films while still embracing his SRK profile. As for an identity crisis, Walde just laughs it off.
Krupali Madhvi’s story
Twenty-three-year-old Krupali Madhvi started her journey as a modelling aspirant. She signed up for an advertisement, and after a costume change and makeup, the cameraman, upon checking the frame, exclaimed in surprise. He told her she looked a lot like Alia Bhatt, even down to the crooked front tooth! When asked if she would consider being Bhatt’s body double, she had no idea what it meant at the time, but she agreed. Her first ad was for the travel portal MakeMyTrip. While she cannot claim to have discovered stardom, she says many people now recognize her as Bhatt’s body double, which is more than enough for her.
Although she did not aspire to become a celebrity, Krupali Madhvi has gained some level of status as the “other” Alia Bhatt. However, this young psychology graduate with a certification program in Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) is more interested in the intricacies of shooting and the behind-the-scenes aspects of the industry.
Krupali Madhvi has worked as Bhatt’s body double in some scenes in Gangubai Kathiawadi, Darlings, as well as in Dharma Productions’ Rocky Aur Rani Ki Prem Kahani. Regarding her relationship with the star, she says, “Alia ma’am treats me exceptionally well, and our interactions on set are always filled with warm greetings, eye contact, and smiles.”
Like Walde, she learns to emulate her star by closely watching her movements and mannerisms on the sets. Her fitness regime differs from Bhatt’s, but the star’s dedication to it inspires her.
The irony of a psychology major being inspired by a high school graduate is not lost. While one continues to climb the ladder of stardom, the other is studying digital courses to further her creative impulses. Perhaps one day, the roles will be reversed when “Alia ma’am” has her doppelgänger calling the shots from behind the camera.
Sohaila Kapur is an actor, playwright, and theatre director.