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Movie Review: Dobaaraa (2022)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Science fiction films are rare in Bollywood, so when a sci-fi Hindi film doesn’t quite work, it’s extra disappointing. Dobaaraa — a remake of the 2018 Spanish film Mirage — doesn’t lean hard enough into sci-fi genre tropes, making it feel identity-less.

Night closes in on a subdivision in Pune in 1996, bringing with it a powerful electrical storm. 12-year-old Anay (Aarrian Sawant) consoles himself by watching old videos of his dad, who’s working abroad. As Anay switches the camera to record himself, he sees a commotion through the window of the house next door. He goes to investigate and winds up dead.

25 years later, new occupants move in to Anay’s old house. Antara (Taapsee Pannu) is unhappy in her marriage to Vikas (Rahul Bhat), but she’s trying to keep things civil for the sake of their 6-year-old daughter Avanti (Myra Rajpal). The couple’s college pal Abhishek (Sukant Goel) still lives in the neighborhood, and he tells them over dinner the story of what happened to Anay, his childhood best friend.

Vikas mentions later that it’s weird that Abhishek didn’t mention this when they bought the house, which is true. The movie ignores Abhishek’s omission, missing a chance to build tension by putting suspicion on him for the events to come.

After dinner, Abhishek explains more about Anay’s video camera, which Antara found in a closet in the boy’s old room. This information comes in handy later that night, when Antara is woken by an eerily similar electrical storm. Rather than head back to bed, she turns on Anay’s camera. She sees him in 1996, he sees her in 2021, and they are able to talk to each other. When he hears the commotion next door, she convinces him not to investigate. She saves his life but turns her own upside down in the process.

At this point (about a quarter of the way through the film), I was so sold on Dobaaraa that I turned it off so that I could watch it from the beginning with my husband. Whether in books, shows, or films, time-space anomalies are our jam. We recently finished watching the great 2016 Korean series Signal, which also features characters communicating across time via outdated tech, so Dobaaraa seemed like a great pick for a Saturday night movie.

Unfortunately, after we caught up the point where I’d stopped watching, the movie all but abandons its sci-fi trappings to become a lukewarm mystery in which the audience figures out what’s happening long before the main character does. Antara spends a ton of time grilling the people in her life about why they remember things differently, bogging down the story in dialogue that fails to progress the plot or develop the characters.

With a more traditional sci-fi approach to the story, Antara would try to figure out how to recreate the conditions that led her to contact Anay in the first place, and there might be more details about the nature of the electrical storm. If this were a true thriller, Antara would be up against a deadline or in peril herself. Without genre hooks or a true sense of urgency, Dobaaraa‘s conventional drama approach doesn’t really work, because the characters are less interesting than their situation.

A few scenes of Anay in the altered timeline where he survived have the level of danger associated with the thriller genre. But even then, it gets the beats wrong, putting Anay in harm’s way, only to change scenes before we see how he gets out of it.

There’s not a ton the actors can do with the script. Young Aarrian Sawant is pretty good as Anay. Taapsee Pannu builds sympathy for Antara in the early parts of the film but stalls out as her character’s emotional range shrinks. Antara may be frustrated in Dobaaraa‘s second act, but not as frustrated as the audience waiting for her to connect the dots.

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