Prashant Walde is a professional lookalike of Shah Rukh Khan. His childhood passion, though, was choreography. “I used to lock myself in the bathroom and practise dance for two-three hours at a stretch. When my father [a doctor] finally got wind of what I was up to, he said, ‘There is nothing wrong in dancing. But it would be better if you take up a government job and settle down.’” That advice seemed sound but was wasted “on someone to whom dreams mattered above all else”. Walde won a dance competition, had his picture appear in a local newspaper, and decided to seek a career in choreography.
What he was valued for, though, was his looks. People wanted him to perform at local shows as a Shah Rukh lookalike. “People used to tell me that I look like him.” But such requests didn’t stop, and before long, his ambitions turned from choreography to making the most of the resemblance. Married by now, and with a child, Walde found himself taking a Rs 4,500-per-month job in Nagpur as a cybercafe operator. “My in-laws said, ‘We like your looks but will you feed our daughter with your face?’” He was miserable in Nagpur.
Most of his pay was spent on petrol. Above all, he wasn’t happy at work. Eight months into the job, he asked his wife for one last chance to try making it big in Bollywood. So in 2007, with his son barely a few months old, he arrived in Mumbai. As luck would have it, he got an audition within a week. Luckily too, there was space in the market for a Shah Rukh lookalike, since another popular lookalike had packed up one fine morning and left for Surat (where he now drives a rickshaw). But he had competition at the audition. “There were many Shah Rukh lookalikes there, and I was like, ‘How will I pass the test?’” Maybe it was the trip he took to a nearby saloon to freshen up. Maybe it was plain dumb luck. Whatever it was, he soon had his first TV commercial. He sent word home to his wife to join him in Mumbai.
“I rented a 1 BHK in Mira Road. There were no utensils or bedding, but at least my son wasn’t starving because there was milk at home.” Without the likeness, Walde feels, he would have been a no-hoper. “If I had told people, ‘I am Prashant Walde’, nobody would have given me a second look. Shah Rukh has come like a god in my life. It is in his name that I earn, feed my family and have managed to buy this house,” he says, of his 670-sq-ft flat that overlooks a hill. In Hindi cinema, the job of a lookalike is not just to look like the original, but to do—in film parlance—the ‘undoable’.
In Om Shanti Om, there is a fleeting scene in which Shah Rukh’s character is stunned to see his own image in a window. “That was me,” says Walde. “They didn’t want to break that shot, so they had me appear at the window.” For Don 2, Walde did shots of moving hands and hovering shadows. “It saves Shah Rukh’s time.” Lookalikes who take on such tasks are called ‘body doubles’. While they often operate as stand-ins for technical reasons, they are usually called upon for shots that make stars balk, shots that are too difficult, embarrassing or risky. Recently, Walde was called in for a commercial shoot when Shah Rukh refused to get drenched in paint. “It was a risky shot in the sense they wanted him to lie flat on his stomach with paint spilt all over his body and face. Risky, because his face was involved. That’s when they asked me if I would do it. They assured me they had prepared the mixture with great care.