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Sister act

The brother-sister bond has been much explored, and also has been the subject for many compositions in the history of movie-making. Jerry Pinto on the sisters who shone and the ones who nauseated in Hindi cinema.

entertainment Updated: Aug 28, 2007 13:41 IST
Jerry Pinto

The most embattled brother-sister relationship in recent times is undoubtedly that of the Dutts (Sanjay-Priya-Namrata). Soha Ali Khan also went through trying times, standing by her bhai Saif through his failed relationships and his hospitalisation.

Otherwise, the sister in Bollywood is generally tiresome. She is presented as a pleasant pain, but when she was played by coquettes like Tabassum, she ended up sounding as if she were half in love with her brother instead of merely tolerating his disgusting presence.

Practically the only woman who could play this role without being nauseating was Farida Jalal, but that was because she was a good and under-rated actor. It's no wonder the brother-sister relationship was one that was much loved by scriptwriters. First, it allowed for expressions of love that were not contaminated by Eros and allowed for another register to turn up in the songs.

Raksha Bandhan, a comparatively young festival in the Hindu pantheon became the occasion for many songs including the evergreen Raakhi ka bandan tu nibhaana bhaiya mere.

<b1>Second, it allowed for a feminine presence that was neither the pure milky whiteness of the heroine nor the blood-red challenge of the vamp. By being naughty, variously described as chanchal and natkhat, she allowed for another kind of lovemaking.

The sister was always falling in love with the wrong person. Often this wrong person was the sidekick of the hero. Sometimes he was the sneering villain who anyone could see was bad news. Anyone but the sister, of course.

One of the most troublesome sisters of all time was Pran's sister in Pyaar Kiya To Darna Kya.

She goes off to marry the servant in Shammi Kapoor's house. Pran is sure that Shammi has done this to spite him so he sets about to destroy his marriage by setting his own girlfriend (Helen, who else) on to the hero.

The other problematical sister of more recent times was Renuka Shahane in Hum Aapke Hain Koun…! She falls down a staircase and dies soon after, resurrecting after many moons the savage staircase of sorrow, a staple in Hindi cinema and it is left to Tuffy, a pomeranian of perspicacity to play deus ex machina and bring the principles together again.

Professor Dr (Mrs) Rachel Dwyer of School of Oriental and African Studies, London, points out, "Twin sisters have often haunted the imagination of Hindi filmmakers. It allows them to play with the good and bad side of feminine identity. It's a tradition that . reaches down from Anhonee in which Nargis played a double role; right up to Hema Malini in Seeta aur Geeta and Kajol in Kuch Khatti Kuch Meethi."

Perhaps the figure of the sister has not received as much attention as the figure of the brother because there aren't too many sisters in the Ramayana or the Mahabharata.

It has long been my contention that Hindi films are based on the Ramayana (one man, a perfect figure of a man fights evil and gets back the girl against almost insurmountable odds) while Indian television is based on the Mahabharata (two families, linked by blood, go into battle against each other). In both these cases, there are brothers who band together or bond together. Sisters get short shrift, at least, in the main cast of characters.

Rahul Srivastava, noted sociologist and researcher, agrees. "The sisters in the Mahabharata are peripheral characters, if you consider Amba, Ambika and Ambalika peripheral. Bhishma's terrible vow, is that peripheral?"

I stand corrected.

It did not pay however to be Amitabh Bachchan's sister. In Majboor, the poor thing was in a wheelchair. In Besharam, his sister ended up on the wrong side of a pair of scissors. In Muqaddar ka Sikandar, her marriage was held up because her brother kept hanging out with the infamous Zohrabai (Rekha) who then killed herself to keep her vow to the said brother's (Bachchan's) friend who makes her promise that she will never see him again. They don't make them like Prakash Mehra any more.