'Sandra from Bandra' to 'Oh Fanny re': The changing face of Christians in films

As priests, matrons, or secretaries with plunging necklines, Christian characters in Bollywood have endeared themselves to us. But things are changing in an industry notorious for sticking to stereotypes. We look at a clutch of refreshing characters coming out of the Bollywood stable.

bollywood Updated: Sep 12, 2014 19:22 IST
Nivedita Mishra
Nivedita Mishra
Hindustan Times
Catholic,Christian Characters,Bollywood

As Catholic priests, caring matrons and fun-loving secretaries with plunging necklines, Christian characters from Bollywood (and others too) have endeared themselves to us. For most parts, they come across as warm and fun-loving people. But that's where, many would argue, the problem lies - in stereotyping a community.

Christians of India are certainly not a monolith. Not all speak Hindi with a Mumbaiyya accent, getting their gender wrong. 'Khuda ka ghar' is not the only place where you are likely to find them. You will see them in far more professions than nursing and as secretaries. Yet, for years, popular cinema, has typecast them.

But winds of change are quite perceivable and so is the representation of a community. The fact the Preity Zinta's character in Kal Ho Na Ho is called Naina Catherine Kapoor is proof enough.


As Deepika Padukone's Finding Fanny hits the screens on Friday, HT looks at some of best-loved characters from the films.

Mrs D'Sa (Anari) and the stereotype

As the kind-hearted if talkative landlady Mrs D'Sa in Anari, Lalita Pawar charmed audience with her warmth while Nazir Hussain's catholic priest act who adopts and brings up Anthony Gonsalves in Amar Akbar Anthony will always ring a bell among lovers of cinema. In Anand, Hrishikesh Mukherjee gave Lalita Pawar a metamorphosis, weaning her away from her evil mother-in-law image. As strict but affectionate matron, nobody really minded her reprimanding Anand.

https://www.hindustantimes.com/Images/popup/2014/9/Akbar-Matron-Mrs-D-Sa.jpgJulie (Julie)

Here was a film that was a superhit but it had all the possible stereotypes one could imagine. An Anglo Indian Christian girl falls for a Hindu boy and in a moment of passionate encounter gets pregnant. While many will argue that it is work of fiction and such plots work, it's hard not to miss the stereotypes - girl with 'easy morals', unwed mother, Hindu boy with can have sex but take no responsibility for his act, the film was as clichéd as it gets.

https://www.hindustantimes.com/Images/popup/2014/9/Julie.jpgNancy and Tony (Baton Baton Mein)

A middle-of-the-road family drama about love, relationships, family values and generation gap, this is easily one of the gems of Hindi cinema. Nancy (Tina Munim) and Tony (Amol Palekar) are listless singles till Tom (David) introduces them to each other. Friendship ensues and soon develops into love though Tony has commitment issues while Nancy has just come out of a bad relationship. To add to their woes, both have troublesome mothers - Nancy's mom wants a well-off son-in-law while Tony's mother is possessive of her son. This Basu Chatterjee helmed film is an authentic take on Mumbai Christians and telling middle-class tale.

https://www.hindustantimes.com/Images/popup/2014/9/BatonBatonMein.jpgAnthony Gonsalves (Amar Akbar Anthony)

Manmohan Desai is said to have lived in Mumbai chawls in his growing-up years and those were images is carried along with him through his creative journey. The character of Anthony Gonsalves is apparently based on a real-life person he had once known. But it was Amitabh Bachchan who embraced the character with all his heart and soul to give us one of the best-loved Christian characters Hindi cinema has known. Mumbaiyya Hindi has never sounded this good. Easter party was never so joyous and Sunday mass was never looked forward to with such zest.

https://www.hindustantimes.com/Images/popup/2014/9/AntonyGonsalves.jpgMiss Mary (Mera Naam Joker)

Raj Kapoor's semi autobiographical movie, Mera Naam Joker, had a character named Miss Mary, played by Simi Grewal. She plays an understanding teacher to Rishi Kapoor who is besotted by her beauty. As a young and delicate beauty, Miss Mary cuts a perfect image of a Christian teacher in missionary-run school.

https://www.hindustantimes.com/Images/popup/2014/9/Mera-Naam-Joker.jpgBobby (Bobby)

Raj Kapoor would often say that this is how he first saw Nargis. And that's how he would introduce his young star in Bobby - a 16-year-old girl is a short dress opening the door with pancake batter on her hair. Bobby was the love story between a Christian fisherman's daughter and a wealthy man's young son. Simplistic some might say, but honest in the manner it depicted the self respecting if happy-go-lucky fisher folks of the Mumbai area.

https://www.hindustantimes.com/Images/popup/2014/9/Bobby.jpgMaria (Saagar)

Yet another tale set in Goa, Saagar was again a love triangle between Dimple, Rishi Kapoor and Kamal Haasan with Dimple and Kamal playing Christian characters. Much drinking, merry making and dancing apart, the film, at least in spirit, captured the essence of Goa's colourful culture.

https://www.hindustantimes.com/Images/popup/2014/9/Saagar.jpgAnna (Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa)

Here's a sweet romantic comedy where the hero ends up being the loser! Sunil (SRK) loves Anna (Suchitra Krishnamurthy) but Anna love Chris and eventually gets married to him breaking Sunil's heart. Set in Goa the film gives a Bollywoodised version of Goan families, both Christian and Hindu, and ends up being an adorable tale of hope and love.

https://www.hindustantimes.com/Images/popup/2014/9/Kabhi-Haan-Kabhi-Naa.jpgViolet Stoneham (36 Chowrangee Lane)

Arguably, one of the best films made on the subject, this Aparna Sen film starred Jennifer Kendal Kapoor as an ageing Anglo Indian teacher in Kolkata who is cheated by one of favourite students and her boyfriend. There hasn't been a tale as compelling as this about the decline of Anglo Indians after the departure of the British as this.

https://www.hindustantimes.com/Images/popup/2014/9/chowringhee-lane.jpgMichelle McNally (Black)

A deaf and blind girl who must grapple with her incomplete existence (so to say) but is transformed into a confident and self-reliant woman by her tough and unforgiving teacher who sinks into oblivion, thanks to his crippling Alzheimer's disease in later years, forms the crux of Black. Loosely based on Miracle Worker and inspired by the life of Helen Keller, the story unfolds in a Christian family of four in Shimla. Lyrical and authentic in its detailing, Sanjay Leela Bhansali breathes life into the characters with his realistic portrayal within the formulaic mainstream cinema.

https://www.hindustantimes.com/Images/popup/2014/9/Black.jpgAnnie Braganza (Khamoshi - The Musical)

Early on in his career, Sanjay Leela Bhansali made a love story set in Goa but with far less control on his craft as Black. Melodramatic it was, but it did give a vignette of life experience. Manisha Koirala as a doting daughter to her deaf and dumb parents who must share her love between her husband and her parents is a refreshing take on love and life in Goa.

https://www.hindustantimes.com/Images/popup/2014/9/Khamoshi.jpgThomas (Kadal)

A Mani Ratnam helmed Tamil language film, this is a gritty narrative unfolding in a fishermen's village in coastal Tamil Nadu. The hero, his mentor, his love and the villain are all Christians. A classic tale of good triumphing over evil, this is a story of two men who train in the seminary but take to different ways, one choosing to take the path of Christ while the other sides with Satan.

https://www.hindustantimes.com/Images/popup/2014/9/Kadal.jpgSouza Soares (Trikaal)

Here's a delightful comedy set in pre-liberation Goa. As Goa is about to become a state in the newly-minted Indian Union, a large Goan family is grappling with many problems -the matriarch of the family refused to let go of her husband's memory and takes to calling his spirit. Sadly, instead of his ghost, all those people whom the family had hurt keep coming to her. In the meanwhile, the wedding of her grand-daughter is held up owing to all this. The grand-daughter of course has her story running alongside. A funny and poignant story of change, this Shyam Benegal film was shot at cartoonist Mario Miranda's crumbling mansion in Goa.


First Published: Sep 12, 2014 14:19 IST