The rakhi-tying sisters and honour saving brothers of Bollywood + A few notable exceptions
Of all the Hindi movie relationships we’ve seen, the one between brothers and sisters may just be the worst portrayed. The camaraderie, the rivalry, the distance and eventual closing together of the circle- Bollywood almost never gets it right. In a male-centric industry, sisters exist to provide a reason for the brother’s demeanour, and little more. They are reduced to one of the following three tropes in most cases.
1. The Farida Jalal/Nanda role of someone innocent and vaguely puppy like, who is absolutely incapable of taking care of herself . This is a woman who needs to be “protected”, hugged in a strange under-shoulder manner, and showered with gifts. She often twirls and sings a Raksha Bandhan song to remind the protagonist of her helplessness and need for protection.
2. The kind of Big Sister popularized in a typical 70’s narrative, who sacrifices her (gasp) chances for a fulfilled married life by relentlessly taking care of her wayward younger brother.
3. The One who Falls in Love with her Brother’s Frenemy in a multi-starrer, thus reducing the need for any kind of a backstory for the female character who is anyway just there for a song and dance.
But occasionally, there is a brother and sister relationship that is a little more nuanced, a little more well-balanced, and -just a little imperfect, just like some of our relationships with our favourite siblings. Here’s to some of Hindi Cinema’s most memorable bhai-behen jodis.
Suchitra Sen and Dev Anand in Bombai Ka Babu
Before the Lannisters made incest popular, this was perhaps, one of the most complicated “brother” and sister pair in a movie. Dev Anand’s Babu, impersonating the long-lost son of a zamindar, finds himself becoming slowly attracted to his supposed ‘sister’ Suchitra Sen. It doesn’t help that he is also becoming comfortable in the role of the family’s son at the same time, and that Suchitra Sen’s Maya is excited about having her long-lost ‘brother’ back in her life. What really makes this movie is her variously shaded performance as Maya. As she begins to doubt whether Babu really is her brother, she walks the fine line between sisterly teasing, gentle flirting and an eventual realisation that this is a relationship that never will be.
And the denouement of this star-crossed love-staged to one of SD Burman’s finest songs- gets us every single time.
Aishwarya Rai and Shahrukh Khan in Josh
This is by no means a great movie. But Aishwarya Rai and Shahrukh Khan share an easy chemistry as twins (!!) that we’ve always found more believable than their attempts at generating romantic heat . This relationship makes our list just for its sheer star wattage. It is one of those rare cases where the brother and sister were played by equally successful actors, with roughly equal amounts of screen time devoted to their stories. And that’s so rare that we are willing to forgive this blatant rip-off of Westside Story for inflicting Shahrukh Khan’s singing on us!
Prateik Babbar ad Genelia D’Souza in Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na
In hindsight, AR Rahman’s fizzy soda pop of an album and Ratna Pathak Shah’s comic timing made this movie. The hero was a wet noodle, and the heroine about as irritating as any we’ve seen, and we still don’t understand how we almost liked this movie when it first released. We even saw vestiges of talent in Prateik Babbar, something that’s become less and less likely with every subsequent film!
Our opinion about the rest of the movie may have changed, but we still love the beautifully etched relationship between the brother-sister pair here. The way the extrovert branches out, leaving the introvert friendless, the way the two still watch out for each other, and the way they remain the best 3 AM friend for the other through teenage years and later. Forget Jai-Meow, we want to see a movie about the two of them growing up as they move from city to city with their nomadic father!
Tabu/Salman Khan in Jai Ho, Smita Patil/Mithun Chakraborty in Dance Dance
We’ve added these two relationships not so much for the way they’ve been portrayed, but because of the two wonderful actresses who were roped into playing second-fiddle sisters to man-child heroes for, what we suppose, were reasons of commerce. While Smita had to suffer the ignominy of being married to Shakti Kapoor in Dance Dance, Tabu played second billing to Salman Khan in a blink-and-you-miss it appearance. But the two of them- especially Smita Patil since her character was a little more fleshed out- infused their characters with a nice forgiving love for their brothers, and also their own inner lives as people separate from their siblings. That’s more than can be said for most Bollywood sisters!
Juhi Chawla and Sanjay Suri in My Brother Nikhil
Anamika and Nikhil care for each other deeply. They share a relationship where they’re willing to understand each other, and forgive each other, and care for each other. Theirs is also a relationship with secrets and personal lives that often diverge from the other. That combination of unconditional love and distance makes us believe that the two of them could’ve played Snakes and Ladders on summer afternoons when they were younger, then moved apart when they were a bit older, and have now ultimately found each other as best friends. This warm and wonderful relationship is probably our favourite adult sibling relationship in this list.
Durga and Apu in Pather Panchali
Yes, purists! We know that Pather Panchali is not a Bollywood movie. But we had to mention it here just because of the delightfully portrayed relationship between Durga and Apu as young siblings. Rarely does any cinema across the world get children and their complex world right, their relationships less so, but Ray and his two fine actors live these characters beautifully.
Watch the movie for the sequence when the two run to the trains, or when they stare at a bioscope with wonder, and revisit some of your earliest adventures with your favourite brother.
Have a great festival weekend folks! And tell us your favourite filmi siblings in the comments below!
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