‘Once a sister, always a sister’ goes the adage in Bollywood. Quite a few wannabe heroines, howsoever well endowed in their acting prowess, get typed in sisterly roles. Think of Nazima, Naaz, Daisy Irani, Tabassum, Farida Jalal and several others who got ‘typified’ and had to remain content playing docile sisters to dashing heroes in several movies. In fact, one of them was even labeled as a ‘Resident Sister’!
But some fine actresses had the guts and the opportunity to prove their detractors wrong. They managed to break through the glass ceiling, so to say, and metamorphosed into highly successful romantic heroines. Consider Mumtaz, for example. Having played a sisterly role in Gehra Daag (Director: O P Ralhan, 1963), she went on to become the darling of the masses later in her career.
Romance vs. Filial Love
We also have actresses who, despite playing a romantic lead against leading heroes of the day, ventured into unchartered waters and played loving sisters with much aplomb. In some cases, they did so opposite the very hero whom they were romancing in some other flicks!
Here is a quick recap of some of Bollywood’s actresses who have dared to experiment along these lines.
The diva from Tollywood, Suchitra Sen, started off in Bollywood by playing an ‘assumed’ sister to the debonair Dev Anand in Bombai Ka Babu (Raj Khosla, 1960). The movie tapped her emoting strengths quite successfully. When she realizes that the hero is impersonating her long-lost brother only to get access to her family’s wealth, her shock and surprise is spontaneous. Her anguish on finding a ‘brother’ making romantic overtures is well portrayed. Eventually, the hero is forced to accept their brother-sister relationship. He ends up supporting her marriage elsewhere.
Suchitra Sen also played a romantic lead opposite Dev Anand in the movie Sarhad. However, both these movies did not do well at the box office. Her subsequent movies, like Devdas, Mamta and Aandhi are classics which won critical acclaim as well as cine-goers’ appreciation.
Who can forget the enchanting song ‘Dum maro dum…’? Picturised on a debutant Zeenat Aman in Hare Rama Hare Krishna (Dev Anand, 1971), the song remains fresh in public memory even today. The movie touched upon the decadence of the hippy culture and the drug menace. Dev ends up in Nepal, looking for her long-lost sister, played by Zeenat. He succeeds but the sister is unable to reconcile herself to a normal lifestyle and ends her own life.
Subsequently, Zeenat Aman slipped into romantic roles opposite Dev Anand in several movies directed by him, including Heera Panna (1973) and Ishq Ishq Ishq (1974). The fact that she eventually went on to become a successful star in mainstream Bollywood flicks shows that out-of-box career starts do not always lead to disasters.
Aishwarya Rai Bachchan
In Josh (Mansoor Khan, 2000), Aishwarya played Shahrukh Khan’s sister with much ease. Both were established stars in Bollywood by then but took up the challenge of portraying siblings in this flick. They also romanced each other in Mohabbatein (Aditya Chopra, 2000) and then in Devdas (Sanjay Leela Bhansali, 2002).
Aishwarya made yet another foray into the sibling territory by playing Amitabh Bachchan’s sister in Hum Kisise Kum Nahin (David Dhawan, 2002).
In Ek Ladka Ek Ladki (Vijay Sadanah, 1992), Neelam played a romantic lead opposite Salman Khan. Subsequently, they teamed up as a brother-sister duo in Hum Saath Saath Hain (Sooraj Barjatya, 1999).
In Darr (Yash Chopra, 1993), Juhi was hounded and stalked by Shahrukh who is obsessive about her. In Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman (Aziz Mirza, 1992), Yes Boss (Aziz Mirza, 1997), Duplicate (Mahesh Bhatt, 1998) and Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani (Aziz Miraza, 2000), Juhi and Shahrukh portrayed an intensely romantic relationship. However, in Paheli (Amol Palekar, 2005), Juhi played the role of Shahrukh’s sister-in-law!
Juhi Chawla played the role of a caring sister in My Brother, Nikhil (Onir, 2005). Her brother, played by Sanjay Suri, gets afflicted by HIV. The cause is never explained, but the effect is vividly captured. Juhi played the heart-warming role very well indeed, portraying the inner strength of her character of a sister who stands up for her brother, even though suffering internally herself.
A successful romantic star in her own right, Karishma Kapoor played Hrithik Roshan’s sister in Fiza (Khalid Mohammed, 2000). In a happy Muslim family, tragedy strikes when the brother is wrongly implicated in the serial blasts which rocked Mumbai in 1993. He ends up becoming a terrorist. To save him from getting captured live by the police, the sister ends up killing him at his own behest.
Exclusive Sister-Brother Movies
Once in a blue moon, Bollywood has also come up with movies which are based entirely on brother-sister relations. The fondness for each other, the pranks they play on one another and the special bond they share – to the exclusion of even their parents – are all features which have been captured in great detail.
Other than My Brother, Nikhil, an outstanding example is that of Boot Polish (Prakash Arora, 1954) which won critical acclaim as well as box office success. Rattan Kumar and baby Naaz put in credible performances in the movie which exhorted us to live even a penniless life with dignity. The importance of education for children was another critical message which was conveyed by the movie.
Divya Dutta’s scintillating performance as a loving sister in the recently released Bhaag Milkha Bhaag is worth mentioning.
It goes to the credit of Bollywood that besides being secular, it provides a diverse platform for actors to showcase their talent. The fact that several stars are open to taking up challenging roles which change their on-screen romantic relationship into a filial one goes on to show the innate professionalism at work. The credit also goes to producers and directors who take a risk and cast popular stars in such roles.
This is but one facet of the maturity that Indian cinema has achieved in its hundred years of existence.
(Inputs from Sanjana are gratefully acknowledged!)