Stories of Sisterhood: On Bollywood's Behens

26/08/2015 8:22 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
A. Poorna Chandra Rao/YouTube

There's a reason we've chosen August as Sisters' Month. And it's not because we don't like brothers, or men. What we don't like is the narrative that a brother should promise to protect and that a sister needs protection, that a family is incomplete without a boy child, and that brother-less families are somehow rudderless, without a guiding light to navigate them through difficult times.

So all through this month of Raksha Bandhan, we will share Stories of Sisterhood; of ordinary, and extraordinary, sisters - from both the real world and the world of stories . Share your ideas and suggestions with us at

Among all of Hindi cinema strikes against gender balance, the way they treat their sisters is perhaps the worst. In a male-centric industry, sisters exist only 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", patronized, 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 just there for a song and dance anyway.

But occasionally, there is a sisterly relationship that is fully realized - a sister who is a real person with an inner life and a believable arc. Here's to some of Hindi Cinema's most memorable behnas and their steel wills.

Nimki, Meethi and Chinki in Namkeen

Nimki, Meethi and Chinki look out for each other in a story by one of our most sensitive filmmakers Gulzaar. And while much of the film is about the unexpected presence of an outsider in their lives, it is in the quiet moments between the sisters that the movie shines. As the sisters go about their daily tasks, singing Aanki Chali Baanki Chali, they bring forth a world of warmth and affection that only the most lived-in of relationships has.

Maya 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.

Manju in Chaalbaaz

We had to include this performance, and not just because Sridevi is our favourite comic actress, bar none. But also because in this crazy twisted tale of twins and con-women and of Sunny Deol pretending to be cool (no, seriously), the best part may just be that it's the sister who saves her sister from her circumstances. Manju protects Anju, and Anju smoothens Manju's rough edges. These two don't need a brother to complete their family!

The Bakshis from Bride and Prejudice

Perhaps it is because she is working with great source material (the Bennets are after all our favourite sisters of all time), but Gurinder Chaddha does a great job etching the dynamics in a group of sisters. The quiet one who is eager to please, the youngest one who has almost grown up on her own, and the one in the middle one who loves her sisters but is also sure she doesn't want to be anything like them. (It is no surprise that another that another one of our favourite sisterly relationships also comes from an Austen adaptation - between Sowmya and Meenu in Kandukondain Kandukondain)

my brother nikhil_sanjay suri

Anamika in My Brother Nikhil

Anamika and Nikhil care for each other deeply. They share a relationship where they're willing to understand each other, forgive each other their foibles, and just be there for the 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 boardgames on summer afternoons when they were younger, then moved apart over the teenage years as they discovered themselves, and have now somehow found each other again as best friends. The kind of nuanced relationship that is all too common among real brothers and sisters, but unfortunately, rare in cinema.

Ayesha Mehra in Dil Dhadakne Do

Priyanka Chopra's Ayesha is the kind of woman we all know. One who probably begins a sentence with "I am not a feminist, but..." . and yet continues to chip away at an inherently patriarchal set up. When she and brother Kabir exchange glances over dinner table, you sense a shared history of rebelling against the parents, of covering for the other's teenage scrapes, and of conversations that carry on till late in the night. In a reversal of the trope, she is the doer while her sensitive brother is the dreamer in this family. And she acts as his ballast against both parental expectations and the rest of the world. We could all do with a sister like that in our lives!

Who are some of your favourite filmy sisters?

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