Why Is Sisterhood In Bollywood Movies So Rare When Bro Movies Are A Dime A Dozen?

Sisters in Hindi movies are a rarity unless they are sisters to a brother. But are the times changing for the better for themes of sisterhood?

Sisters in Hindi movies are a rarity unless they are sisters to a brother. But are the times changing for the better for themes of sisterhood?

“Sisters function as safety nets in a chaotic world simply by being there for each other.” ~ Carol Saline

When I was a child, I often asked God why he or she didn’t give me a sister of my own. The few years of my childhood that we’d spent at our maternal uncle’s place, my girl cousin was one of my closest allies. Though I had a younger brother of my own, I preferred my sister’s company.

Together we’d experiment with her mother’s lipsticks, we’d drape each other in a sari (and walk like Charlie Chaplin in the process because we literally rolled each other like burritos into that six yards of cloth), we’d go to school together, watch our favourite cartoons, and help each other get away with mischief.

After decades of living away from each other, my bond with my little sister hasn’t weakened. Even today, when we talk over the phone, we don’t realize how hours pass by while we happily chatter about our childhood, our dreams for the future, how a certain film moved us, the political scenario of our country, or about our weight loss goals.

Sisters are an important part of most women’s lives. If we don’t have sisters of our own, we make friends who define the essence of sisterhood for us. Sisters remind us of a relationship that is full of giggles, endless chatter, sharing secrets, and even if when we fight, they remain one of our closest friends.

Where are the sisters in Hindi movies?

And yet, when we come to Bollywood, there are very few movies that explore the relationship between sisters. Movies on the bond between the brother and sister or between brothers or the spirit of brotherhood? Sure, we have plenty of them!

But when it comes to sisters, very few movies celebrate this crucial bond in a woman’s life. Sisters in Hindi movies has been one of the most neglected subjects in Bollywood, so far. If this doesn’t display the patriarchy and male chauvinism ruling our film industry, I don’t know what else does.

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Most sisters in Hindi movies are characters who need protection from the brother (who is also the hero). In some movies, when she is raped and then murdered or she kills herself (because how can she live anymore after blackening the family honour, you see?), the brother avenges her death.

Things are changing and a lot of movies in recent times celebrate the bonds of sisterhood but in the earlier times, a sister’s role in most movies was to be a cardboard cut-out of a damsel in distress whose sole purpose of being in the movie was to illuminate certain noble aspects of the hero’s character.

Some yesteryear movies

However, even amidst this blatant male domination, some old movies shine through for their portrayal of the relationship between sisters in Hindi movies, or the celebration of sisterhood.

When I think of the yesteryears, Smita Patil starrer Mirch Masala is the first one that comes to my mind.

This is the story of a beautiful and confident woman, Sonbai, whose husband is away from the town for work. One of the tax collectors of the town tries to force her to sleep with him. However, Sonbai slaps the man and flees to a spice factory. In order to get revenge, the entire village led by the mayor comes and demands the door of the factory to be opened to let the rape happen.

How the group of women workers inside the factory, with the help of the guard and the village teacher, help Sonbai to face the situation, is what makes this movie a must watch – check out this iconic scene here that has been called ‘the most potent scene of womanhood in Hindi cinema.

Also, how can we forget the twins Anju and Manju in the Sridevi starrer Chalbaaz (a remake of the older Seeta aur Geeta)? While Manju is the stronger one protecting her sister from her rough circumstances, Anju, in turn, helps in softening Manju’s rough edges. This is a story of sisters rescuing one another and a true celebration of the sisterly bond.

In Gurinder Chadha’s Bride and Prejudice which is inspired by Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, the Bakshi sisters’ dynamics are a treat to watch. The sisters are so different from each other and yet, each of their characters and their relationship with each other shines through in the movie.

Recent instances of sisters in Hindi movies

In recent times, we have a lot of movies celebrating the spirit of sisterhood.

The first movie and perhaps all our favourite is Kangana Ranaut starrer Queen where the relationship between two culturally disparate women is woven in a heart warmingly funny way. While Kangana is shocked watching Lisa Hayden’s character sleep with different men every night, she is not quick to judge her (though she herself believes in preserving her virginity for marriage). Lisa, on the other hand, shows Kangana a life she’d never tasted before, where they dance, drink and party together without a care in the world. The way these two women look out for one another was a shining example of the strength of sisterhood that we’ve been waiting to see on the silver screen for all this while.

Next, I should mention another favourite movie of mine, The Angry Indian Goddesses. Four friends come over for another friend’s bachelorette party at her house in Goa. What transpires between these women and how they deal with the challenges that afflict the real lives of present day Indian women is something that everyone should watch. This movie made me cry ugly tears and yet the friendship between the women warmed the very cockles of my heart.

Finally, how can I forget my current favourite, Lipstick Under My Burkha? Though the movie doesn’t focus much upon the sisterhood between these women, there are small moments when the solidarity that the women show towards one another sparkles in the movie. The scene where Shirin helps bua ji in buying a swimming costume, or the one where Leela and Shirin share a moment of helplessness about their respective lives, and of course the last scene where the women share their laughter and tears are some of the moments that will stay with you long after you’ve left the theatre.

It seems like Bollywood is finally waking up to the strength of sisterhood and exploring the theme in detail in some of its movies now. However, most of the movies mentioned here are what you call ‘multiplex movies’ watched by the urban class. The theme of sisters in Hindi movies needs more attention in mainstream Bollywood, and big releases that reach far beyond the Indian metros. Only then will we feel that true victory has been achieved in terms of giving women their own narratives, something that always needed a man to make it seem acceptable.

Image source: YouTube

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About the Author

Kasturi Patra

Kasturi’s debut novel, forthcoming in early 2021, had won the novel pitch competition by Half Baked Beans Publishers. She won the Runner Up Position in the Orange Flower Awards 2021 for Short Fiction. Her read more...

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