Bollywood sisters have a new avatar

Oct 14, 2007 Priyanka Khanna

New Delhi, Oct 14 (IANS) Sisters have traditionally had little or nothing to do in Indian potboilers, but that seems to change with Yash Raj Films' (YRF) "Laaga Chunari Mein Daag". An industry desperate to break away from its formulaic image is increasingly peddling the feminist fare.

On the heels of giving "Chak De! India", a hit film exalting women hockey players, Bollywood's biggest production house has now delivered what is probably the most well-etched sisterly act ever on Indian celluloid in "Laaga Chunari Mein Daag".

While the jury is still out on whether the cliché-ridden film by director Pradeep Sarkar, which released Friday, adequately tells the story of the hard-to-define modern Indian woman, there is no doubt about the uniqueness of the bonding between its lead characters.

Essayed by Rani Mukerji and Konkana Sen Sharma, the film tells the story of two sisters born and brought up in a genteel family in the laidback holy town of Varanasi and their coming of age when fate brings them to the sin city of Mumbai.

For a production house that has enjoyed an envious and largely unchallenged hegemony on entertainment business in India, the film is a departure from the norm. YRF is a banner synonymous with mega budget, male-dominated romances.

Though the dramas they have been churning out have always derived heavily from relationships, bonding between sisters has been rarely explored. YRF are not alone, across the board women had little to do in most Hindi film.

Then to expect Hindi filmmakers to sensitively project what goes on between two sisters has hardly every made it to the 70 mm and was simply too much to expect. There were a couple of exceptions. One was when the films had heroines in double roles like "Sita Aur Geeta" and "Kuch Khatti Kuch Meethi". These films, however, never projected the camaraderie and sometimes rivalry between sisters.

Then there were a few films that had two sisters vying for the main actor. Once again the premise of the film was to establish the desirability of the hero. And perhaps the only other exception was when one of the two sisters was physically or mentally challenged as in "Black" and "Raaga".

"When films are made from the male gaze and even commercially successful women often find themselves playing arm candy, then it is a tall order to ask for strong sister roles. But things are set to change as Bollywood tries to walk a path less taken," say film trade observers.

In fact, it is hard to find any recent film in which the sister played a prominent role. For decades, the only time characters of a brother and sister came together on screen was when it was time for the hero (brother) to take a vow to protect his hapless sister during the festival of Raksha Bandhan.

The last time a leading star was seen in a sister's role was perhaps in "Bade Miyan Chotte Mian", in which Raveena Tandon featured as Amitabh Bachchan's sister.

The career graph of a heroine during the old times was characterised, in fact, by three stages, first as a heroine, then as a sister, and subsequently graduating to the role of the mother. Presence of a sister gave the hero an opportunity to play super brother.

Though Hindi films have graduated from semi-urban milieu to a modern nuclear milieu they still do not adequately reflect the evolution of brother-sister relation in the prevalent one brother and one sister families.

Offbeat film like "My Brother...Nikhil" have tried to capture this evolved relation to great effect. The film had Juhi Chawla in a prominent role as a sister of Sanjay Suri and helped Bollywood view the brother-sister relation as something more than just a chance to pump up the image of the hero. Here is hoping that "Laaga Chunari Mein Daag" does the same for sisters.

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Laaga Chunari Mein Daag


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