Why Raksha Bandhan Is No Longer A Vulnerable Bond in Hindi Cinema
There was a time no Hindi film was complete without a bhaiyya behna song, but over the years the festival of Raksha Bandhan has disappeared from our films. Is it because our society has changed, or does this reflect on the image of our superstars and concerns of filmmakers?
For my generation the brother-sister relationship came into prominence with Chotti Behen (1959) where Nanda plays the blind sister of three brothers who is ill-treated by her sisters-in-law, tired of the responsibility of looking after her. Her song Bhaiyya mere rakhi ke bandhan ko nibhana… became the anthem song of a patriarchal society, endorsing male protection to woman in Indian society.
It was not just mainstream films that wwere obsessed with the brother-sister relationship, new wave cinema also focused on stories of sibling bondings and prominent among these were Raj Kapoor’s Boot Polish (1954), that encouraged street children played by Baby Naaz and Narendra Rupani, to become independent. The local uncle who fills their life with hope is David. He inspired them to conquer their destiny with hard work, remember Nanhe munne bache teri muthi mein kya hai?
Satyajit Ray’s highly acclaimed Pather Panchali (1955) shed light on perils of rural India, but the film was essentially the story of a unique bond between elder sister Durga and her kid brother Appu.
Over the years filmmakers have strived for new ways to sustain interest in the brother-sister equation. Ek Phool aur Chaar Kaante (1960) for example, was a comedy about Sunil Dutt wooing four diverse brothers of his beloved Waheeda Rehman. The same plot turned embarrassingly regressive in Karisma Kapoor’s Anari (1993). Ashok Kumar starrer Aaj Aur Kal was a tear-jerker about separated siblings reuniting in the climax.
For a long time no wedding celebration could be complete without Meri pyari beheniya banegi dulhaniya… popularised by Rajesh Khanna in Sacha Jhootha (1970). Naaz played Khanna’s crippled sister unable to reach out to her brother in the swelling crowd. The sixties and the seventies was an era during which many actresses like Nazima and Naaz made a career out of playing sisters to leading heroes. Till as long as Rajesh Khanna ruled, Naaz played his behna.
In 1971 Dev Anand marked a new turn in the sibling relationship with his highly acclaimed Hare Ram Hare Krishna. It was the first time we saw a hero putting his life/ girlfriend on hold to rehabilitate his drug addict sister. After all these years Phoolon ka taro ka…. where master Satyajit piggy rides a thumb sucking kid sister around the house to distract her attention from socialite parents getting ready to go clubbing, tugs at your heart strings even today.
It is said that Dev Anand fist asked Mumtaz to play his sister in Hare Ram Hare Krishna. But Mumtaz felt that it might harm their romantic pairing and settled to play his beloved. Padmini Kolhapure also was given the choice to play Mithun Chakraborty’s sister in Pyaari Behna (1985) but she preferred to play Mithun’s beloved, even though the story focused on sibling love.
Interestingly Meena Kumari, who was branded as a conventional heroine, defied stereotypes when she agreed to do Kaajal (1965), focusing on an obsessive brother-sister relationship. Yes, she still sang Mere bhaiyya mere chanda… to the hero and tied him a rakhi sitting on the jhoola, but this was a rare instance where the wife (Padmini) views her sister-in-law (Meena Kumari) as the ‘other’ woman in her marriage. In recent years there have been other actors who defied conventions in this space. For example Naseerudin Shah in Chahat (1996) and Shah Rukh in Josh (2000).
Popular cinema to a great extent is determined by the image of the hero. Amitabh Bachchan is perceived as a family man, which is why the mother and sister in Hindi films gained momentum in the wake of the Bachchan phenomena. In most films made during his tenure, Bachchan was fighting a moral or a social battle, and was the infallible son and brother ready to die for his family.
In Majboor (1974) he strived to secure his handicapped sister, in Adaalat (1976) he sought revenge for her rape and in Trishul (1978) he assumed responsibility for her marriage. Amitabh’s conscience crisis for the sister continued from Shahenshah (1988) and Agneepath to Aaj Ka Arjun in the late 90s.The mother/sister lost significance in mainstream films when Amitabh stopped playing the conventional hero.
Unlike Bachchan, Shah Rukh Khan’s obsession with mother bordered on destruction (Baazigar, Darr) and in most popular films like Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, Dil Toh Paagal Hai and Kal Ho Na Ho, Shah Rukh’s character was focused on friendship. Perhaps because new-age writers did not deem him fit for him to shoulder bigger responsibilities, or because in the new world friends mattered more than the family.
Whatever the reason may be, our films might be moving away from families. A prime example of that has been director Ram Gopal Varma. He has repeatedly told me that he will not carry the baggage of parents/siblings, because he wants to concentrate on the dreams of the hero/heroine. On the other hand Madhur Bhandarkar has subconsciously woven the families of his characters in the story telling, be it in Chandni Bar or Fashion.
The sacrificing sister was a favourite stereotype popularised by leading heroines of all eras. In 1960 it was Meghe Dhaka Tara, in 1976 it was Tapasya and in 1977 it was Aaina. In Jeevan Dhara (1982) she turned assertive and demanded her rightful position. In Tehzeeb and Pinjar she fights her own battles; which is coming a long way from Badi Behen (1949) and Bandini (1960), where the sister/daughter is a victim.
Today, women on-screen and in real life too, are breaking all shackles. Raksha Bandhan is a festival to make merry. While sisters do not seek protection anymore, brothers are not making any promises and our cinema quite honestly, is reflecting this evolved new bond.
(Bhawana Somaaya has been writing on cinema for 30 years and is the author of 12 books. You can read her blog here and follow her on Twitter: @bhawanasomaaya)
(This article was first published on 18 August 2015. It is being reposted from The Quint’s archives to mark Rakshabandhan.)