Raksha Bandhan, or Rakhi, the Sister's Day, this year is on Tuesday August 24th. In Hindi cinema, the sister was the strong silent character in the background. The frail one for whom the hero played protector, wreaked vengeance. The one whose marriage or studies were on top of her brother’s mind when he entered a dubious deal. Mainstream Hindi cinema has, indeed, made a whole industry out of the brother-sister bonding.
The oldest historical reference to the festival of Rakhi goes back to 300 B.C. at the time when Alexander invaded India. It is said that when the great conquerer, king Alexander of Macedonia was shaken by the fury of the Indian king Puru, Alexander's wife, who had heard of the Rakhi festival, approached the mighty king Puru and sought assurance of her husband's life by tying the Rakhi on Puru's hand. The story goes that just as Puru raised his hand to deliver a mortal blow to Alexander, he saw the Rakhi on his wrist and refrained from striking at Alexander. The entire episode was well depicted in Sohrab Modi's great movie of epical dimentions, Sikandar (1941) in which Prithviraj Kapoor played Sikandar, Sohrab Modi Puru and Vanmala, Sikandar's beloved Rukhsana.
During the midieval era, Rajput kings were fighting Muslim invasions. When Rani Karnawati, the widowed queen of Chittor, realized that she could in no way defend the invasion of the Sultan of Gujarat, Bahadur Shah, she sent a Rakhi to the Mughal Emperor Humayun, enlisting his support against the onslaught of the Gujarat Sultan. Touched by the gesture, Humayun hastened to the rescue of his Rakhi sister. The Mughal Emperor Hamayun coming to the rescue of his Rakhi Rajput sister is convincingly portrayed and pictured in Mehboob Khan's Mughal historical Humayun (1945). Cecil B DeMille apparently wrote in a letter to Mehboob Khan that this film was “a masterpiece of lighting composition.” And It is. Ashok Kumar played Humayun and Veena his Rakhi sister. Nargis was only 16 when she acted in this movie as the Emperor's beloved.
In 1959, director and producer L.V. Prasad released "Chhoti Bahen", one of the industry´s memorable films for tackling the emotion behind blindness, sibling emotion and how different persons in a family can react to it. Chhoti Bahen is also well known for the song that recurs to this day on Raksha Bandhan, "Bhaiyya Mere Rakhi Ke Bandhan To Nibhana". Shankar-Jaikeshen´s music is memorable, but this title track is more than your trip down memory lane. The song practically explains what the holiday is all about and how siblings idolize each other, the sister to the brother. The film´s main leads, Balraj Sahani and Nanda do just that.
"Rakhi", "Bhai Bahen" -- Two of the most successful tearjerkers of the 1960s, both directed by the eminently saleable A. Bhim Singh -- were about brother and sister outdoing each other for the martyr's cup. In "Rakhi", Waheeda Rehman and Ashok Kumar played siblings who just could not be without each other. Six years later, Bhim Singh made "Bhai Bahen", a straight-off saga of sibling suffering with Sunil Dutt and Nutan in the lead.
Manoj Bajpai's passionate possessiveness for sister Antara Mali in Ram Gopal Varma's Telugu "Prem Gatha" verged on the incestuous. Shah Rukh Khan went completely ballistic trying to keep sister Aishwarya Rai from Chandrachur Singh's arms in Mansoor Khan's "Josh".
Mahesh Manjrekar wouldn't let little sister Bhoomika anywhere near Abhishek Bachchan in Jeeva's "Run", and in Bapu's "Pyari Behna", hyper-protective brother Mithun Chakraborty smothers poor Tanvi Azmi in brotherly affection while the love-interest Padmini Kolhapure fumes and frets.
In "Bandhan", sister Ashwini Bhawe takes kid-brother Salman Khan to her in-laws' as dowry. Understandably, brother-in-law Jackie Shroff feels sidelined and spends his nights at the nautch girl Shweta Reddy's place.
This is a favorite cliche where the sister is tortured, raped or murdered before Big Brother goes on a vendetta binge. In Suneel Darshan's "Talaash" the entire drama depended on the brother's search for his sister.
Bollywood's resident screen-sister Nazima played the central role in Rajshri productions' "Mere Bhaiyya". The actress' sisterly image was seldom showcased with such splendid sibling sentimentality.
Shabana Azmi in "Anokha Bandhan" and "Yeh Kaisa Insaaf" played a sister willing to sacrifice marital happiness for the sake of her kid brother. In "Tapasya", Raakhee was the long-suffering 'didi' (elder sister) who tells her lover to take a walk when his mom says she must let her siblings fend for themselves.
In K. Balachander's "Aaina", Mumtaz becomes a prostitute to support her impoverished siblings. And in "Hum Tumhare Hain Sanam", Madhuri Dixit is willing to suffer her husband Shah Rukh Khan's taunts to look after brother Atul Agnihotri in her marital home.
In Nitin Sethi's "Angaaray", sister Smita Patil becomes a nautch girl for her kid brother Alankar's financial security. Tapan Sinha's "Didi" portrayed the best Sacrificial Sister of the lot -- Deepti Naval was a prostitute trying desperately to hide her profession from her kid brother.
In Manmohan Desai's "Sachcha Jhootha", Rajesh Khanna takes off for the city to raise dowry for sister Naaz...but only after singing 'Meri pyari behaniya banegi dulhaniya'.
And come Raksha Bandhan, there would be the mandatory song celebrating the brother-sister bond. The old songs that steered away from the stereotype remain classics to this day. Here are a few of them:
Phoolon Ka Taaron Ka (1971)
Two siblings share a song and a moment before they will be cruelly separated by their parents’ divorce. This song from Hare Rama Hare Krishna is still the top request on Raksha Bandhan
Bhaiya Mere Rakhi Ke (1959)
Nanda plays the title role in Chhoti Behan, with Balraj Sahni as the doting brother.
Mere Bhaiyya Mere Chanda (1965)
The brother is a priceless gem for Meena Kumari’s character in Kaajal.
Chanda Re Mere Bhaiya (1980)
This soulful Lata Mangeshkar song is the only thing memorable about Chambal Ki Kasam
Behna Ne Bhai Ki (1974)
This Shankar-Jaikishan song from the Resham ki Dor has come to epitomise the festival of Raksha Bandhan
O Meri Laadli (1963)
And finally, we end with a Mohammed Rafi classic from Dil Ek Mandir
The portrayal of brother-sister in films has come a long way. Today, the sister’s image has changed in Bollywood from the demure, to-be-protected little one to a sexy, with-a-mind-of-her-own individual. From Nanda who played the sweet devoted sister to her three over protective brothers in Choti Behen to Neelam in Hum Saath Saath Hai, Bollywood has come a long way where the sibling relationship is concerned. New age films are reworking the dynamics shared by siblings. The sweet, patiently understanding sister of Gol Maal has been replaced by the sassy, girl-about-town in B-town.
In Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na, the brother is concerned about his sister’s welfare, but in a more subtle tone. It's a departure from past movies where the brother screams and vows vengeance because of his sister’s rape/murder/distress. The film also explores the mind of the sister as she grows to learn about the goodness of her brother even, all the while maintaining her own identity.
A film that was markedly different from the stereotype brother sister film was Josh. Aishwarya Rai Bachchan played the sultry twin sister to a brash Shah Rukh Khan. However, the film entirely veered around Ash and SRK with their respective love lives almost as a sub plot in the film.
Look up My Brother Nikhil and one would realize that Bollywood has stepped into new terra firma. Director Onir portrayed a genuinely close and affectionate bond between brother Sanjay Suri and his sister Juhi Chawla. From sipping their first glasses of wine together, this adorable pair even secretly smoked their first cigarettes together in the film. Moreover, rather unusually, brother Sanjay depended on sister Juhi, more than she did on him. Juhi Chawla’s role in the film was one of a saviour where she campaigned for her HiV+ brother to give him the respect that he deserved.
Another film, which had the brother-sister relationship at its core was Khalid Mohamed’s Fiza. The film explores the 1993 Mumbai riots, and communal tensions, through the eyes of Fiza played by Karisma Kapoor who was in search of her brother, Amaan (Hrithik Roshan) who vanished during the riots. Mohamed depicted a deeply caring relationship between elder sister, Fiza, and younger brother, Amaan, without resorting to any honor-saving stereotypes.
Bollywood is slowly, but surely coming around and realizing the role of the sister in films. Today it's more about the characters and the script than about rehashing the same old formula of Raksha Bandhan in Bollywood.