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Raksha Bandhan in cinema: A journey of 75 years

Synopsis: To commemorate 75 years of Independence of the country, and to revitalize the glorious history of its people, culture and achievements, Government of India has embarked on an ambitious programme focusing on the citizens who have played catalytic role in evolution of this journey and prepare the country for India 2.0- a vision of the Prime Minister of India. For the glorious people of the country who made this journey possible, the role of cinema in facilitating the same is an undeniable fact. So through these columns, 75 such themes that have defined the contours of cinema and have given a sense of identity to our citizens would be explored, culminating in 2023, as the celebrations on a grand scale by GoI would be initiated in 20-23.

When was the last time when a big star, or a prominent actor from the current crop was cinematically associated with a sister on the screen to celebrate the occasion of RAKSHA BANDHAN? Well, before the release of Akshay Kumar starrer RAKSHA BANDHAN, one would find a yawning gap in terms of celebration of this film on the silver screen.

It is one of the apparent paradoxes that even before Independence, i.e. way back in the 1940s, festival of RAKSHA BANDHAN was celebrated on the silver screen (first such occasion), and where in HUMAYUN (1940) Ashok Kumar played the role of Humayun and Veena had enacted the role of Karnavati.

As Indian cinematic journey moved forward, the cinematic celebration of RASHA BANDHAN continued to have a prominent echo, until the eighties. However, when romance became the operative template, and the romance of the urban milieu, or rather the cinematic context shifted from rural to the urban space, from the early nineties, this festival celebrating the love of a brother and sister slowly lost its relevance cinematically as the family as a unit became nuclearized. May be, that could be one of the reasons why Akshay Kumar is trying to turn the spotlight back on this festival and has timed its release around the RASHA BANDHAN which would be celebrated all over India on 11th August 2022? It is celebration of India and the spirit of India after all!

Among the triumvirate of Dev, Dilip and Raj, Dev Anand dabbled with this genre of exploring the relationship between the brother and sister regularly. In Dev Anand’s cinematic journey, one end of exploration of this journey was through BAMBAI KA BABU (1960), while the other end of it culminated with HARE RAM HARE KRISHNA (1971). It was for the first time where a character of a sister in the film got an eminence than the heroine of the film. Zeenat Aman who had played the role of the sister, and she was perhaps one of those rare actors who was not slotted into sisterly roles subsequently as it happened with other actors, most significantly with Fareeda Jalal and Naaz. Dev Anand being Dev Anand she presented Zeenat Aman as a modern sister and not a weepy character as the template of sisters had emerged in Hindi cinema.

The song, which is the signature tune of RAKSHA BANDHAN and still holds fort, came out in 1959 through CHOTI BEHAN- Bhaiya mere rakhee ke bandhan ko nibhana Nanda playing the role of a blind who also subsequently graduated to become an established female actor.

Rajesh Khanna through SACHCHA JHOOTHA (1971) underlined the aspirations of a brother about a sister and the song – Meri Pyari behaniya banegi dulhaniya, thenceforth has become a leit motif of most of the marriages happening in the country.

But it was Amitabh Bachchan who got an opportunity to develop the template of brother sister in a different manner through his films like ADALAT, GANGA KI SAUGANDH, TRISHUL, etc. His image of angry young man as it was evolving got an emotional peck up through the situation of trauma as a manifestation of rape of the sister and subsequent revenge for justice. It caught the imagination of public like anything as the revenge of rape was used as the template of revenge of the emerging class against the entrenched ruling class. The emotional pent up because of the inability to fight against the system at the time of occurrence of incidence found manifestation as a revenge subsequently and this is what added to the charisma of Amitabh Bachchan. The song from FARAAR (1975) – Dekh sakta hoon main kuch bhi hote hue not only summed up the situation of the film, but also in a subtle manner underlined the determination of the brother to take revenge for sister which Amitabh Bachchan had done in series of such films. When TRISHUL (1978) came the template of this relationship was given a new connotation through the song – jaa ri behna jaa tu apne ghar ja invoking wellbeing of the sister in a new life for all times to come.

Such was the outreach of the template and its acceptability which Amitabh Bachchan dabbled with, that when Rajnikant made his debut through ANDHA KANOON (1983), the same template was provided to him to announce his arrival as a brother on the prowl too to avenge the rape of his sister. ANDHA KANOON could hark back on the emotional association between a brother and a sister in the growing stage. It used the template of inability of the brother to take revenge for his sister, on account of his tender age, but his resolve to do it when the brother became adult was a tribute to this relationship – dar mat behna bandh de raakhi, us rab par to chod de baaki, underlining the same.

Dacoit dramas, which were a dominant theme of the Hindi films, during seventies and early eighties, also dabbled with the relationship of brothers and sisters. CHAMBAL KI KASAM (1980) was one such film, which explored this relationship in a detailed manner. Raj Kumar had enacted the role of a dacoit and its song – chanda re mere bhaiya se kehna behna yaad kare – emotionally brought out the existentialist dilemma of a sister who had grown up playing with brother but could not meet her brother at her own will post marriage. It indeed has become the wont of this relationship actually, more so accentuated in the modern times. DHARAM KANTA (1982), also delved on the relationship and its song- babul ka ye ghar behna composed by Naushad thenceforth became a regular feature in bidaee for all the sisters.

Trust Feroz Khan to take this relationship to a new level when he made QURBAANI (1980). It was perhaps for the first-time brother sister duo were presented in a most menacing manner in the form of Aruna Irani and Shakti Kapoor and it was a unique USP of the film. Subsequently, duo of Shakti Kapoor and Aruna Irani became a regular feature in scores of films, but the kind of menace that they brought through their portrayal in QURBANI was not repeated.

With the advent of an era of romanticism in Hindi cinema riding on the magic of Yash Chopra and Shah Rukh Khan, the role of the sister was relegated to the background. It was the mother who replaced the sister in a pronounced manner. Sister was not there at all as a part of filmi family in general. So when Aishwarya Rai Bachchan played the role of a sister in JOSH (2000), the film rarely explored the relationship between the brother and a sister, rather it was more exploration of the love life of brother and the problems that he was facing in his life! The song – apun bola tu meri Laila underlining the changes that Hindi cinema had brought about in this relationship.

Around the same time, Khalid Mohammed made FIZA (2000) which was a search of a sister for his brother and it dabbled on the emotional bonding of a sister and a brother in a very deft manner.

One only hopes that with RAKSHA BANDHAN (2022), the transformation that this relationship has undergone would be experimented by new generation of filmmakers, as it continues to be done in Hollywood through the FAST AND FURIOUS series.


Himanshi Khurana

Hina Khan

Nikki Tamboli

Rashami Desai

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