My Yahoo! Movies column, first published here.
As two PCs face off in today’s box-office battle, it might be a good idea to look at sisters in Bollywood. Priyanka and Parineeti are cousins but Hindi cinema is full of sisters who have been anything from wildly to moderately to not-at-all successful.
I would stick my neck out and call Tanuja and Nutan the most successful pair of sisters in Bollywood history. In terms of sheer durability and histrionic range, they have no parallels.
Nutan did sensitive, heroine-driven roles like Bandini, Seema, Sujata and Saudagar. She also donned a swimsuit in a madcap comedy like Dilli Ka Thug. She was the romantic lead in superhits like Tere Ghar Ke Samne and Paying Guest. She ended with strong mother roles like Karma, Meri Jung and Naam. In short, she was a superb actress. In fact, she has won five Filmfare awards for Best Actress – a record she shares with her niece, Kajol.
Tanuja was the spunkier of the two sisters. She acted in some huge hits like Jewel Thief, Haathi Mere Sathi and Mere Jeevan Sathi though her box-office potential was not fully realised. She had a strong career in Bengali cinema and she followed up her leading lady days with a great stint as ‘mother’ – in films as diverse as Love 86, Aatish and Khakee.
Commercially, there is nobody to beat the Kapoor sisters.
Karisma started off in horrendous – yet hugely successful – films with Govinda and David Dhawan. Raja Babu, Coolie No. 1 and Hero No. 1 were massive hits though she was looked at with considerable derision for doing these. She changed all that when she did the second lead in a Yash Chopra film – Dil To Paagal Hai – and held her own against Madhuri Dixit. Her clothes and image saw a dramatic makeover as she not only became a Manish Malhotra muse but also acted in critically acclaimed roles like Fiza and Zubeidaa. She quit films after her marriage but looks all set to make a comeback after her divorce.
It is ironic that despite having a string of memorable films, Kareena is mostly discussed for her Size Zero figure and her love life. She has acted in massive hits (3 Idiots, Bodyguard, Jab We Met) as well as arthouse, performance-oriented films (Chameli, Dev, Omkara). She has been subdued (Kurbaan) as well as over the top (Golmaal 3). In short, she is the quintessential Bollywood heroine.
Karisma and Kareena are the only two siblings to have been nominated for the Filmfare Best Actress award in the same year (2002). They were beaten by another sister, Kajol.
Tanuja’s daughter came to Bollywood with a similar mix of talent and chutzpah. While Tanuja was often seen to be too much of a rebel, Kajol fitted right in with the modern times.
She overcame her not-classical looks with some great acting in iconic films – the most memorable one being Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, Indian cinema’s longest running blockbuster. Her acting and charm landed her meaty roles and she played them with aplomb right from her first hit (Baazigar) to one-off parts after marriage (My Name Is Khan). In between, she delivered a string of hits that make her one of the most popular Bollywood actresses of all time.
To use a cricketing term, sister Tanisha did not bother the scorers too much. Her filmography is dubious, to put it mildly, as her best known film seems to be Neal ‘n’ Nikki (which she co-starred with the other under-performing sibling of Bollywood – Uday Chopra). She has also acted in a few South Indian films but never managed to reach even an infinitesimal part of her sister’s success.
While on the subject of Uday Chopra, it might be opportune to bring up Shamita Shetty who made her debut opposite the Yash Raj scion in Mohabbatein. Shamita had an uneven run at the box office and her only (if you insist) memorable role was in Fareb – where she co-starred with her sister, Shilpa competing with her for the affections of Manoj Bajpayee. (Yes, I know. Poor Manoj!)
Shilpa Shetty, of course, fended off far stronger competition than her sister to be the totally hot diva who was a shoo-in for roles that needed svelte figures, dancing and big smiles. Her debut was with the other Big Sister – Kajol – in Baazigar and she followed it up with blockbusters like Main Khiladi Tu Anari and Dhadkan. She even slipped in a couple of ‘award’ roles like Life In A Metro and Phir Milenge before finding international stardom in Celebrity Big Boss and IPL.
Padmini Kolhapure had a successful acting career that started as a child artiste (in films like Satyam Shivam Sundaram and Insaaf Ka Tarazu) and transitioned to an actress. She was always the slightly conservative girl waiting for a breath of fresh air from the hero and her most successful roles were all in this mould – Zamaane Ko Dikhana Hai, Prem Rog and Woh 7 Din, for example. She got married and took a break but has come back in bhabhi roles in the recent past.
Padmini’s younger sister, Tejaswaini, debuted in Anurag Kashyap’s ill-fated Paanch which was banned before release and her strong performance went unnoticed. She has acted in a few offbeat ventures and is likely to be seen in Anurag Kashyap’s forthcoming film, Ugly.
Their older sister – Shivangi – is married to Shakti Kapoor.
Farha was part of the assembly line of heroines who starred in near-identical films in the late 80s and 90s. From Love 86 to Rakhwala to Yateem, Farha was moderately successful in tomboyish roles with husky voice and tough-cookie act. She graduated to bhabhi roles towards the later part of her careers (in Hulchul, for example).
Her sister Tabassum a.k.a. Tabu made a child debut in Dev Anand’s Hum Naujawan and then acted in brain-dead hits like Vijaypath, Jeet and Saajan Chale Sasural. Just when we thought she was becoming a clone of her sister, she found her acting groove in Gulzar’s Maachis and followed it up with powerhouse performances in Virasat, Hu Tu Tu, Chandni Bar and Maqbool. Her talents have got her into quite a few international productions with Indian connections – The Life of Pi and The Namesake, for example.
Dimple Kapadia had a dream debut in Bobby and an even dreamier wedding to Rajesh Khanna. When the marriage ended, she became back and proceeded to do several memorable films which were either hugely successful (Saagar, Arjun, Ram Lakhan, Krantiveer) or highly acclaimed (Rudaali, Drishti, Lekin) or hot (Jaanbaaz). Even after growing older, she did some very interesting roles that went beyond the ghisa-pita mother-aunty template. Pyar Mein Twist, Dil Chahta Hai, Luck By Chance all had an edge in her roles that made them memorable.
Simple – on the other hand – came into films probably only because producers wanted her sister and she was the nearest they could get. Just one letter changed, you see! Her debut was opposite brother-in-law Rajesh in Anurodh. That film and the subsequent ones did not demonstrate any major acting talent. She eventually went on to become a costume designer in Bollywood.
Dimple’s two daughters followed their mother and aunt too.
Twinkle Khanna debuted opposite Bobby Deol in the latter’s home production and debut vehicle, Barsaat. She was paired opposite nearly every major star of the time – Aamir, SRK, Govinda, Sunny Deol, Saif Ali Khan and of course, Akshay Kumar – though not in their best films. In any case, she found love and left Bollywood for happy matrimony and interior designing.
Twinkle’s sister was named Rinkle though she dropped the L when she entered Bollywood. (Don’t ask me why!) She did some interesting films like Jhankaar Beats and Pyar Mein Kabhi Kabhi. She did not win the Filmfare for the Best Female Debut. If she did, they would have been the only pair of sisters to have done so. (Incidentally, Priyanka and Parineeti have won this debut award double.)
Riya and Raima Sen – daughters of Moonmoon and granddaughters of Suchitra Sen – have toggled between Bengali and Hindi cinema but their Hindi roles have largely been extended cameos. Raima’s has been in Honeymoon Travels Pvt Ltd, Ekalavya and Manorama Six Feet Under among others while Riya played her mother’s daughter in Vishkanya (as a child artiste) and had somewhat visible roles in Jhankaar Beats and Style.
Incidentally, the Sen sisters acted with Sharman Joshi in a film called 3 Bachelors – which was made in early 2000s but had a limited and litigious release in 2012.
Going back to the 1970s and 1980s, we have Vijeta and Sulakshana Pandit whose playback singing and acting careers were intertwined. Their brothers were popular music composers Jatin-Lalit, which probably helped them make the transition. Vijeta had a dream debut opposite Kumar Gaurav in Love Story but couldn’t sustain the momentum. Sulakshana Pandit had an even more undistinguished acting career.
Amrita Arora has acted in a few films here and there, bolstered by many guest appearances in films by friends and family.
Her elder sister, Malaika Arora, has been the greatest exponent of that Bollywood art-form – the Item Number. From Dil Se to Dabangg, she has been a sinewy, sensuous presence in several iconic songs and hasn’t bothered to ‘act’. In Kaante, she was supposed to be a character (who was also a pole dancer) but her few lines of dialogue got missed.
The three Reddy sisters – Sameera, Sushma and Meghna – have a mix of film, music and modelling careers and it is never clear who is more famous for what. If we try to isolate their films, we will find Meghna hasn’t done any Bollywood while Sushma did two blink-and-still-there roles in Chocolate and Chup Chupke.
Sameera has a bigger list of credits though not many have stood the test of time. She has been in Race, Musafir and Darna Mana Hai among others, though her most inexplicable role must have been in acclaimed director Buddhadeb Dasgupta’s Bengali film, Kaalpurush.