Character Decoding 101: The Aunt

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They have many names: Mami, Chachi, Bua, Tai, Kaki, Maasi, Phoi, Faiba, Phupphi, Khala and so on. Whichever name you choose, and however the relation, aunts in Hindi cinema can be fun and friendly or alternatively, conniving and crude. The character of the aunt unfortunately never forms the central protagonist of any film; she indubitably plays an eminent part of any feature film. However, while some of the more predominant roles get deemed “glamorous,” the aunt and her variations are considered character roles.

If any actress forms the epitome of the evergreen Bollywood aunt, it must be Himani Shivpuri. She began her stint as the embodiment of the ideal aunt in Hum Aapke Hain Kaun where she played chachi-jaan to Salman Khan. Her portrayal of the righteous, fun loving aunt became well-known within audiences. As the aunt whom the younger characters could lovingly tease, her depiction of the nice aunt was cherished by all. From there on, she became a caricature of the ideal aunt in Hindi cinema. Later, she went on to play similar roles in Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge and Hum Saath Saath Hain.

Hit movies such as Aunty No. 1 and Chachi 420 have revolved around the humorous escapades of aunts. Granted that both roles have been played by men, but the enactments of over the top aunts, were dedications to the role of aunties in all their grandeur. Aunty No. 1 saw funny guy Govinda adorn the sari only to romance two suitors of her (or his) own. Kamal Hassan became the aunt of the house as he attempted to woo back his estranged wife and daughter only to add confusion to the matter as his father-in-law falls in love with the Chachi. Both flicks depicted aunts in a lighter and comical light which was appreciated by audiences and auntie’s everywhere.

Historically, the term “Agony Aunt” was given to older women who were asked for their advice because of their wisdom in advice columns. Even today when young nieces and nephews look for guidance in love and life, more than often, they find themselves hopping over to their aunts for some unbiased assistance. The same is in Hindi cinema of course. Himani Shivpuri, the queen aunt, did just that Kuch Kuch Hota Hain, as she repeatedly explained to Kajol to take on a more girlish avatar and to accept her feelings for Shah Rukh Khan. The youth are stubborn; yes, we are. Kajol’s character eventually did succumb to her Khala’s advice later on in life, and the rest is history.

On a reverse note, aunts can also take on the devil’s mask as they instigate evil ideas into the rest of the families mind. Remember Bindu in Hum Aapke Hain Kaun? She was at her vampish best as she called out her nephew’s choice of a bride who was “inferior” to her in family status. Later on, she slyly let family members know that the family servant was only out to filch money from the family. Her remarks were taken with a pinch of salt in the movie, but clearly aunts do come in various forms.

The unmarried aunt is a Hindi cinema usual. Past and present, they are ones who are singled out and pitied. Some scripts view them in a lighter perspective while others are filled with lines of taunts for the aunt. In Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, Himani Shivpuri was the unmarried aunt who was happily looking for a potential husband at her niece’s wedding. In fact, she went to go on and state that she wouldn’t mind someone from “abroad” for herself. On the flipside, the recent Delhi 6 had an unmarried aunt, Rama Bua played by Aditi Rao Hydari, was sneered at by her niece. Both portrayals were completely opposite to one another but the essence ultimately, the same. The unmarried aunt is a filmy stereotype.

Irrespective of the name, aunts in Hindi cinema are as important to a script as they are to audiences outside of the movie cinema. They have the most beautiful job as they multifunction to play your best friend, the other mom, personal advisor and cool aunt too. They spoil and set you straight, cry and let you cry, shout and nurture. Little credit to their names, they do manage to support the main cast just as they should.

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