Looking at Sameer Ganguly's "Sharmilee" [AKA; "Sharmeelee] (1971).

The 'twin sister' story line in Bollywood entertainers. With photo galleries.

Links to additional "Sharmilee" star photo capture galleries at bottom of page.

Film: "Sharmilee" [AKA "Sharmeelee"] (1971)

Starring: Shashi Kapoor , Raakhee

Director: Sameer Ganguly

Producer: Subodh Mukherjee

Music Director: S D Burman Lyricist: Neeraj

Playback Singers: Kishore Kumar, Asha Bhonsle

Story Writer: Gulshan Nanda

Costume Designer: Laxman Shelke

Art Director: Shanti Das

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In Sameer Ganguly's "Sharmilee" (1971) the actress Raakhee plays what is commonly referred to in Hindi 'Bollywood' films as a 'duel role'. Kanchan and Kamini are twin sisters whose personalities are at opposite ends of the spectrum. Kanchan is a virginal innocent, she is painfully shy, loves nature, and always wears a saree. Kamini on the other hand is an extrovert 'Western' fashion plate who loves to play tricks on people and is studying for her Master's. The film revolves around the two sisters and their love for the same man (played by a very young Shashi Kapoor).

The use of dual or mistaken identity is a common theme in Bollywood entertainers. It can be used for mystery, comedy, and romantic intrigue and quite often all three. The heightened pathos and titillating excitement the viewer has of knowing and 'being in on' the dual character's impersonation of their twin to deceive the unwitting 'heroes' and 'society' is a time worn theatrical devise. What is interesting in Hindi 'Bollywood' films of the 60s & 70s is how female 'duel roles' were used in some cases as 'morality' tales elucidating the possible effects of the changing roles and influences on Indian woman in that period. In these cases one twin is a traditional girl with strong 'Hindustani' moral values and the other sister is a 'Westernized', sassy, sexy, strong willed independent hipster. It is a 'good girl', 'bad girl' dichotomy, with traditional = good, and Western= bad, view of conservative morality.

As in all Bollywood films of the 60s and 70s the 'traditional' girl always wins the hero over the 'Westernized' girl. Often too the 'Westernized' girl will see the error of her ways and often she dies. In some story lines the script is a bit more forgiving and the 'Westernized' girl is allowed to become a good traditional girl again and not have to die.

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This structure of the morality tale is the thin story of "Sharmilee". What is at the true heart of the film though (and all of the films like it during the period) is the dual emotions of Indian society at once fascinated and excited with all things modern 'Western' on one side and on the other side, the moral dread and fear for the impact the 'West' could have on the traditional fabric, stability, and culture of a country in the midst of transition.

The Idea and use of the Westernized Indian girl/woman in Bollywood films of the 60s & 70s for vicarious thrills and entertainment only to chastise and often doom for moral reasons, because of their Western 'corruption' shows how split the Indian public was towards the feminist and sexual revolutions taking place in the West.

The conceit of the duel role and the twin in "Sharmilee" provided the audience with a convenient alternative in that both good and bad girl could be desired in the same actress, Raakhee. The heroine could be alternately 'good' and' bad' ultimately with a clear conscious. The films story actually goes into this possibility of embodying 'duel' roles, as both characters at one time or other in the film imitate the other. What is interesting is that when the 'traditional' Kanchan imitates the 'Westernized' Kamini the results are a successful ruse, but whenever 'Westernized' Kamini attempts to imitate the 'traditional' Kanchan the results are disappointing and full of rejection.

The film is saying that if one is 'traditional' on the inside one can imitate the West without consequence, but if one is corrupted by the West on the inside an attempt to appear 'traditional' will meet with rejection and often with disastrous consequences. This is a theme that has continued all the the way to the mid 1990s in Bollywood.

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"Sharmilee" is also about the hero's journey and how 'fate' reveals to him the unreliability of matters of the heart and the true ' just ness' of 'traditional' institutions. Which is basically the underlying message of the love story track in every Bollywood film (and has strong ties with Hindu texts like the Mahabarata).

In many ways the hero is a reflection of the Bollywood audience's fascination and desire for the Westernized twin Kamini played by fashionable starlet Raakhee who wears revealing bathing suits, silver lamè pantsuits and upswept bouffant hairstyles. The Hero is infatuated like the audience with the glitz, novelty, and glamour the ultra hip attitudes of the West present. The hero though is shown that what he took for love is nothing but an illusion. In "Sharmilee" the Hero is literally shown that his love for Kamini is an illusion (the hero sees what he takes to be a ghost of Kamini, who is actually Kanchan in disguise). The film ends in harmony with the wishes of society met. The hero and true heroine, Kamini (the traditional sister) overcome the whims of mere love to make the 'right' choice. Fate intervenes to guide the hero down the correct 'socially correct' path. Everybody ends up happy, except for the Westernized girl, who ends up dead. All is well in Bollywood.

It is interesting to note that young Indian woman flocked to the theaters to watch the female stars of the time, like Raakhee, Sharmila Tagore, Sadhana, and Zeenat Aman, to see what new Western fashions, hairstyle, and make-up they were wearing. Often the new styles seen in films became the fashion rage on the street.

"Sharmilee" is also full of classic music by S.D. Burman sung by Kishore Kumar, Asha Bhonsle, and Lata Mangeshkar. The songs, 'O Meri Sharmilee', 'Khilte Jain Gul Yahan' and the Lata-Kishore duet 'Aaj Madhosh Hua' were chart toppers. The film also was a huge hit and was instrumental in making Bengali actress Raakhee a big star in Bollywood.






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first uploaded: 04.20.03