The Instagram handle @bohrasisters soaks you in nostalgia. The endearing stop-motion animation videos and GIFs on the page are created by siblings Sakina and Zainab Sabunwala. Family, childhood, food, culture, and Hindi film songs feature in their videos which are a combination of digital and hand drawings; much of it inspired by personal experiences.
Members of the Dawoodi Bohra community with their roots in Udaipur, Rajasthan, the siblings now work from two continents. Sakina from San Francisco in the US and Zainab from Kuwait in West Asia. MetroPlus caught up with them over an email interview, with the condition that they would not share their photographs. ‘We have always felt comfortable in not sharing our pictures on any of our platforms. It gives a sense of freedom,’ says Sakina, the elder sister, a mother of three.
Although both of them studied engineering in Bengaluru, they chose not to make a career out of it. Zainab started working for a marketing firm once she moved out of Bengaluru and got introduced to animation there; Sakina has always been passionate about art and craft. ‘We are both full-time artists now. All the work is done through video calls, which is quite challenging,’ they say.
They started using social media handles from 2015 to showcase their art. ‘Gradually, people started appreciating our work and began approaching us with paid projects. That is when we took it up full time,’ Sakina says.
Talking about the personal touch in their posts, the sisters say that their page is a dedication to their grandparents and their days in India. One of their first videos was about helping their mother in the kitchen. The terrace where their grandmother fed the pigeons, her daily struggle to save her laundry from the crows, home-cooked food, roadside vegetable vendors, the colours and culture of Rajasthan…everything has been celebrated in their works.
‘We wanted to showcase our fond childhood memories, we feel almost everyone can relate to them. We moved from West Asia to India during the Gulf War for a few years and enjoyed our grandparents’ company. Our dadaji (grandfather) had high diabetes but would still sneak in gulab jamuns in his pockets for us and would eat them too. And our nani (maternal grandmother) always made sure to save malai (cream) for us,’ recalls Sakina.
The videos also feature adorable characters such as Mohan uncle and Bhola chaiwala, Laloo who runs a pav bhaji stall, Aachi mausi… some of them fictitious names.
‘But the incidents portrayed in our videos are real. One of our favourite uncles was the one who used to sell coffee on his bicycle in a small town of Galiyakot near Udaipur. We would always go to him with our dadaji. Every morning, he used to get coffee in a small container on his bicycle and leave for home once he sold all of it. A plate of coffee (a little bigger than the normal plate) for one rupee! But we feel he used to sell much more than just coffee there. That love has always stayed with us. And that is exactly what we try to showcase in all our videos, be it going to street-side vendors for some delicious pakoras or our ice-creamwala. ‘You won’t come by such connections in the malls and food courts visits in today’s world,’ says Zainab, who has a daughter.
Being ‘hardcore foodies and fans of Indian street food and mithais,’ food is integral to their videos. Samosas, sheer khurma, jalebis, corn, Banarasi meetha paan, ice lolly, bun maska and chai from Parsi cafes, ‘Gulnaaz begum’s exotic gulkand (rose petal jam) at doorsteps of Ajmer Sharif, D’zousa aunty’s plum cake… are among those mentioned in their videos.
As a garnish, they add an evergreen Hindi song to each video. ‘We have grown up listening to Hindi music, thanks to our parents. They used to play them on tape recorders while going about their chores,’ Sakina says. While her favourite is ‘Aayega aane wala’ from Mahal, Zainab’s is ‘Oh Mere Sona Re’ from Teesri Manzil. Videos dedicated to Bollywood movies, actors, dialogues and scenes have also been put up.
They make stop-motion videos, illustrations and doodles for both companies and personalised, commissioned projects. Customised works include invitation videos and those for marketing products. Their latest big brand collaboration has been with the IPL team Kolkata Knight Riders. ‘We got our first commissioned project from Pelli Poola Jada (bridal and wedding accessories line). Igers Rajasthan (Instagram community in Rajasthan) gave us commissioned work when we had just started. Art is so versatile. So we are not sure if we can still be called professional artists as there is always a learning curve and room to grow,’ they add.
Some of the videos are dedicated to social causes, such as supporting the girl child, stopping food wastage and encouraging local businesses. A video that went viral on Women’s Day highlighted the need to educate the girl child.
‘We started this project as a way to share smiles and happiness through our videos. Now that more people know about us, we feel it is our responsibility to at least shed light and bring awareness about these issues. This would be the first step towards a happy society. Our intention is still the same — to spread happiness in every way possible,’ they sign off.
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