Viral stop-motion videos capture a simpler moment in India

Zainab and Sakina Sabunwala, “Breezy Evening” (2020) (all images courtesy of the artists)

Indian The mellifluous voice of singer Lata Mangeshkar plays in the background as a beautiful sari-clad lady sits on her terrace, enjoying her tea with biscuits as sparrows gather on the rails. Bollywood superstar of yore, Meena Kumari, sits elegantly on a mattress on the floor in the iconic film. Pakeezah while the hit song “Mausam Hai Aashiqana” plays in the background. These are some of the scenes depicted in sisters Zainab and Sakina Sabunwala’s popular stop-animation videos on Instagram.

Scrolling through the @Bohrasisters Instagram account is a trip back in time, to the sepia past, where life passed at a leisurely pace: three old women chatting on the steps of their houses; the local chaiwallah (tea seller) serving milk tea in earthenware cups with seated men reading newspapers; a burly jalebi vendor stirring dough in a large pan of oil to make the funnel-shaped confection, and the tailor Abdul with his skullcap bent over an old-fashioned sewing machine with a tape measure slung across his shoulders.

Zainab, 33, and Sakina, 37, belong to the Dawoodi Bohra community with roots in Udaipur, Rajasthan, in western India. Today they live on different continents: Sakina lives in London, while Zainab lives in Kuwait. Both are trained engineers who spent seven years with their grandparents in Udaipur, Rajasthan, during the Gulf War, and did their university education in Bangalore (also known as Bangalore).

“Sakina has always loved drawing and art and is completely self-taught. I started working with animation after finishing my engineering degree,” explained Zainab, who happened to be in Udaipur during our phone conversation. She said that she created the Instagram account in 2015 with her sister as a hobby and an attempt to “relive” her childhood in a small Indian village and celebrate her grandparents, with nostalgia as the main theme.

The Sabunwala sisters’ stop animation videos combine hand-drawn and digital art with timeless Hindi music. The beauty of his work is found in the smallest details of everyday life, like the sound of a man snoring or the mooing of a cow. A life-size finger (actually Zainab’s) appears in each animation to perform part of the action, such as plucking a flower, adding an ingredient to a dish, or opening a window. Many of her posts have been inspired by the daily lives of her grandparents, with whom she spent her formative years.

The sisters use some typical motifs to recreate their childhood memories, from street food like jalebis and momos, to local vendors, Bollywood actors, old houses, gulmohar and banyan trees, ravens and sparrows, and people doing household chores like drying clothes. clothing, making pickles, etc. or clean the rice. Each character has a fictitious name as “Bhola chaiwala”, “Laloo Pav Bhaji” and “Aunt D Souza”.

Many of the incidents portrayed are personal memories from his childhood, such as the depiction of his grandmother in a rocking chair that suddenly empties as she dies. Flipping through their Instagram page, I get lost in the evocative images they create: a grandmother chasing away the pesky crows that disturb her afternoon siesta, women sitting on an open patio cleaning bowls of rice with clotheslines behind them, images of the colorful market of phool mandi flowers, all of which are actual vignettes from their lives in India.

“We grew up listening to music from Hindi movies on tape recorders and radios that our parents played all day while going about their daily chores or on long trips,” Zainab said. “My father insisted that we watch and learn to appreciate the old classics.” There are many of his videos dedicated to particular Bollywood movies, dialogues or scenes, in addition to the song they choose to play with each video.

Their food videos are especially popular, evoking a desire for that particular Indian food like falooda (a layered dessert) or samosa, where they often show the steps of food preparation, heightening the viewer’s sense of anticipation. “In our community, food is a very important part of life. We sit on the floor and eat from a large plate where a meal typically starts with sweets, and then we move on to many other plates, sharing and joining the meal,” Zainab explained.

Eating pani puri (typical Indian street food) from a roadside stall as the vendor slowly fills each small puri (fluffy bread) with a mixture of potatoes and then adds the spicy water, Gafoor Bhai halwa (sweet served with puri ); the juice vendor putting fruit into a blender, while a child looks over her father’s shoulders; and a grandmother cooking aloo mutter (potato and pea curry) while carrying her granddaughter with one arm are scenes in which food takes center stage.

Food takes center stage in many of the videos.

The duo also promote social causes through their videos, from educating young women and supporting small businesses like the local tailor or vegetable vendor to highlighting the plight of salt workers affected by extreme heat and rain. out of season. “There are so many things that we take for granted because we are privileged and in India it is very common to see things like little children working on the streets,” Zainab said. “We also love nature, birds and animals and we try to incorporate this love through small details in our videos and artwork.”

They were kids from the mid-1980s and their videos are reminiscent of that time, creating slow magic with attention to small details like making a dish or feeding the pigeons. Most of his brainstorming is done over video calls, and it takes two to four weeks to create an animated piece of art, from drawing to full animation and sound. They have lived in Bangalore, visited Mumbai often, and lived in Udaipur, so their work has influences from all these Indian cities.

The sisters’ work has been in demand by clients ranging from couples commissioning wedding invitations to Disney’s Indian digital platform (Disney+ Hotstar) and the country’s top cricket league. Various non-profit organizations have also applied to use his animations. Now they both work full time on their Instagram account and other projects.

“We feel that this is our personal contribution to society, to bring a smile to someone’s face and make them soak up the nostalgia of the past as well,” Zainab said.

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