Old is gold: creative sisters celebrate Indian culture in nostalgic animated videos

An Instagram handle run by Sakina and Zainab Bohra gives much-needed feel good vibes with scenes from yesteryears and Hindi music playing in the background

A still from an animated video by sisters Sakina and Zainab Bohra on Instagram. Photo: Bohra Sisters
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A young lady in a sari wearing a long braid sits in a beautiful garden with birds chirping and flying around her. She’s reading a book and stroking a cat on her lap. A pot of tea waits for her on a table as Jagjit Singh’s Tumko Dekha Toh Yeh Khayaal Aaya plays in the background.

You may find yourself sighing and wishing that the girl was you. A hand appears, pours out tea for her, and puts a flower in her hair. This is animation that gets the mood and atmosphere so right that you want it to be real. We have the Bohra Sisters to thank for it.

Sakina and Zainab Bohra became stop-motion animation sensations on Instagram with their posts, garnering more than 60,000 followers. The sisters are both engineers who grew up in Kuwait. Sakina recently moved from San Francisco to London, and Zainab still lives in Kuwait. They both gave up their jobs at various points in time to raise their children, and to also do something they love - art.

“We started our Instagram page in August 2015. I loved drawing and my sister Zainab was into stop motion animation [and still working in a digital marketing role then]. We wanted to do something in collaboration, where we could both put our skills to use. Our idea was to create videos to showcase our childhood memories, something we could later revisit and smile about. And also share the teeny stories of our lives with the world,” says Sakina.

Their strength lies in simple and beautiful storytelling. As Sakina points out, their connection to their audience is through emotion, and an experience of the past. The scenes and stories are quintessentially Indian, colourful and instantly catch your eye.

Our idea was to create videos to showcase our childhood memories, something we could later re-visit and smile about
Sakina Bohra

The pair use old-fashioned stop motion animation to narrate personal ordinary personal stories. The whole concept is steeped in popular Indian culture. The art is replete with surround sounds – gurgling brooks and babies, crackling fire, cows mooing, an old man snoring, a sewing machine running. Altogether, these animations give a great sense of space, a comforting ordinariness, and sweet nostalgia.

Each post is almost always set to old Bollywood music. A life-size human hand appears in each animation, performing some of the "action" in the scene whether that's switching on lights, opening doors, sweeping roads, pouring tea, grinding masala, or setting up shop. When the sisters first started, Sakina would draw and Zainab would animate, but now they have a team of freelancers working with them, who build upon their basic ideas, drawings and animation.

“Our subjects are based on real-life experiences, be it our childhood memories or anything that we come across in our day-to-day lives. A lot of them represent the time we spent with our families and local community while growing up. You can see our interactions with our local vendors and shopkeepers, or helping people in every possible way. We always like creating videos on social messages. And we keep having new experiences every day, so whatever inspires us, we use it in our videos,” says Zainab.

The sisters were born in India, and their family moved to Kuwait when they were very young. “Kuwait has a strong Indian presence, so we still grew up around Indian culture and traditions. As happens with people who move overseas, we grew closer and more fond of the culture. We moved back to India around the Gulf War of 1990, when we spent six years of our beautiful childhood with our lovely grandparents in Udaipur before returning to Kuwait. Then, later, we went back to India to pursue our undergraduate education. We both hold engineering degrees,” says Sakina, recalling their journey and influences across time and places.

Looking back, they say the time spent with their grandparents was very precious. “Our nani [maternal grandmother] was the most loving. Going to nani’s house was our most favourite part of the day. She would save malai [milk cream] for us every day, and make aloo wadas [fried potato snacks] every Sunday - pure selfless love and care.

"We wanted to share those memories through our videos with the world. Our Hindi film songs, especiallyclassics from back in the day, were all that we grew up listening to with our parents, on our tape recorders, while driving or on weekends while doing house chores - these were our real-life experiences. Something we relate to on a personal level,” says Sakina.

The duo post fresh content on Instagram on most Indian festivals. Other themes you can expect to see include food and drinks, romance and gratitude. They have also supported several charitable causes - encouraging the education of young girls and supporting small and local businesses.

Sakina believes their Instagram page is mostly for entertainment, but that they have struck a chord with people. When they created a special animation appealing to people not to mistreat animals , many non-profit organisations from across India got in touch asking if they could use the animation on their websites. "It's visual and it's simple and, I feel, it appeals to the masses," says Sakina.

This success led to brands and companies approaching them for commercial projects. The most common request is for animated wedding or party invitations; other projects have been for start-ups, product animations and for the Indian Premier League cricket team Kolkata Knight Riders. The Bohra sisters have now also worked with Disney+ Hotstar for the TV series The Empire, and clients contacted from the US, the UK, Australia, Singapore and India.

“If we get an opportunity, we would love to make a film. It's definitely a long way out, but why not?” says Zainab.

When asked what the future holds for them, the sisters hope to continue making what they call "micro movies". They also want to delve into the blossoming world of non-fungible tokens. And if they do, it is sure to be the perfect example of "old world meets the new world".

Updated: December 02, 2021, 10:07 AM