Legendary Leading Ladies Of Bollywood
Though Conrad Hilton didn’t put it this way, Silk (or Balan) concludes – There are three things you need for a successful film: entertainment, entertainment, entertainment. Over here, “I am the entertainment.” She is absolutely right, beyond first-rate.”
- Mayank Shekhar's review: The Dirty Picture in Hindustan Times
Bollywood is basically a hero oriented industry. Male leads would often see that their female co-stars got less footage, less meaty roles, less publicity, that they do not turn scene stealers. Nevertheless, some of the most memorable films have been those that were women-centric. These films have given some great female stars who commanded an equal position with the male leads and also no less a superstar status. They are some of the most beautiful actresses, many of them Beauty Queens, who emerged as superstars, with their awards- winning talent and some very successful films to be proud of :
Devika Rani: First Lady of the Indian Cinema and an acknowledged beauty, Devika Rani goes down in the annals of Hindi films as actor par excellence. Karma (1933) gave her instant fame and rave reviews for her performance. She made a very successful team with Ashok Kumar - Jeevan Naiya, Janma Bhoomi, Achut Kanya, Izzat, Savitri and Anjaan. For her contributions to Indian Cinema, Devika Rani was the first recipient of the prestigious Dada Sahib Phalke Award in 1970.
Naseem Banu: Daughter of the legendary playback singer Shamshad Begum, Naseem was one of the most beautiful figures to grace the Indian screen. She was the Beauty Queen of her time and a superstar of her days. Starting her career in Khoon Ka Khoon (1935), she was an overnight sensation on release of Sohrab Modi's all time classic, Pukar (1939). Her song in the movie 'Zindagi ka saaz bhi kya saaz hai, baj raha hai aur beawaz hai' was a big hit. Her other hit movies include Talaaq, Ujala, Begam, Jeevan Sapna, Anokhi Ada, Chandani Raat and Sheesh Mahal. She retired in the mid-50s so that she would groom her daughter Saira Banu for an acting career.
Durga Khote: A strong woman, Durga Khote had a glorious career that spanned 50 years, which included acting, production and direction. Starting her career in Ayodhecha Raja (1932) she acted in over 200 films. Her powerful performance in Amar Jyoti (1937) made her an overnight star who was thereafter sought for woman-centric films, especially historicals. Her major films include Rajrani Meera, Nand Kumar, Adhuri Kahani, Maya Machindra, Patit Pawan, Jeevan Natak, Inquilab, Saathi, Narsi Bhagat, Geeta, Vijay, Bharat Milap, Prithvi Vallabh, Mahatma Vidur, Pannadai, Mirza Ghalib and Mughal-E-Azam.
Shanta Apte: Whanever films about strong women are discussed, V. Shantaram's Dunia Na Mane (1937) tops the list. In the film, Nirmala, an orphan girl is given in marriage to an old rich widower. She revolts and refuses to consummate the union with her husband. Shanta Apte played perfect Nirmala. This was her third most memorable performance in a row - the earlier two being in Shantaram's classics, Amrit Manthan (1934) and Amar Jyoti (1936). Shanta Apte's other great movies include Zamindar, Apna Ghar, Mohabbat, Duhai and Subhadra. She was also a great singer of her time, who sang her own songs in films.
Madhubala: The most beautiful star of Hindi cinema, she was brilliant in both, comedy as well as in high dramatic performance. While she matched Kishore Kumar step by step in his madcap antics in Chalti Ka Naam Gadi, her performance as the doomed courtesan Anarkali in Mughal-E-Azam equalled that of Dilip Kumar as Prince Salim. Madhubala began her Bollywood life in Kidar Sharma's Neel Kamal (1947) opposite Raj Kapoor and became a superstar in Mahal (1949), a super super suspence thriller. A spate of hits followed - Amar, Howrah Bridge, Kala Paani, Phagun, Passport, Half Ticket and Sharabi. Madhubala's memorable career in Hindi films was cut short by her untimely death.
Nargis: One of the greatest Indian actresses, Nargis started her Bollywood journey with a break by the ace director Mehboob in Taqdeer (1943), but real stardom came her way with Mehboob's Andaaz and Raj Kapoor's Barsaat. Both movies were mega hits. Nargis played the lead in a spate of super hits opposite Dilip Kumar - Mela, Jogan, Babul and Deedar. After Awaara (1951) she worked exclusively with Raj Kapoor - Aah, Anhonee, Ashiana, Bewafa, Shri 420, Chori Chori and Jagte Raho. Her magnum opus Mother India (1957) represents the pinnacle of her career and won her the Best Actress award at the prestigious Karlovy Vary Festival. Nargis was the first film personality to be awarded Padmashree.
Meena Kumari: She was one of the most beloved actresses of Bollywood. She took performance to new heights with her classic contributions including Parineeta, Baiju Bawra, Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam, Daera, Ek Hi Raasta, Sharda, Dil Apna Aur Preet Parai, Dil Ek Mandir, Aarti, Kajal, Phool Aur Pathar and Pakeeza. She also excelled in light hearted roles - Azaad, Miss Mary, Shararat and Kohinoor. She won Filmfare awards for Best Actress in Baiju Bawra (1952), Parineeta (1953) and Sahib Bibi Ghulam (1962) and made history in 1962 by bagging three Best Actress nominations - Aarti, Main Chup Rahungi and Sahib Bibi Ghulam. She was called the Tragedy Queen for playing the suffering woman to perfection.
Vijayantimala: The first South Indian actress who made it big in Bollywood, Vijayantimala's greatest legacy to Indian cinema is that it has become a must for any inspiring actress to be an accomplished dancer. She started her career in Hindi films with Bahar (1951), a big hit, primarily because of her dance numbers. In Devdas (1955) she played dancing girl Chandramukhi and won Filmfare award for Best Supporting Actress. Naya Daur (1957), a mega hit, made her the most sought after star. Bimal Roy's Madhumati (1958), shot her to the highest echelons of stardom. She won Filmfare awards for Best Actress in Sadhna (1958), Ganga Jamuna (1961) and Sangam (1964). After her last big hit, Jewel Thief (1967), she retired from films.
Waheeda Rehman: Another great dancer from South Indian films, Waheeda Rehman was spotted by Guru Dutt in a Telgu film and brought to Bombay to work in his production, C.I.D. (1956). The film was a big hit but her role of a vamp was not that big. The real srardom was offered to her on a platter in Guru Dutt's masterpiece Pyaasa (1957), followed by two more classics from Guru Dutt, Kaagaz Ke Phool (1959) and Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam (1962). Her hit movies include Chowdhavin Ka Chand, Kala Bazaar, Bees Saal Baad, Mujhe Jeene Do, Kohra and Ram Aur Shyam. With Guide (1965) she reached the peak of her career, playing the difficult role of a desperate housewife.
Nutan: Launched in Hamari Beti (1950) by mother Shobhana Samarth, Nutan's major breakthrough as an actress par excellence came with Seema (1955), which won her Filmfare Best Actress Award. Whether it was the light hearted Paying Guest (1957) or Bimal Rai's intense Sujata (1959), brought out the best in her. She continued with her bright career with Tere Ghar Ke Samne, Anadi, Chhalia, Milan, Khandaan, Sarswatichandra, Saudagar, Sajan Bina Suhagan and Main Tulsi Tere Aangan Ki. Her greatest performance was in Bimal Roy's Bandini (1963). She won record-breaking 5 Filmfare awards for Best Actress - Seema (1957), Sujata (1960), Bandini (1964), Milan (1969) and Main Tulsi Tere Aangan Ki (1979).
Sharmila Tagore: She won a timultuous welcome to Hindi cinema when she appeared with her glorious dimples and sassy smile in the romantic comedy Kashmir Ki Kali (1964) opposite Shammi Kapoor. With Evening in Paris (1967), she went on to become one of the hottest and most glamorous actresses. She won Filmfare Best Actress Award for Aradhna (1970) and National Award for Mausam (1975). Her other great movies include Anupama, Waqt, Chupke Chupke, Satyakam, Khushboo, Griha Pravesh, Namkeen, Desh Premi and Mississipi Masala.
Rakhee: One look at Rakhee and you are immediately drawn to her gaze. There you find the fire as well as melancholy, depending on her mood of the moment. In Sharmeelee (1971), her debut film, the cameraman devoted half an hour to her close-ups. She is truly a photographer's dream. She has a long list of super hits, to her very successful career spanning 30 years in the industry - Reshma Aur Shera, Lal Pathar, Be-Iman, Heera Panna, Daag, Black Mail, Banarsi Babu, Joshila, Angarey, Tapasya, Kabhi Kabhie, Muqaddar Ka Sikandar, Jurmana, Kala Pathar, Lootmaar, Shaan, Laawaris, Shradhanjali, Bemisal and more. She won Filmfare Best Actress Award for Tapasya (1976), Best Supporting Actress Award for Daag (1976) and Ram Lakhan (1989).
Hema Malini: She entered Bollywood as the 'Dream Girl' of Raj Kapoor in Sapnon Ka Saudagar (1968), but became dream girl of multitude of movie goers with Johnny Mera Naam, the mega hit of 1970. Then came Seeta Aur Geeta (1972) and she was the top female star, winning the Filmfare Best Actrss Award for the film. Her stocks went high with a string of hits opposite Dharmendra - Raja Jani, Jugnu, Solay, Pratigya, Phandebaaz, Dream Girl, Dillagi, Charas, Azaad, Aas Paas, Andha Kanoon etc. Gulzar brought to limelight Hema's histrionics excellence in Khushboo (1975), Kinara (1977) and Meera (1979). Hema Malini has the distinction of bagging Filmfare Best Actress Award even for her comeback film Baghban, more than 30 years after she won her first award. She was awarded Padma Bhushan in 1999.
Shabana Azmi: One of the greatest actresses of our time, leading light of the Indian New Wave cinema, she dominated the films of the 'parallel cinema' in 1970s and 80s made by India's famous arthouse directors Shyam Benegal, Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen, Aparna Sen and others. Her most memorable movies include Ankur, Nishant, Junoon, Atithi, Sparsh, Mandi. Madam Sousatzka, City of Joy, Fire, Earth and Morning Raaga, besides the Filmfare Best Actress Award winning films Swami, Arth and Bhavna.
Rekha: Superstar of South India, Gemini Ganeshan's daughter Rekha entered Bollywood with a bang, with her first film Sawan Bhadon (1970) becoming a super hit. Her most memorable movie is Umrao Jaan in which she played the role of the poet-cum-court dancer with the charm that captivated the audience as never before. She won the National Award for the film. Her big hits include - Mr. Natwarlal, Khoon Psina, Muqaddar Ka Sikandar, Namak Haram, Suhag, Ram Balram, Kasme Vaade, Do Anjaane, Alaap. Khoobsoorat and Khoon Bhari Maang won her Filmfare Best Actress Awards. She also won Best Supprting Actress Award for Khiladion Ke Khiladi (1998). The icon of beauty and glamor in Bollywood, she credits Yoga and balanced diet as the secret of her ageless face and figure.
Sridevi: Stunning beauty and an accomplished dancer, Sridevi came to capture Bollywood in the 80s, after conquoring the South Indian cinema. In fact, she is the only actress to have attained superstar status in Hindi cinema and the South Indian regional cinema at the same time. Dance has always been Sridevi's forte in all her films. Her dance number in the mega hit Chandni - Mere Hathon Mei Nau Nau Churiyan - made the dance mendatory at every marriage in any nook and corner of the country. Childlike, spontaneous and comic, she excelled in the art of slapstick and physical comedy - Mr. India (1987) and Chalbaaz (1989). She won Filmfare Best Actress Award for Chalbaaz and Lamhe and nominations for Sadma, Chandni, Khuda Gwah, Gumrah, Laadla and Judaai. She is now more active as producer than as an actress.
Madhuri Dixit: N. Chandra's Tezaab (1988) - Ek Do Teen Char - took the nation by storm and celebrated Golden Jubilee. The sensational newcomer, Madhuri Dixit, who performed the super hit song-cum-dance number, became a superstar overnight. The Ek Do Teen girl, as she came to be known, gave another stunning performance in Dil (1990) and Madhuri was now the most sought after star. An ultimate beauty and a wonderful dancer, she has achieved milestones in her career with her flawless performance, winning Filmfare Best Actress Awards for Dil (1991), Beta (1993), Hum Aapke Hain Kaun (1995), Dil To Pagal Hai (1998) and Best Actress - supporting role for Devdas (2003). She also got nominated for Best Actress for her Tezaab, Prem Pratigya, Saajan, Khal Nayak, Yaraana, Pukar and Lajja.
The great performance of these actors and their glorious and shining artistry par excellence have made Indian cinema unparalleled. Paa, ishkiya, Dirty Picture and Kahani proves beyond doubt that Vidya Balan may be the next to join the league of legendary leading ladies of Bollywood.