by ASJAD NAZIR.
A LOOK BACK AT THE SELECT GROUP OF HEROINES WHO REIGNED SUPREME IN HINDI CINEMA.
IN THE history of Hindi cinema a select group of stars have reached the very top, and been
declared the king or queen of the industry.
The race to claim the crown has been far more competitive among the leading ladies and
at times the standard has been so high that there wasn’t one definitive queen of Bollywood.
But there are heroines who have been able to proudly wear the crown as the most in demand and highest paid leading lady in the land for varying degrees of time.
With that in mind, Eastern Eye went back through time to find the leading ladies who
made it to the very top to sit on the Bollywood throne.
Sulochana: In the early days of Indian cinema producers found it difficult to get women to act in front of the camera and so it was near impossible to create a female superstar. In fact, it was such a hard task for pioneering filmmaker Dada Saheb Phalke that he had to cast a man in drag, named Salunke, as the first leading lady of Indian cinema in Raja Harischandra (1913).
In the mid-1920s producer Mohan Bhavnani stumbled across a Jewish telephone operator named Ruby Myers and in perhaps the most audacious cinematic transformation in history
he rechristened her Sulochana and turned her into the biggest star of the silent era.
Hit films such as Typist Girl (1926), Balidaan (1927), Wildcat of Bombay (1927) Madhuri (1928) and Indira B.A. (1929) turned her into the undisputed queen.
She was the highest earner during the silent era and lost her crown with the advent of talkies because she couldn’t speak Hindi properly. Her amazing achievements were recognised when she became the fifth recipient of Indian cinema’s highest honour, the Dadasaheb Phalke Award, in 1973.
Devika Rani: The advent of talkies also gave rise to the musical, so leading ladies needed to act, sing and look great in front of the camera. Someone who started off as a costume designer and art director at the tail of the silent era was Devika Rani, and who ticked all those boxes. She would team up with her film producer husband Himansu Rai for some of the finest blockbusters of the 1930s. Devika was such a bankable star that her husband forgave an affair she had with a leading man and continued to cast her. The leading lady’s finest hour came with blockbuster Achhut Kannya (1936), regarded as one of the greatest films ever made in India.
When her husband unexpectedly passed away in 1940, she became the first and perhaps
only queen of a film studio, where she discovered Indian cinema’s greatest actor Dilip Kumar. She was the first recipient of the Dadasaheb Phalke Award in 1969.
Noor Jehan: Devika Rani taking a more active role behind the camera meant the door was open for a new leading lady to claim the Bollywood crown. Teenage sensation Noor Jehan took everyone by surprise with her looks, acting talent and incredible singing voice, which was like nothing Indian cinema had heard before. She rapidly rose through the ranks to become the number one singer and actress in the land. The superstar hit her peak with classic musical drama Anmol Ghadi (1946), which became the highest grossing Bollywood film of that year. Her time at the top was dramatically cut short by her decision during Partition to move to Pakistan, where she helped kick start the music and film industry.
Although her time at the top was relatively short, it was massively influential to stars and
singers who would follow suit.
Nargis: With Noor Jehan no longer in Bollywood, film producers were looking for the next queen to fill her shoes. After Indian independence (in 1947), there was a boom in the industry, with countless stars making their mark, including many who started off as child actors, such as Nargis. It was the dream team she formed with Raj Kapoor that elevated her to become the biggest female star in the land. The pair starred in blockbusters such as Andaz (1949) and Awaara (1951).
While he helped her rise to the top, Nargis inspired Raj Kapoor to build a studio and become a massively successful star.
Her time at the top was perhaps the most impressive because she beat off tough competition in the 1950s, including from legendary leading ladies Madhubala, Nutan, Waheeda Rehman, Geeta Bali and Meena Kumari.
Nargis hit her peak in Oscar nominated 1957 film Mother India and then decided to step
away from the big screen to focus on raising a family with husband Sunil Dutt.
Hema Malini: Nargis might have stepped away from films in 1957, but the standard was set high, with incredible leading ladies lighting up the big screen from the late 1950s to the early 1970s. Waheeda Rehman, Sadhana, Mala Sinha, Sharmila Tagore, Vyjayanthimala, Mumtaz and Asha Parekh were all so good that no single leading lady was able to forge ahead to claim the crown. By the early 1970s, many of these golden greats had slowed down or stepped away from films. Affectionately known as the dream girl, Hema Malini sent a generation of leading ladies packing into retirement. Hema Malini lit up the 1970s and became the most bankable female star.
Although she was nicknamed the dream girl, Hema Malini was also a great actress who could hold her own opposite leading men of the day. Her successes included having the highest grossing films of 1970 (Johny Mera Naam), 1972 (Seeta Aur Geeta), 1975 (Sholay) and 1976 (Dus Numbri). She also helped launch the modern era of the leading lady and also largely overshadowed glamorous stars like Zeenat Aman, Rekha and Parveen Babi.
Sridevi: Child star-turned-leading lady Sridevi had made an impressive mark in south Indian cinema, but Bollywood was reluctant to take a chance on her and many producers mocked her ambition to act in Hindi films. She, however, showed her determination and grit by working hard and starred in the biggest blockbuster of 1983, Himmatwala, which signalled her arrival in the Hindi film industry.
Sridevi enjoyed stardom previously not experienced by any leading lady and had movies written specifically for her. She was the undisputed queen of Bollywood and also has the distinction of being the first (and to date) the only Indian (male or female) to conquer the film industries of Mumbai and the south. She was also the first leading lady who earned more money than most of her high profile male co-stars.
Madhuri Dixit: It was going to take someone special and with a warrior-like ability to dethrone Sridevi, but Madhuri Dixit had what it took. A combination of acting and dancing talent, stunning looks and ability to make the right choices elevated her to the top by the early 1990s. Madhuri delivered a series of blockbusters such as Tezaab (1988), Ram Lakhan (1989), Dil (1990), Saajan (1992), Beta (1992) and Khalnayak (1993). Her item numbers also became a rage at the time.
Madhuri hit her peak in 1994 by playing the lead role in Hum Aapke Hain Kaun (1994), which smashed all records to become the highest grossing film of all time.
She also influenced a new generation of leading ladies, including Mahira Khan and Vidya Balan. Madhuri became the highest paid and most bankable female star of the 1990s. She gave it up when she got married and moved to the US while still at the top.
Rani Mukerji: When Madhuri Dixit had walked away from Bollywood, the door had been left wide open for a new queen to emerge.
Aishwarya Rai Bachchan seemed liked a natural successor after hit films like Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam (1998), Taal (1999) and Devdas (2002), but she made poor choices following those movies, and got caught up in personal controversies. Among her contemporaries, Kajol took a break from films, Karisma Kapoor got married and her younger sister Kareena initially made many poor choices. Against this backdrop, Rani Mukerji emerged to become the queen, after a successful few years that saw mega-hits like Hum Tum (2004), Veer Zaara (2004), Black (2005) and Bunty Aur Babli (2005).
She became the highest paid and most in demand leading lady. But the crown didn’t stay on for long because she decided to slow down. Today her marriage to Bollywood’s most powerful man, Aditya Chopra, has made her the queen of the mighty Yash Raj Films empire.
Deepika Padukone: After Rani Mukerji, there were few leading ladies who had the star power to be the next Bollywood queen. Priyanka Chopra, Katrina Kaif and Vidya Balan came close, and while Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and Kareena Kapoor had the star power, they proved to be inconsistent, given their choice of roles. While others battled for the crown, model-turned-actress Deepika Padukone remained in the background until she had a blockbuster in 2013 with Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, Chennai Express and Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela. She suddenly became the highest paid and most in demand leading lady. That queen like status was confirmed in 2015 with films Piku and Bajirao Mastani. Deepika has reigned supreme since then. She also ventured into Hollywood with hit action film xXx: Return of Xander Cage. Most recently she received top billing for the hit period film, Padmaavat ahead of the leading men and got paid the most.
Fun facts about birthday girl Anushka Shetty
POPULAR actress and south Indian superstar Anushka Shetty turns 37 on Wednesday (7) and to celebrate her birthday, her Twitter fan club @sweetyanushkafc has listed 20 fun facts about her.
- She is the highest paid actress in south India.
- Her real name is Sweety Shetty. While shooting her first film Super, she bought a baby names book and chose Anushka as her screen name.
- She stands 5’9.5” tall.
- She has a bachelors in computer applications; trained under her yoga guru Bharat Thakur, worked as a yoga instructor and also as a primary school teacher.
- She wasn’t interested in acting, but her yoga teacher and friend E Niwas persuaded her to try her hand in films.
- The actress made her debut with 2005 film Super and became a star in 2006 with director SS Rajamouli’s super hit film Vikramarkudu. She achieved superstardom in 2009 when the superhit Arundhati was released.
- Anushka simultaneously shot for India’s first historical stereoscopic 3D Film Rudhramadevi and India’s biggest motion picture, Baahubali. She learned sword fighting, horse riding, elephant riding and archery for the part.
- Anushka gained 20kg in weight for her bilingual film Size Zero/Inji Iduppazhagi. She wanted to boost the confidence of people struggling with weight issues and convey the message that beauty doesn’t come in one size.
- Bhaagamathie director G Ashok waited for four years for her dates and it was worth it because the movie was a blockbuster.
- The versatile actress has played a queen, student, old woman, goddess, robber, prince, princess, doctor, dancer, reporter, lawyer, extra terrestrial, sex worker, ghost, police officer and more.
- Anushka’s role model is her mother, whose advice, ‘whatever you do throughout the day, your conscience must be clean when you go to sleep. And don’t hurt anyone’ she follows to date.
- Her favourite things include white (colour), rice and daal (food), The Alchemist (book), Geetanjali (movie), Indian classical and ballet (dance).
- She’s a huge fan of fantasy stories and fairy tales, with Cinderella being a favourite.
- Growing up, Anushka had a crush on Indian cricket star Rahul Dravid.
- She speaks Tulu, Kannada, Telugu, Tamil, Hindi and English languages.
- The actress helps those in need. Actor Suriya said that when they were shooting in Georgia, Anushka gifted a car to a local driver who had financial troubles.
- She loves dressing up in saris and salwar-kameez and often wears handlooms and outfits by Indian designers.
- Anushka has acted in 45 movies; with 23 films being released in just five years. She’s won three Filmfare trophies, two Nandi awards, a Tamil Nadu State film award and a Kalaimamani award. She also has several box office records to her name.
- She adores children. If not an actress, the star says she would have been a teacher for children and might do that in the future.
- She is a spiritual person, who believes in positivity, compassion, gratitude and giving back to society.