A while back I started a post about the women in Bollywood everyone unfamiliar with the industry should know and, honestly, I left it woefully incomplete. Here in no particular order are more of the fascinating women working in Bollywood that any newbie should know and that fans of Bollywood might like to know more about.
Anushka Sharma- Since her debut alongside Shah Rukh Khan in 2008’s Rab ne Bana Di Jodi, Anushka Sharma has succeeded in resisting conventional roles in her films. Her assertive personality and intelligence shine through in characters who, though beautiful and certainly interested in falling in love, refuse to “sit still and look pretty.” More recently, Anushka reunited with Khan to play a paraplegic astrophycist with a bizarre relationship with Khan’s film obsessed little person in Zero. Look, I said it was unconventional, not good. Movies like Zero aside, Anushka is considered one of the most talented actresses in Bollywood, having won a Filmfare award for her work in 2010’s Baand Baaja Baaraat and multiple other nominations. My personal favorite is probably Sultan (2016), but her most intense work can be seen in NH10 (2015), a road trip horror story that I had the misfortune of watching shortly before taking a road trip through Uttar Pradesh. Consider yourself warned.
Madhuri Dixit Nene– Look, Madhuri Dixit is a legend and I am not equal to the task of summing her up in a way that would please her legions of fans. Suffice it to say, she was an enormous star in the eighties and nineties, having all of the traits needed to be not just a succesful actress, but an admired one: incredible beauty and a genuine talent for acting and dancing. She inspired and inspires many young women as performers. And she is still working! Madhuri has a movie come out every one or two years. Last year, she was in the Marathi movie Bucket List as the recipient of a heart transplant who undertakes her donor’s Bucket List. In 2019, she had a leading role in Kalank alongside Alia Bhatt, Varun Dhawan, Aditya Roy Kapur, and sanjay Dutt. Her most well known role may be that of the courtesan Chandramukhi in Devdas (2002). She has gone from undeniable talent to absolute icon.
Tabu – Tabu was killing it in B-town before many of her co-stars were out of primary school. Of the more veteran women in Bollywood, she is one of the busiest and most relevant. Her movie Andhadhun, in which she starred alongside Ayushmann Khuranna, was one of the most critically and popularly acclaimed movies of 2018. Her turn in Drishyam as a police officer investigating the disappearance of her own son is one of my favorites. She has won the National Film Award, Filmfare Award, and Critics Award multiple times in addition to being honored with the Padma Shri by the Indian Government. And, yes, she’s stunning.
Radhika Apte- Radhika Apte has taken the spotlight lately for a few reasons. First, the number of films she has starred in appears to have exploded, particularly for Netflix. So much to that it kind of became a meme. She also spoke out about gender and wage disparity in the industry and was a victim of the leaking of personal videos. But more than anything she has been and should be recognized for the quantity and quality of her work. In 2018 alone, she could be seen in Pad Man, Sacred Games, Lust Stories, Ghoul, the Wedding Guest, Andhadhun, and Bazaar. However, it’s not just the quantity of Radhika’s work, it is also the quality. She has emerged as one of India’s most respected young actors. Memes aside, we will see much more of her in the future.
Sonam Kapoor is perhaps as well known as a fashion icon and socialite as she is an actor. She has a clothing line with her sister (who is also a producer) and routinely walks in fashion shows. Like many of the most famous B-town stars, she has a family history in the industry. Her father is nineties hero Anil Kapoor, her uncle is Boney Kapoor. Sridevi was her late step- aunt and her cousins include Arjun Kapoor and Janhvi Kapoor (herself recently debuted). Sonam is notable for taking firm public stances on causes that the values, championing them in her work and appearances. In 2018, she starred alongside Akshay Kumar in Padman, a movie about menstruation. Most notably, she and her sister Rhea produced the 2019 film Ek Ladki Ko Dekha toh Aisa Laga, perhaps the first mainstream representations of a lesbian romance in Bollywood history.
Alia Bhatt has emerged over the last few years as one of the most critically loved Bollywood heroines. Even in films that are panned, her work tends to be praised. Her father was a filmmaker and her mother an actress. Her debut came thanks to Karan Johar’s Student of the Year in 2012, when she was just 19. Johar has launched many so-called star kids, and Alia had to overcome doubt about her talent due to accusations of nepotism and memes calling her unintelligent after she flubbed a question about Indian government on Johar’s TV show, Koffee with Karan. While the nepotism charge is real and relevant in Bollywood, especially where Johar is involved, the jokes about her intelligence hit pretty hard. Thankfully, Alia carried on working and snagged some great parts, meaning jokes about her are now met with, “Yeah, but did you see her in Udta Punjab??” rather than jeers. Her official debut may have been Student of the Year, but it’s Highway from two years later in 2014 that began to prove her talent and taste for more serious roles. She cemented this with Udta Punjab in 2016, a heartbreaking movie about drug addiction in Punjab, in which Alia plays a village girl caught up in a terrible trade. Alia also has a great track record in masala romantic comedies, with the jodi of her and Varun Dhawan being especially popular. This year, she packed a double punch with roles in critically acclaimed Gully Boy and visually lush historical drama Kalank. Alia is one of the younger actresses working right now, so we have many years left to enjoy her work!