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February 26, 2000


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Ageless, timeless women

The A to Z of Bollywood's unforgettable female stars of the 20th century, presented by Ashok Banker

Aishwarya Rai: Miss World's delicate beauty didn't make as big an impact as she'd hoped at first. After the initial struggle, she finally found success with Taal and Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam. She still remains better appreciated for her china-doll looks than than her histrionic talent, though.

Asha Parekh Asha Parekh: Before her subsequent roles as TV producer-director and controversial chairperson of the Censor Board overshadowed her previously enjoyed fame, she was the endearing lisping tho-thweet heroine of the '60s musical romances.

Bina Rai: The opening of Anarkali (1953) featured a giant close-up of her full lips, the first ever such shot in Hindi films. Cameras would spend many more long hours lingering on her old-fashioned beauty in a succession of costume and social dramas. She was married to Premnath until her early demise.

Devika Rani Devika Rani: Star and manager of Bombay Talkies, she dominated the first decade of Indian sound films and set the standard for generations of film heroines. A hard-edged, no-nonsense daughter of an army colonel and grand-niece of Rabindranath Tagore, she was also qualified in fields of drama and architecture and was a successful textile designer. She starred in her husband Himanshu Rai's Karma, the first Indian film made in English. She subsequently remarried the great Russian painter, Roerich.

Dimple Kapadia: From her first appearance in a bikini in Bobby at the age of 16, she captured the hearts of film fans nationwide. Her early 'retirement' from films after her marriage to a much older Rajesh Khanna ended almost two decades later with her return. Quixotically refusing most roles offered to her, she made great impact in offbeat films like Rudaali while continuing to successfully play the role of the typical glamour-endowed heroine.

Durga Khote Durga Khote: Long before Madhuri, there was Durga Khote, the first Marathi actress to become a national star. A staunch feminist, she became famous for playing bold roles -- a queen with a cheetah at her feet, a swashbuckling pirate. She was famous for her fearlessness on and off the screen.

'Fearless' Nadia: She was India's first and most famous stunt action heroine. An Australian by birth, she worked in a Russian circus and a ballet troupe, and continued to do live shows while making films. In her films, like Hunterwali, mostly directed by husband Homi Wadia, she scorched the screen with stunning action stunts, usually accompanied by her horse, Punjab Ka Beta, at a time when safety standards were non-existent.

Geeta Bali: While dramatic roles eluded her, her success as a dancer-singer more than made up for that. Her eloquent innocence in Baazi, Albela, Banwre Nain and her famous portrayal of a blind girl in Sohrab Modi's Jailer will always be remembered. She died tragically of smallpox before completing the classic, Ek Chadar Maili Si.

'Glorious' Gohar: The Lanka Ni Laadi, as she was known after her debut film of the same name, was a Gujarati actress who acted mostly in husband Homi Master's films, specially scripted for her by Mohanlal Dave. She was often billed as the Glorious Gohar.

Hema Malini Hema Malini: The second big South Indian actress to become a major Hindi film star. Like her predecessor, Vyjanthimala, this trained Bharatnatyam dancer used her craft to brilliant effect in her roles. She shot to fame with Seeta Aur Geeta, and was later promoted as the 'dream girl' by Pramod Chakravarty in his films. She unsuccessfully tried to change her image with Gulzar's Kinara, Khushboo and Meera and by producing Basu Chatterjee's Swami. Her offscreen affair with co-star Dharmendra became a fantasy come true when the duo got married, creating a media sensation.

Jaya Bhaduri Jaya Bhaduri: Better known now as Mrs Bachchan, this Bengali actress became an instant success with her sincere and heart-touching performances in films Mili and Guddi. She later blossomed into a majorly talented actress with the ability to convey volumes without even saying a word, as in her brief but memorable part in Sholay. She quit acting after husband Amitabh's career took off, returning only for the much publicized Silsila. Now she has resurfaced as a serious mature stage and screen actress.

Juhi Chawla: The QSQT image of the girl-next-door belied her serious acting abilities. Restricted by her looks to a series of wide-eyed innocent-damsel roles, she managed to rise above her films to carve a niche. She briefly dropped out of sight after her alleged (unconfirmed) marriage. She recently turned producer with partners Aziz Mirza and Shah Rukh Khan and started Dreamz Unlimited.

Kajol: Tanuja's daughter, Nutan's niece, Shobhana Samarth's grand-daughter, she carried on the tradition of female stardom by rising slowly but steadily to the top of the heap. Today she is considered the biggest female star despite her intense looks, her marriage to Ajay Devgan, her cutback on new films and her bookish nature. She is a future legend in the making.

Kanan Devi: She was the child actress who became a star with P C Barua's Mukti and Bidyapati. Her self-taught classical singing ability enabled her to hold her own against stalwarts like K C Dey, making her a top singer-star. She later trained with Ustad Alla Rakha, Anadi Dastidar and Rai Chand Boral, metamorphosing like a real-life Eliza Doolittle from the illegitimate Kananbala into the glamorous Kanan Devi.

Karisma Kapoor: She is a third generation Kapoor and the first Kapoor woman to enter films. Her former actress-mother, Babita, groomed her for an acting career apparently against the wishes of actor-director father, Randhir Kapoor. She blossomed from a pouting teenybopper starlet into a mature, glamorous star with Raja Hindustani and other subsequent hits.

Lalita Pawar: Starting as a Hindi and Marathi film heroine, she later turned to the persona that made her famous, the vamp-like scheming mother in numerous films, using her slightly defective left eye as an advantage. (The squint was the result of an accident on the set of an early stunt movie.) She will be remembered as a legendary character actress.

Madhabi Mukherjee: This Bengali stage and film actress's performances in the screen adaptations of Rabindranath Tagore's works are still considered exemplary. While she never ventured out of Bengali cinema, her roles in movies like Ritwik Ghatak's Subarnarekha, Mrinal Sen's Baishey Shravan, Satyajit Ray's Charulata and Mahanagar moulded the way Hindi film heroines would be depicted for decades to come.

Madhubala: She was born Begum Mumtaz Jehan and starting out as Baby Mumtaz. She rose to fame with films like Lal Dupatta and the classic Mahal, reaching her peak as 'the living creation of Mughal sculptors' in the grand epic Mughal-e-Azam. Versatile enough to also find success in husband Kishore Kumar's musical comedies, she is nostalgically remembered as one of Hindi filmdom's greatest stars.

Madhuri Dixit: A Biology student at Parle College, she began her career with a flop called Abodh. She then struggled for years, until her success with the Ek do teen song in N Chandra's Tezaab. Her overtly sensual dance style continued to bring her fame -- Dhak dhak in Beta and Choli ke peeche in Khalnayak being a few examples. Now Mrs Nene, she reigns as one of the leading female stars of Bollywood, proving her acting ability with fine performances in films like Prakash Jha's Mrityudand.

Manisha Koirala: She has been dubbed the 'modern-day Meena Kumari' by the press for her bold lifestyle and tragic-heroine looks. Able to straddle both serious films like Mani Ratnam's Bombay as well as blockbusters like Gupt with equal panache, her talent seems to often demand bigger, better roles than the ones she usually gets.

Meena Kumari Meena Kumari: Daughter of a Parsi stage actor and a Muslim dancer, she began her career as Baby Meena when her family fell on hard times. She was renamed Meena Kumari in the big musical hit, Baiju Bawra. Best known for her '50s comedies, she turned to serious roles in Kamal Amrohi's Daera, Bimal Roy's Yahudi, Guru Dutt's Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam and her most famous film, Pakeezah. Continuing in the tradition of Zubeida, she created the classic image of the tragic Hindi film heroine, adding to her legend by her real-life passion and drinking, which led to her premature death.

Nargis Nargis: She was introduced to Hindi cinema at the age of five by her mother, actress-singer-producer, Jaddanbai. Baby Rani, as she was then known, went on to become famous as Raj Kapoor's heroine in some of Hindi cinema's greatest melodramas: Barsaat, Andaz, Awara, Shri 420. Her entwined image with Raj Kapoor went on to become the emblem of R K Studios. Later, she became a serious actress, reaching her pinnacle with her classic role in Mother India, after which she married co-star Sunil Dutt, who played her son in the film. She became a Congress MP for a brief period. She also launched a scathing attack on Satyajit Ray's films and was honoured by the Indian and Soviet governments. She died of cancer after seeing her son, Sanjay, launched as an actor.

Nirupa Roy: A Gujarati actress who became the most famous mother in Hindi films -- that is Nirupa Roy in a nutshell. Oddly enough, even in her early Gujarati films as a young actress, she became famous for her roles as a mother goddess -- Seeta (thrice), Parvati (thrice), Taramati, Draupadi and Damayanti. As Amitabh Bachchan's mother in Amar Akbar Anthony, Deewar and earlier Yash Chopra films, she earned her place in film history.

Nutan Nutan: She was Shobana Samarth's daughter, Tanuja's sister, Kajol's aunt and Mohnish Bahl's mother. She became famous for her ability to portray realistic female characters, thanks to her relatively plain looks and natural acting ability. From frothy, romantic roles in Paying Guest and Tere Ghar Ke Saamne, she moved on to become the neo-realistic heroine in films by Bimal Roy, Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Bimal Dutt and Raj Khosla. Later, she played mother roles to perfection.

Persis Khambatta: A former Miss India who found little success in Hindi films on account of her overtly Westernised looks and accent, she became the only Indian actress to play lead roles in mainstream Hollywood films such as The Wilby Conspiracy, Star Trek: The Movie, and Nighthawks. Her rising career declined after she refused to strip for films, as well as pose nude for Playboy to promote a film.

Rekha Rekha: She is the illegitimate daughter southern superstar, Gemini Ganeshan. Starting out as a gangly awkward heroine, she later followed in the tradition of Zubeida and Meena Kumari, with the first of her famous kothewali roles in Umrao Jaan and Muqaddar Ka Sikandar. She then became more famous for her alleged offscreen trysts with Amitabh Bachchan, before finally shaking off the shadow of the Big B to resume work as a serious actress in films such as Aastha and Kamasutra, where she epitomises the ultimate sensuality of Indian womanhood.

Sandhya: The dancer-actress was famed for her legendary classical dancing ability in films such as Janak Janak Payal Baaje and her memorable team up with V Shantaram.

Seema Biswas: Spotted by director Shekhar Kapur in a National School of Drama stage comedy, she made her film debut with the stunning role of real-life dacoit Phoolan Devi in his internationally acclaimed Bandit Queen. While her ability to play demanding roles, as in Khamoshi, remains undisputed, her unglamorous looks restrict her opportunities in Bollywood. She is a great actress waiting for another great role.

Shabana Azmi: Along with Naseeruddin Shah, she was a cornerstone of the parallel cinema movement. She later turned towards commercial roles quite successfully, as in Amar Akbar Anthony. Found international acceptance with a few well-chosen roles like Madame Souzatska. Recently, better known as a Rajya Sabha MP and prominent human rights and women's right activist, she plays an occasionally controversial role as in Deepa Mehta's Fire.

Shanta Apte: Like Kanan Devi, she was one of the great singing stars in the pre-playback era when actors performed their own songs. She created a sensation with her songs in Amritmanthan, which brought her huge success even in the north and helped Prabhat Studios achieve national-level distribution. Her performance in Duniya Na Mane, opposite Keshavrao Date is still enjoyable even today. She was the first actress to go on a hunger strike (in July 1939) over a clause in her contract with Prabhat Studios!

Shanta Hublikar: An icon of Marathi cinema, she played the daring role of a prostitute in V Shantaram's Aadmi among other unconventional roles. She later acted in Hindi films and stage musicals. She was a woman ahead of her time.

Sharmila Tagore: A Bengali actress who made her debut as Apu's wife in Satyajit Ray's Apur Sansar, she went on to act in several Bengali classics. Later, she became a Hindi film star and a national sex symbol with Shakti Samanta's Kashmir Ki Kali (opposite Shammi Kapoor), Sawan Ki Ghata (where she wore a bikini) and An Evening In Paris (where she played a cabaret dancer). She successfully changed her image in Rajesh Khanna's first megahit Aradhana, where she played his wife as well as his mother! She returned to her controversial sexy persona for the last time with Gulzar's memorable Mausam.

Sitara Devi: Daughter of a former court musician in Nepal, she was trained by her father in Kathak. She worked with Mehboob, then Chandulal Shah and later with Kardar on famous films like Holi, Pagal, and Pooja. Her animated performance as a tribal in Roti is still remembered. Married to K Asif, she also featured in his Phool and Mughal-e-Azam.

Smita Patil Smita Patil: She is considered to be the greatest Hindi film actress. An MA in Literature, she worked briefly as a TV announcer before joining FTII and going on to lead the parallel cinema movement. Her unglamorous dusky looks proved no barrier to her success in commercial films, earning her praises and accolades. Her premature death during childbirth was a loss to the industry.

Sridevi: A highly successful actress in Tamil and Telugu films, she struggled for a long haul before finding success opposite Jeetendra in a series of South-produced Hindi films. After Mr India, she became the leading female star in Bollywood (and the highest paid, it was rumoured) for a while. After a brief hiatus on account of her mother's unexpected death and her much talked about marriage to producer Boney Kapoor, she unexpectedly returned to the screen.

Suchitra Sen: This Bengali star reigned supreme with co-star Uttam Kumar for over 20 years. She created a new image of the eloquent and bold heroine. She also did some memorable Hindi films such as Devdas, Bambai Ka Babu and Gulzar's controversial Aandhi, a role apparently modelled on Indira Gandhi. She is also the mother of actress Moon Moon Sen.

Suraiya: She acted with Saigal in some of his last Hindi films and became a major singing star of the '50s Urdu-Hindi cinema. Her acting style was noted for its adakari, reminiscent of north Indian Muslim gestures and mannerisms, which were effectively used by Mehboob in his classic Anmol Ghadi and by Kardar in Dastaan.

Tabu Tabu: While elder sister Farah failed to make an impact in her screen career, Tabu's rise to success is marked by visible hard work, well chosen films and roles and immense talent. She is faintly reminiscent of the similarly dusky Smita Patil in her roles in films like Virasat. Tabu's ability to switch from a glamour doll to serious mature star, often in the same film, makes her unique and irreplaceable in today's film industry.

Tanuja: Shobhana Samarth's daughter, her contribution to films was just as substantial as those made by her family. Playing a popular Indian heroine in the '60s musicals, she became known for her sophisticated appearance and strength of personality. The very same qualities that would subsequently be clearly visible in her daughter, Kajol.

 Urmila Urmila: After struggling for years for a break, she finally found fame with her oomphy role in Ram Gopal Varma's Rangeela. The sex symbol persona continues to haunt her, through her ubiquitous presence in Varma's films as well as her other performances, often overshadowing her potential as a histrionic talent.

 Vyjyanthimala Vyjyanthimala: Along with Padmini, she was one of the first South Indian actresses to become a major Hindi film star. Trained in Bharatnatyam, her expressive eyes made her famous sinuous snake dance in the smash hit Nagin go down in film history. Since then, all her films have had at least one classical dance item, a fact that Kishore Kumar spoofed brilliantly in the song, Nakhrewali, in his comedy New Delhi. Her full-hipped, large-bosomed figure led to her being used as a living "Ajanta poster" by Raj Kapoor, B R Chopra and a number of other film-makers.

Waheeda Rehman: Coming to prominence with her role as the prostitute in Guru Dutt's Pyaasa, her expressive face and dancer's grace were eloquently used by Guru Dutt in his song sequences in various films. She will never be forgotten in Guide either. In her later years, she played mother roles. An icon of Hindi cinema, she is a legend in her own right.

Zeenat Aman: From the rebellious hippie of Dev Anand's Hare Rama Hare Krishna to the sultry but damaged sex symbol of Raj Kapoor's Satyam Shivam Sundaram, Zeenat Aman's perfect beauty and slender Western figure became one of the most recognised images of the transition from traditional to new age Hindi cinema. She recently returned to acting after a long gap with the film, Bhopal Express.

Zubeida: A Muslim princess from Surat, daughter of Fatma Begum, she was India's first woman director. Sister of the extraordinarily beautiful Sultana and teenage actress Shehzadi, Zubeida played a series of roles as the kothewali in lavish costume dramas, peaking with the first sound film, Alam Ara.

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