These are Bollywood divas who have gone beyond playing the regular second fiddle to the male protagonist in commercial Bollywood films.
They often have defied the cliched definition of a stereotypical heroine of a Hindi film and played characters of substance showing their mettle in the most cerebral way and sometimes even in the most predictable manner. With International Women's Day around the corner, a toast to all those memorable celluloid characters who've made us laugh and cry with them, as they've made changes to the history of Indian cinema over the years.
TOI's list Bollywood divas the reel rockstar
Karisma Kapur (ZUBEIDAA): Zubeidaa was what she portrayed with much of her signature look in her eyes and the innocence on her face. But this was one film that also helped her be established as a powerhouse performer, which her previous films failed to do.
Kajol (FANAA): We all know that she had arrived long before Fanaa, but Kajol wouldn't have done it better than what she said with those eyes that could only say, and not see. And in the bloodied climax when she shoots the man she loves, she stood tall.
Jaya Bachchan (Abhimaan): She definitely stole the show from her husband Amitabh Bachchan, as a character as well as the actor. In Abhimaan she triumphed in her role of a serious musician who had it in her to knock her husband out of the limelight.
Kareena Kapoor (CHAMELI): This role was a complete departure from what she had been known for. Kareena as Chameli not just captured the nuances of the character, but did it with the added attractiveness that is known of her.
Waheeda Rehman (Guide): Raju guide might have eventually became a swamiji bringing rain to a village, but it was Rosie for whom Raju's heart used to beat. Not just for the beautiful dances, Waheeda is remembered for her histrionics that she displayed with equal brilliance.
Sharmila Tagore (ARADHANA): She was Bollywood's first woman star to flaunt a bikini perfect body, but it was only after establishing herself as a revered actress as Vandana in Aradhana, that she became the 'sapno ki rani' overnight and gave millions sleepless nights.
Madhuri Dixit (Mrityudand) She showed that she was much more than just a pretty smile and elegant dances. Fighting the morass of her personal relationship in between a powerfully corrupt world of wealthy and unscrupulous villagers is Phulva (Madhuri): in Mrityudand, bringing the best of her performances. With her stellar performance in this film, Madhuri added a new feather in her crown. Her commercial film success had earned her accolades, and with this movie, she essayed a deglam role to perfection.
Vidya Balan ( THE DIRTY PICTURE): She is the latest Khan of Bollywood. as Silk sizzled on screen and made men feel guilty for ogling at her in the dark confines of theatres. Her pout, cleavage dipping outfits and saucy come hither looks made her seem real and won her most popular awards.
Smita Patil (Mirch Masala): Smita Patil will always be remembered for what she did to the lecherous thakur in Mirch Masala when she not only defended her clan, but also stood tall as an example of what a woman is capable of doing if encroached in her territory.
Shabana Azmi (ARTH) There is a list of performances Shabana Azmi is known for. But Arth is what defines her the best. Characterizing a vulnerable yet strong woman: Shabana Azmi immortalized a woman in a teary eyed 'muskurahat' that hid many woes. She has also played many strong women characters in different films and thereby creating a new language of films too in an era when India was seeing an 'art' film movement.
Meena Kumari (Pakeezah): Pakeezah was tragedy queen Meena Kumari's last film that saw her give the performance of a lifetime. Down with long illness Meena Kumari still showed filmbuffs the stuff that she was made of. No wonder even her nimble feet made Raj Kumar wax eloquent!
Nandita Das (1947 earth): Amidst much chaos and terror of 1947, stands out as an endearing character. 1947 Earth announced that Nandita Das couldn't be kept out of the action even if there were a list of heavyweights including Aamir Khan around her.
Nargis (Mother India): It was the mother of all roles that Nargis played with absolute ease. It was as if not the character was her, but she was the character. Playing earth mother to Rajendra, Sunil was Nargis in a film that redefined the way a woman was portrayed
Seema Biswas (Bandit Queen): Playing a real character is never easy, especially if it is Phulan Devi. Seema Biswas gave one of the most thrilling performances ever seen on screen going from a fragile molested village girl transforming into a real terror. Indeed a femme fatale.
Meenakshi Sheshadri (DAMINI): Damini marked the coming of age of Meenakshi Sheshadri as an actor. But what Damini really stood for was a fight of a woman, for a woman in a man's world. Meenakshi totally nailed it as the tough protagonist who doesn't compromise on her ideals.
Tabu (Astitva): For all those roles that she has played, this portrayed the deepest of all the angst a woman goes through. Tabu regained in her role play in Astitva, as the much persecuted wife who finally leaves her family and husband who fail to understand her needs.
Priyanka Chopra (FASHION): Fashion world is a mirage which if shattered can take you to the brink. And Priyanka Chopra did complete justice to what her character demanded winner her a National Award. Going from a super model to a nobody, Priyanka didn't miss a single expression.