25 best female characters in Bollywood movies: Alia Bhatt’s Gangubai, Deepika Padukone’s Piku and more

We love complex women characters in films, don’t we? From Piku, Veera, and Shashi, to Anarkali and Poo, here are the 25 best female characters in Hindi movies.

Updated on Jan 02, 2023  |  05:31 PM IST |  3.3M
Deepika Padukone, Alia Bhatt
Deepika Padukone in Piku and Alia Bhatt in Gangubai Kathiawadi (Images: Sony Pictures Films India YouTube/ Alia Bhatt Instagram)

Before we dive into the 25 best female movie characters in Bollywood, let us first address what needs to be said. For the longest time, female characters in Hindi cinema have received second-class treatment. They were written and consumed only as clutches for the hero and his journey toward reaching his highest potential. Actresses catered to the male gaze and their idea of a two-dimensional woman: one who is either a simpleton, a naivete, self-sacrificing, and soft-spoken, or the ‘vamp’ influenced by western civilization and modernity, who brings shame to and degrades Indian culture and values. Female characters were mostly made as examples of what one should be and should not be.

Despite everything, in these over 100 years of Hindi cinema, we do have well-written, memorable, inspiring, nuanced, three-dimensional, and grey women characters, albeit a few. Before 2022 comes to a wrap, let us take a look at 25 such characters, shall we? This is a non-exhaustive list and the names are in no particular order.

25 iconic female movie characters in Bollywood

1. Piku Banerjee

Movie: Piku (2015)

Played by: Deepika Padukone

Watch On: YouTube

Famous Dialogue: “Semi-liquid motion first, then two days of constipation, what should I do? Yeh koyi message hota hai dene ke liye office mein?”

Definitely one of Deepika’s best performances yet. The actress played the titular character in Shoojit Sircar’s slice-of-life dramedy. The film followed the life of Piku and her father Bhashkor Banerjee (Amitabh Bachchan) as the latter struggled with his bowel movements. Her character resonated with a major chunk of women (and everyone else!) in India with her independent, irritable, moody, yet caring personality.

Deepika Padukone in Piku (Image: Sony Pictures Films India YouTube)

2. Gangubai

Movie: Gangubai Kathiawadi (2022)

Played by: Alia Bhatt

Watch On: Netflix

Famous Dialogue: “Kamathipura mein naa kabhi aamavas ki raat nahi hoti. Pucho kyun? Kyunki vahana Gangu rehti hain. Gangu chaand thi aur chaand hi rahegi.”

Alia’s Gangubai Kathiawadi emerged to be one of the few blockbusters in Bollywood this year and rightfully so. Gangubai’s transformation from a young girl with innocent dreams to rule the silver screen one fine day, to turning into a brothel madam and a social activist truly makes one stop and wonder. Alia wonderfully managed to portray her vulnerability and ambition.

Alia Bhatt in Gangubai Kathiawadi (Image: Alia Bhatt Instagram)

3. Vidya Bagchi

Movie: Kahani (2012)

Played by: Vidya Balan

Watch On: Prime Video

Famous Dialogue: “Vidya. V not B”.

A pregnant woman in desperate search of her missing woman. Need we say more? Vidya Balan forced everyone to take note of her acting range and talent. She did a convincing job of playing a clueless pregnant lady on the streets of Kolkata, who is at once nervous yet determined. Sujoy Ghosh’s thriller is a must-watch if you love a good nail-biting mystery.

Vidya Balan in Kahani (Image: T-Series YouTube)

4. Shashi Godbole

Movie: English Vinglish (2012)

Played by: Sridevi

Watch On: Prime Video

Famous Dialogue: “Jab apne aap ko pasand nahi karte hain naa, toh apne se judi huyi har cheez acchi nahi lagti. Nayi cheez akarchit karti hain. Jab apne aap ko pyaar karne lagte hain toh wohi puraani zindagi nayi lagne lagti hain, acchi lagne lagti hain.”

Shashi is yet another name that pops into mind when talking of strong female movie characters in Hindi cinema. Played beautifully by the legendary late actress Sridevi, Shashi makes a statement without outrightly making one. She plays a homemaker cum entrepreneur who is continuously ridiculed by her family for not being fluent in English. Her journey toward reclaiming her identity, integrity, and respect, is the plot of the film.

Sridevi in English Vinglish (Image: eros Now Music YouTube)

5. Silk Smitha

Movie: Dirty Picture (2011)

Played by: Vidya Balan

Watch On: Netflix

Famous Dialogue: “Filmein sirf teen cheejon ke wajah se chalti hain. Entertainment…entertainment…entertainment. Aur main entertainment hoon.”

Inspired by the life of the legendary actress Silk Smitha, The Dirty Picture follows the life of Silk (Vidya) and how, from being a simple village girl, she goes on to become a famous sex symbol in movies. Vidya did a spectacular job at playing the complex and nuanced character as she brought the perfect blend of sensuality, confidence, earnestness, longing, and vulnerability.

Vidya Balan in The Dirty Picture (Image: T-Series YouTube)

6. Veera Tripathi

Movie: Highway (2014)

Played by: Alia Bhatt

Watch On: Disney+ Hotstar

Famous Dialogue: “Jahan se tum mujhe laaye ho main wahan wapas nahin jana chahti. Par yeh rasta bohot acha hai, main chahti hoon ki yeh rasta kabhi khatam na ho.”

Alia Bhatt hit it out of the park with only her second film in 2014 – Imtiaz Ali’s Highway. She played the role of Veera Tripathi, a young Delhi girl who gets kidnapped by Mahabir Bhati (Randeep Hooda). But, with her captor, she finds the freedom she always longed for within her swanky house. Veera’s conflict with her family, her trauma, and, her loss have been wonderfully captured by Alia.

Alia Bhatt in Highway (Image: T-Series YouTube)

7. Geet Dhillon

Movie: Jab We Met (2007)

Played by: Kareena Kapoor Khan

Watch On: Netflix

Famous Dialogue: “Main apni favorite hoon!”

Kareena Kapoor Khan’s Geet became an instant favourite among audiences. She has a likeability about herself and her filter-less dialogues and thoughts easily make her one of the funny female characters on screen. Imtiaz Ali’s film is a love story between Aditya Kashyap (Shahid Kapoor) and Geet, who meet by coincidence, and end up saving each other in their worst times.

Kareena Kapoor Khan in Jab we Met (Image: Shemaroo YouTube)

8. Radha

Movie: Mother India (1957)

Played by: Nargis Dutt

Watch On: Prime Video

Famous Dialogue: “Main beta de sakti hoon, laaj nahi de sakti.”

The first Indian film to be nominated for the Oscars, Mother India, directed by Mehboob Khan is one of the most popular classics in Indian cinema. It follows the trials and tribulations of Radha, played by Nargis Dutt. She plays a poor, single mother to her two sons who goes against a greedy moneylender named Sukhilala, but never compromises with her moral code and values. Radha’s integrity in the face of lifelong struggle is awe-inspiring.

Nargis Dutt in Mother India (Image: Shemaroo Movies YouTube)

9. Neerja Bhanot

Movie Name: Neerja (2016)

Played by: Sonam Kapoor

Watch On: Prime Video

Famous Dialogue: “Yeh hota toh who nahi hota, who hota toh yeh nahi hota. Hota toh wohi hain jo hona hota hain.”

Sonam Kapoor plays the titular character of Neerja, a 23-year-old flight attendant and purser, whose courage and presence of mind, saved several lives when the Pan Am Flight 73 was hijacked.

Sonam Kapoor in Neerja (Image: T-Series YouTube)

10. Poo

Movie Name: Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham (2001)

Played by: Kareena Kapoor Khan

Watch On: Netflix

Famous dialogue: “Tumhe koyi haq nahi banta ki tum itni khoobsurat lago. Not fair!”

No list of ‘popular female movie characters in Bollywood’ will ever be complete without the mention of Poo, played by the iconic Kareena Kapoor Khan. It’s been more than 2 decades since the film’s release but Poo continues to enjoy a cult status in Indian pop culture even today. Her sassy attitude and glamourous style quotient were simply mind-blowing!

Kareena Kapoor Khan in Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham (Image: SonyMusicIndiaVevo YouTube)

11. Simi

Movie Name: Andhadhun (2018)

Played by: Tabu

Watch On: Netflix

Famous Dialogue: “Kehte hain crab meat is an aphrodisiac. Spelling mat puchna. Matlab chahiye toh bata sakti hoon.”

Tabu’s Simi is an almost-perfect example of a twisted woman. In Sriram Raghavan’s Andhadhun, Tabu plays the antagonist of the suspense thriller, which follows the life of a visibly challenged pianist Akash (Ayushmann Khurrana), and how his life gets sucked into a series of twists and turns after he is present at a murder scene of a former movie star. Simi is cold, detached, and likes to take risks. In the film, she is shown going to any lengths to cover her secrets, even if it means pushing someone off the balcony or stabbing someone to death. All this while, she has a charming appeal parallel to none.

Tabu in Andhadhun (Image: Viacom18Studios YouTube)

12. Meeta Solanki

Movie: Hasee Toh Phasee (2014)

Played by: Parineeti Chopra

Watch On: Prime Video

Famous Dialogue: “Chance kabhi bhi last nahi, hamesha second-last hota hain.”

Meeta Solanki is a chemical engineer who runs away from her family to follow her dreams and ambitions. In contrast to a lot of female characters in Bollywood, she is awkward, geeky, and does not have the cleanest of conscience. (she does not mind hacking into her father’s computer to steal money when needed). Yet, there is a likeability about her that lures the audience, and Nikhil (Sidharth Malhotra) – Meeta’s sister’s fiancé - toward her. The film follows their story and how their unlikely friendship turns into love.

Parineeti Chopra in Hasee Toh Phasee (Image: Dharma Productions YouTube)

13. Aisha

Movie: Wake Up Sid (2009)

Played by: Konkona Sensharma

Watch On: Netflix

Famous Dialogue: “Tumhe kabhi laga hai ki apna ghar ho, apna khana khud banao, apne paise khud kamao aur udao, Sab kuchh apna banaya hua ho? Independence, you know what I mean?”

Wake Up Sid follows the lives of Sid (Ranbir Kapoor) and Aisha (Konkona Sensharma). Sid meets Aisha at his college farewell party and they start talking. Their friendship blossoms after Sid moves in with Aisha after a heated argument with his businessman-father. While Aisha is quite the opposite of Sid in nature, she takes him in, as any good friend would. She is smart, independent, and empathetic, and her journey of self-discovery and love in Mumbai is worth watching.

Konkona SenSharma in Wake Up Sid (Image: SonyMusicIndiaVevo YouTube)

14. Aditi Pandit

Movie: Astitva (2000)

Played by: Tabu

Watch On: Jio Cinema

Aditi, in Astitva, is a homemaker who is constantly humiliated and side-lined by her husband and children. When she unpredictably receives an inheritance from her former music teacher, Aditi’s husband Srikant (Sachin Khedekar) becomes suspicious of her. As she protects a secret, Aditi also goes on a journey of self-discovery. She reflects resilience in the face of an inner struggle.

Tabu in Astitva (Image: Eros Now Music YouTube)

15. Naina Talwar

Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani (2013)

Played by: Deepika Padukone

Watch On: Netflix

Famous Dialogue: “Life mein jitna bhi try karo, kuch na kuch toh chootega hi. Isliye yahin, isi pal ka mazza lete hain.”

Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, directed by Ayan Mukerji is one of the best Hindi movies talking about coming-of-age, friendship, love, and ambition. Kabir (Ranbir Kapoor) and Naina (Deepika) – old classmates – meet on a trekking trip to Manali, where the latter falls for Kabir. However, she represses her feelings. 8 years later, they meet again at a mutual friend’s wedding. Naina was awkward. introverted, shy girl, who grows into a confident, young woman.  

Deepika Padukone in Yeh Jawaani Hain Deewani (Image: T-Series YouTube)

16. Sehmat Khan

Raazi (2018)

Played by: Alia Bhatt

Watch On: Prime Video

Famous Dialogue: “Watan ke saamne kuch nahi…khud bhi nahi.”

Meghna Gulzar’s Raazi was based on the true story of Sehmat Khan, a young Indian girl who was married off to Pakistan so she could act as a spy for RAW and pass valuable information to India. Alia Bhatt did a great job in portraying the fears, limitations, and courage while she spied on our neighbouring nation, just when winds about the 1971 war were blowing. Sehmat showcased sacrifice, selflessness, endurance, and bravery in the face of adversity.

Alia Bhatt in Raazi (Image: Dharma Productions YouTube)

17. Anarkali

Mughal-e-Azam (1960)

Played by: Madhubala

Watch On: Prime Video

Famous Dialogue: “Kaaton ko murjhaane ka khauf nahi hota.”

Mughal-e-Azam remains one of the most iconic Hindi films of all time. Featuring Prithiviraj Kapoor as Akbar, Dilip Kumar as Salim, and Madhubala as Anarkali, the film portrays the epic love story between prince Salim, and the beautiful court dancer Anarkali. Although portrayed as fragile, Anarkali was also someone who loved fearlessly, survived different forms of abuse, and was not scared to lay down her life for love.

Madhubala in Mughal-e-Azam (Image: Nupur Movies YouTube)

18. Amrita Sabharwal

Thappad (2020)

Played by: Taapsee Pannu

Watch On: Prime Video

Famous Dialogue: “Just a slap, par nahi maar sakta.”

Directed by Anubhav Sinha, Thappad is about Taapsee Pannu’s character Amrita, whose seemingly-perfect life is shattered after her husband slaps her at a party. Amrita’s character shows determination and maturity. She was someone who chose integrity and self-respect over an extremely important relationship. She kept at it, even when the going got tough. 

Taapsee Pannu in Thappad (Image: T-Series YouTube)

19. Usha

Bhumika: The Role (1977)

Played by: Smita Patil

Watch On: Jio Cinema

Shyam Benegal’s Bhumika: The Role is based on the memoir of Marathi actor Hansa Wadkar’s memoir titled Sangtye Aika, and tells the story of an actress named Usha (played by Smita Patil). Usha, who is the granddaughter of a famous courtesan, joins show business, but the glamour of her reel life is very different from her real life. Usha’s story is that of discovering one’s self-identity and self-fulfillment of a grey and flawed character. Patil got her first National Award for her brilliant performance at the age of 21.

Smita Patil in Bhumika: The Role (Image: Shemaroo YouTube)

20. Pooja

Movie: Arth (1982)

Played by: Shabana Azmi

Watch On: MX Player

Written and directed by Mahesh Bhatt, Arth is a must-watch Hindi movie that has not one but two strong fictional female characters, namely Pooja (Shabana Azmi) and Kavita (Smita Patil). Pooja’s husband Inder (Kulbhushan Kharbhanda) is a filmmaker who falls in love with an actress named Kavita. He deserts his wife for his extra-marital affair, which sets Pooja on a path of discovering her independent identity.

Shabana Azmi in Arth (Image: Goldmines Bollywood YouTube)

21. Kaira

Movie: Dear Zindagi (2016)

Played by: Alia Bhatt

Watch On: Netflix

Famous Dialogue: “I drink only on two occasions…when I am in love and when I am not.”

In Gauri Shinde’s Dear Zindagi, Kaira plays a young cinematographer, who is disheartened by the circumstances of her personal and professional life. She becomes depressive and is an insomniac. She meets Dr. Jahangir Khan (Shah Rukh Khan) and starts counseling with him, which gives her a new perspective on life. Alia’s Kaira showed us that it’s perfectly okay to not be okay. As she begins dealing with her issues and healing her childhood traumas, we too see a glimpse of hope.

Alia Bhatt in Dear Zindagi (Image: Red Chillies Entertainment YouTube)

22. Usha/ Buaji/ Rosie

Movie: Lipstick Under My Burkha (2016)

Played by: Ratna Pathak Shah

Watch On: Prime Video

Famous Dialogue: “Rosie ki khwahishein bhi Rosie ki tarah khil rahi thi.”

Lipstick Under My Burkha directed by Alankrita Shrivastava, follows the lives of four women as they go in search of freedom. Ratna Pathak Shah plays the wonderfully written character of Usha Buaji aka Rosie. 55-year-old Usha has almost forgotten her real identity and when asked her name, refers to herself as ‘buaji’. She discovers new desires and pleasures when she starts taking swimming lessons from a young instructor. With him, she becomes ‘Rosie’. With buaji aka Rosie, Shah portrayed the forgotten and denied desires of middle-aged women.

Ratna Pathak Shah in Lipstick Under My Burkha (Image: Prakash Jha Productions YouTube)

23. Neelam Mehra

Movie: Dil Dhadakne Do (2015)

Played by: Shefali Shah

Watch On: Prime Video

Famous Dialogue: “Acting kyun kar rahe ho. Koyi nahi dekh raha.”

Kamal Mehra (Anil Kapoor) and Neelam Mehra (Shefali Shah) are celebrating their 30th wedding anniversary along with friends and family on a cruise. Little do they know, that the circumstances they are in will bring in a few much-needed life lessons. Shah wonderfully brings to life the complex character of Neelam Mehra. She struggles to keep up with the pretention of a happy marriage, while her husband has extra-marital affairs. Shah is brilliant as she portrays frustration and helplessness perfectly in a particular cake-eating scene.  

Shefali Shah in Dil Dhadakne Do (Image: Excel Movies YouTube)

24. Zubeidaa

Movie: Zubeidaa (2001)

Played by: Karisma Kapoor

Watch On: Jio Cinema

Famous Dialogue: “Ab ke hum bichre toh shayad kabhi khwabon mein mile ... jis tarah sookhe hue phool kitaabon mein mile.”

Zubeidaa, directed by Shyam Benegal, follows the life of Zubeidaa (Karisma), a young and aspiring Muslim actress who marries a Sikh prince and becomes his second wife. However, her turbulent relationship with her husband leads her to take some fatal decisions. Karisma Kapoor was stunning as she portrayed the impulsive, rebellious, and yet endearing Zubeidaa. 

Karisma Kapoor in Zubeidaa (Image: SonyMusicIndiaVEVO YouTube)

25. Safeena

Movie Name: Gully Boy (2019)

Played by: Alia Bhatt

Watch On: Prime Video

Famous Dialogue: “Mere boyfriend ke saath koi gulu gulu karenga toh toh dhoptuingi hi na usko.”

We have another Alia Bhatt character who would feature on our list of 25 best female movie characters and it is Safeena from Zoya Akhtar’s critically-acclaimed film, Gully Boy. Safeena, a young Muslim girl, is studying to be a doctor. She is in love with the film’s protagonist, Murad, aka Gully Boy (Ranveer Singh). While the movie mostly focuses on Murad’s artistic journey, it also shed light on the many simple yet significant dreams that Safeena wants to achieve, growing up in a conservative family. Alia showcases her craft as she essays the flawed, short-tempered, witty, and instantly likable Safeena. 

Alia Bhatt in Gully Boy (Image: Prime Video India YouTube)

Disclaimer: All the characters mentioned in this list are based on the author’s opinions and preferences and should not be viewed as an industry standard for the best female characters in Bollywood.

ALSO READ: Jhoome Jo Pathaan song Out: Shah Rukh Khan and Deepika Padukone starrer is a foot tapping number

Popular Female Characters in Bollywood

Who is the most iconic female character?
Although there is no one answer to this, Poo from Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham can be considered an iconic female character in Bollywood.

Who is the most badass character?
Tabu’s Simi from Andhadhun is badass in all exciting ways.

Who are the top 10 female actors?
Alia Bhatt, Deepika Padukone, Priyanka Chopra, Kareena Kapoor Khan, Kajol, Katrina Kaif, Sridevi, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Madhuri Dixit, Madhubala.

Who is the strongest fictional female character?
Veera from Highway is one of the strongest female characters in Bollywood.

Who is the best female action hero?
Rani Mukerji in Mardaani.

Who is the most liked fictional character?
Piku is one of the most liked fictional character.

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About The Author

A content writer for 3 years, Priyakshi channels her love for everything cinema through the written word, as she

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Credits: Pinkvilla/ Images; YouTube

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