While lists of these kinds are merely symbolic in nature to celebrate a certain ‘date’, on this occasion of Women’s Day, the least we could do is.
Most Powerful Female Performances of Hindi Cinema
Compiling a list of the most powerful female performances of Hindi Cinema as a homage to the bravura and hard-work of these ladies who, with their talents, established a firm footing in an industry, which until recently was considered evil, and/or even downmarket.
Madhuri Dixit – Mrityudand
Prakash Jha’s Mrityudand was as much a scathing commentary on one of India’s most common social problems – domestic abuse – but it was also the perfect showcase reel for Madhuri Dixit, the performer.
Having done a plethora of glam roles, most with subtle undertones of her histrionic abilities, Mrityudand gave Madhuri the perfect vent to spout about a decade of suppressed genius.
Credit also must be given to Prakash Jha for supplementing her with a character that looks subdued, to begin with, but transforms into a powerful proponent of female self-respect.
So awesome was Madhuri, that she even towered above the perennially wondrous Shabana Azmi in this one.
Konkona Sen Sharma – Mr. and Mrs. Iyer
It was her first big film and it got her a national award. Unlike what may be defined as a typically powerful performance – aggressive and – Konkona’s portrayal of Meenakshi Iyer was much subdued and silent.
The only two scenes where she brought out a hint of aggression were the ones where Muslim extremists storm the bus and Konkona asks Rahul Bose to pretend to be her husband, and the one in the final 20 minutes where she realizes she may be on the verge of crossing the line with a stranger.
Konkona’s performances bind the film together, balancing Bose’s sophisticated tone and the film’s somber flow with a touch of vehemence.
The film got her a National Award for Best Actress in 2003, and many advocated the film to be an ideal entry for Oscars that year – only to be fallen on deaf ears.
Nargis Dutt – Raat Aur Din
Another National Award for Best Actress performance, also the only actress to make to this list TWICE (Keep reading and the second entry shall hit soon).
Nargis Dutt, portraying the role of a housewife suffering from multiple personality disorder, was so convincing juggling Varuna – the unassertive housewife, and Peggy – the wilful club singer/dancer, that you actually believed these were two different women.
Raat Aur Din was a landmark plot for its times, and Nargis Dutt’s performances were one of its biggest highlights.
Shabana Azmi/Smita Patil – Arth
This entry puts the two big names of the 70s/80s parallel cinema together because each would be incomplete without the other.
Smita Patil’s glitter had to be balanced with Azmi’s underplayed simplicity and vice versa – Arth was incomplete if not for its female leads.
The two ladies, playing the outside woman and the wife respectively, brought so much intensity on-screen that the male leads were reduced to mere props despite their worthwhile efforts.
Mahesh Bhatt whose films until Arth carried strong male characters (namely the two leads in Naam), gave the two seasoned actresses two of the strongest and best characters of their careers …
and the terrific performers that they were, neither of the two pulled any string wrong.
Vidya Balan – Kahaani
The most recognized of seasoned female performers have rarely been able to carry an entire film on their shoulders and become its core star.
Vidya Balan carries that unique prowess within herself. She’s a class darling and she’s a masses favorite, who thrives on the thrills and wizardry of scripts like Kahaani.
Director Sujoy Ghosh obviously knew what he was doing, when he made his heroine his film’s hero.
Despair, Distress, Loneliness, Adrift, Aggression – there was not one artificial note in Vidya’s performance throughout the film. Somewhere you could sense, even she knew she was in with a winner here.
Sridevi – Sadma
Her portrayal of a girl who loses her memory in an accident and lands up in Ooty as a kid trapped in a girl’s body is the stuff legends are made of.
Time and again have contemporary actresses cited her role in Sadma as their dream role.
The film gained Sridevi much acclaim and firmly established her as an actress worth her salt, which Sri followed up and proved right for almost a decade after that – Mr. India, Lamhe, Chandni, Judaai, Gumraah, Khuda Gawah, and of late … English Vinglish.
Watch the film if you still haven’t, to witness one of Hindi cinema’s finest and greatest female performers unleash her hidden potential.
Nargis Dutt – Mother India
Only someone as talented as Nargis Dutt could have made it to this list twice. TWICE. That’s right.
Nargis Dutt’s performance in Mother India remains the epitome against which every single female performance in India is measured.
She was THAT epic.
The idealistic mother who is as much a patriot as an idealist, and as much a fighter as an affectionate, was a sketch of how every mother in India wanted to be and everyone in India, wanted India to be.
It was a deep metaphor, but not as deep as how Dutt went into herself and dug up emotions and intensity hitherto unknown to Indian actors.
It is hard to separate Dutt and Mother India, she was the film, the film was her.
NOTABLE MENTIONS: Nutan (Sujaata), Meena Kumari (Saahib Biwi aur Ghulam, Paakezah), Rekha (Umrao Jaan, Utsav), Waheeda Rehman (Guide), Hema Malini (Seeta aur Geeta), Kajol (Gupt, Dushman, Fanaa), Rani Mukherjee (Black, Humtum), Preity Zinta (Salaam Namaste), Priyanka Chopra (Fashion, Barfi), Kangana Ranaut (Gangster, Fashion), Kareena Kapoor (Jab We Met).
We would be happy to hear what your list looks like. Drop-in a comment below and tell us!