Sanni recently posted about her five favorite heroine roles in Hindi films. What a great idea! I am shamelessly stealing it.
Hindi films are of course generally more about the hero(es) than the heroine. And by generally, I really mean always. But there are some performances that transcend that handicap, and also there is the occasional heroine-centric film made. So here are my favorite roles and the actresses who brought them to life, where the heroine manages to hold her own against—if not completely outshine—the hero.
Vyjayanthimala as Champabai in Sadhna (1958):
One of my favorite Hindi films ever, this movie stars Vyjayanthimala as a nautch-girl who is hired by Sunil Dutt to pose as his fiancee so that his ailing mother can die in peace. She portrays the character with a dignity and poignancy which highlights the film’s message that women who work in such professions are not bad women, but helpless women, who should be given opportunities, not scorned. Vyjayanthimala won the Filmfare Award for Best Actress for this role.
Hema Malini as Takubai in Rihaee (1988):
This should really be Hema Malini in everything! but this film particularly should be noted for its female point of view (it was written and directed by a woman, Aruna Raje). Hema’s innate strength is utilized fully in this story of a village woman who has an adulterous affair with a stranger passing through, only to find herself pregnant just as her husband returns home from three years away working in the city. When she is put on trial by the village panchayat, the women of the village all rally to her side.
Neetu Singh and Shabana Azmi as Neetu and Shabu in Parvarish (1977):
These two are hilarious as thieving sisters; they even manage to outshine Amitabh Bachchan and Vinod Khanna! I don’t think Neetu Singh ever got her fair due in the film industry. She is one of my favorite heroines: she is always a bright spot even in a dull film, and I just love her. I guess this is the only real “masala” film in my list, but their performances will always stand out in my mind as highlights of that fabulous movie, which has many good things in it.
Tabu as Nimmi in Maqbool (2003):
By turns malevolently seductive and achingly vulnerable, Tabu steals the show as “Lady MacBeth” in Vishal Bhardwaj’s adaptation. She is single-handedly responsible for the chain of events which destroy Abbaji and Miyan, their men and their families; at the same time she is a victim of her gender, which renders her virtually powerless in a world of powerful men.
Nargis as Radha in Mother India (1957):
Who can ever forget Radha and her epitomization of rural India’s strengths and hardships. What a performance! Enough said.