Box-office begums of Bollywood

Gone are the days when women were just considered arm candy in our commercial films. They are no longer part of the fancy wrapping around the male star’s ego but are a precious package in themselves. If they aren’t the solo lead, then they make sure their role is of equal importance to the larger scheme of things. They want to kick butt, jump out of buildings, seduce to their heart’s content and buckle-up for social causes in films. Move over He-Man. The industry gals are showing that they can do all their male counterparts can and look better doing it. And it’s not a plastic, on the surface reform that’s taking place. It’s a change that’s been long in the making. Today’s heroines have been trying to achieve it since the beginning of their careers and their struggle is slowly bearing fruit. The minds of the makers and the masses are opening to the possibility that female stars carry as much chutzpah as our macho heroes. Stories are woven around them and male actors are reluctantly taking a step back to make way for the shero. Let’s take a look at the careers of some of the heroines who are at the forefront of this feminist renaissance…

Deepika Padukone
She has been a hurricane to reckon with ever since she started her career with Om Shanti Om (2007), being on an even keel even then with the reigning superstar Shah Rukh Khan. She went on to be part of commercial hits like Love Aaj Kal (2009), Housefull (2010) and Desi Boyz (2011). Cocktail (2012) is where she showed her star power. The bohemian love story, which also starred Saif Ali Khan and Diana Penty, revolved around her and went on to gross 122.99 crores worldwide. Piku (2015), consolidated her position as someone who can frontline a film successfully. This coming-of-age drama, which also starred Amitabh Bachchan and Irrfan Khan grossed 148.96 crores at the box-office worldwide. Successful films like Bajirao Mastani (2015), which grossed 355.61 crores worldwide and Padmaavat (2018), grossing 571.98 crores worldwide made her the queen of the marquee. Though she starred with Ranveer Singh in the former and with Ranveer and Shahid Kapoor in the latter, hers was the central figure in the film. She was reportedly paid more than her male co-stars in Padmaavat. Chhappak (2020), which was a biopic of sorts on the acid attack survivor Laxmi Agarwal, was a litmus test for her. As Queen Dee was attempting her first non-glamorous role. The film garnered 55.44 croes at the box-office. It might not be a 100 crore hit but still managed to earn a decent profit over and above its budget. Not to mention the critical acclaim.

Alia Bhatt
Alia Bhatt started off with the commercial hit Student Of The Year (2012), with the movie grossing 109.1 crores. She took risks right away, choosing to star in Highway (2014), a dark road movie which centered around her and had Randeep Hooda as her co-star. The Imtiaz Ali film grossed 52.44 crores despite its unusual cast and story. She continued to choose movies that gave her niche roles to play. In Udta Punjab (2016), for instance, she played a much-abused Bihari migrant in Punjab. The film grossed 91. 03 crores worldwide. In Dear Zindagi (2016), she played a millennial under relationship therapy, who develops a crush on her counsellor, portrayed by Shah Rukh Khan. The film fetched 135.47 crores gross worldwide. Raazi (2018), where she played an Indian spy working deep undercover in Pakistan, fetched 195.75 crores as the worldwide gross. She truly carried the film on her shapely shoulders. And she was so good in Gully Boy (2019) that it could have been easily called Gully Girl. The film had her playing the protagonist’s feisty girlfriend and garnered 238.16 crores.

Kareena Kapoor Khan
Kareena Kapoor Khan was happy doing arm-candy roles and looking good in them too, till Jab We Met (2007) arrived. The Imtiaz Ali film also starred Shahid Kapoor but the critics and the masses alike called it her film. It did decent business of around 50 crores worldwide at the time. Her most definitive film as an actor is said to be Madhur Bhandarkar’s Heroine (2012), which was an insider’s account of the film industry. She carried the film on her shoulders and won plaudits all over for her performance. The film had a world-wide gross of 71 crores. Veere Di Wedding (2018) was her last big release. She led this women-centric film about four girl pals going through various phases in their relationships, from the front. The film went on to gross 138.95 crores worldwide at the box-office.

Vidya Balan
Vidya Balan has the rare honour of starting her Bollywood career with a women-centric film. Parineeta (2005) was based on an eponymous novel by Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay. The film starred Sanjay Dutt and Saif Ali Khan besides her but the film revolved around her mostly. It earned a worldwide gross of 31.86 crores, which was a huge sum at that time. Her debut set a pattern for Vidya and she mostly accepted films where her role was central to the story. Bhool Bhulaiyaa (2007), for instance, had her playing an over imaginative woman who starts living a dual life. Though Akshay Kumar had the central role, the film wouldn’t have worked without her. The film grossed 82.35 crores worldwide. In Paa (2009), she played a single mother to a son suffering from Progeria. Amitabh Bachchan played her son. It was as much her film as Amitabh’s and went on to gross 45.15 crores worldwide despite its highly unusual subject. The Dirty Picture (2012), some say, is her most definite film. Not only did she play a character based on sultry siren Silk Smitha, she managed to give it a respectability that real life Silk desperately craved. The film grossed 117 crores at the box-office. Likewise, Kahaani, released the same year, is a whodunit you can’t imagine without her. The film grossed 80.43 crores. She was the soul of the multistarrer Mission Mangal (2019) as well. The film, which fictionalised the story of India’s unmanned mission to Mars, grossed 290.59 crores worldwide.

Box-office queens

Kangana Ranaut
Kangana Ranaut started her Bollywood career with Gangster (2006) and even then played a role which was crucial to the film’s narrative. She won plaudits for her roles in Life In A …Metro (2007), Fashion (2008), Once Upon A Time in Mumbaai (2010) and many more. Tanu Weds Manu (2011) was her standout film of the period. This quirky romance, co-starring Madhavan, grossed 56.41. She never looked back after that, choosing to work mostly in women-centric films. Queen (2013), which was a journey of self-exploration by a jilted fiancee, garnered 95.04 crores worldwide, Tanu Weds Manu Returns (2015), the sequel to the 2011 film made famous for Kangana’s double role took home Rs 255.3 crores worldwide gross, Manikarnika (2019), the period drama where she played Rani Laxmibai of Jhansi and also directed the film, grossed 132.95 crores. All her forthcoming films, be it Thailaivi, Tejas or Dhakkad have her playing the lead role.

Anushka Sharma
Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi (2008), her debut film, pitted her against Shah Rukh Khan. She became an overnight star with the dance musical, which grossed 151.58 crores worldwide. With Band Baaja Baaraat (2010), she helped launch talent powerhouse Ranveer Singh. The movie, which was about two entrepreneurs falling in love, grossed 25.57 crores worldwide. PK (2014) the alien encounter flick where she starred alongside Aamir Khan, was her biggest hit, with it grossing 769.89 crores worldwide. Anushka turned producer with NH10 (2015). The gritty road movie had her playing an avenging angel and managed to haul 50.97 crores worldwide. Phillauri (2017), her next production, where she played a ghost, brought in 49.77 crores worldwide whereas Pari (2018), the out-and-out horror film produced by her brought in 41.4 crores. The numbers indicate that the films recovered their budgets and made a tidy sum for the producer. Sultan (2016), where she played a wrestler alongside Salman Khan, grossed 614.49 worldwide and Sui Dhaaga (2018), the film promoting small businesses, where she had an equal role with Varun Dhawan, milked 125.09 crores worldwide. Anushka extended her acumen as producer by producing the highly successful Paatal Lok for the OTT platform, as also the critically acclaimed movie Bulbbul (2020).

Box-office queens

Aishwarya Rai Bachchan

Miss World Aishwarya Rai started her career with Mani Ratnam’s Iruvar (1997). She played a double role in her first film itself and held her own against Mohanlal. Thanks to her international fame, she had no difficulty in attracting big banners. Subhash Ghai’s musical Taal (1999) had her playing a beautiful singer from the mountains who romances both Anil Kapoor and Akshaye Khanna. The film had a worldwide gross of 45.23 crores. Sanjay Leela Bhansali cast her as the daughter of a music guru in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam (1999). Though Salman Khan and Ajay Devgn also starred in the film, she was central to the story. The film fetched a worldwide gross of 43.86 crores. Bhansali’s Devdas (2002) had her starring with Shah Rukh Khan and Madhuri Dixit. She held her own in their film and was praised for her elegance and grace playing Paro. The film had a worldwide gross of 89.46 crores. Dhoom 2 (2006) had her play a oomphalicious super thief in the company of Hrithik Roshan. The caper film earned 149.98 crores gross worldwide and she certainly had a huge hand in the film garnering it. Guru (2007), reportedly based on Dhirubhai Ambani’s life, had her playing the emotional anchor in the protagonist’s life. The film wasn’t about her but now one can’t imagine it without her. It earned 83.07 crores worldwide gross. Jodhaa Akbar (2008), the fictional love story between emperor Akbar and his Rajput queen Jodhaa, directed by Ashutosh Gowariker, paired her with Hrithik again. She looked like a painting in the film and mesmerised the audience with her haunting beauty. She had an equal hand in earning its worldwide gross of 107.93 crores.

Taapsee Pannu
Taapsee Pannu already had a flourishing career down South when she was launched by David Dhawan in Chashme Baddoor (2013). The film earned 59.07 crores worldwide and was declared a hit. In Pink (2016), her role was of as much importance as Amitabh Bachchan. The film gave out the message that when a girl says no, she means no. The film grossed 104.26 crores worldwide. Pink was the turning point of her career, after which Taapsee consciously picked women-centric roles. Naam Shabana (2017) was a prequel of sorts to Baby (2015) and told the story of how a docile girl came to be a secret agent. The action thriller fetched 57.56 crore worldwide, quite a sum for a female-centric action film. Mulk (2018) was a hard-hitting film about the citizenship rights of Muslims and earned 29.9 crores worldwide despite its sensitive subject and with a female lead. Her performance won plaudits throughout. Badla (2019), the twisted thriller where she played a cold-blooded vamp and pitted her wits opposite Amitabh Bachchan, fetched a neat 138.49 crores gross worldwide. It’s her most profitable film in recent times. Thappad (2020) raised its voice against domestic abuse, something we all turned a blind eye to. It managed to earn 44.54 crores worldwide, before the pandemic and the lockdown cut its run short.

Box-office queens

Box-office queens

Shraddha Kapoor
She made a forgettable debut in Teen Patti (2010) but bounced back with Aashiqui 2 (2013). The sequel to the cult classic Aashiqui (1990), the musical proved to be a bumper hit, garnering 109 crores gross worldwide. In Ek Villain (2014), the gritty psychological drama, she had a small but important role. The film earned 169.62 crores worldwide. Baaghi (2016), where her role demanded her to kick and punch in the company of Tiger Shroff earned 125.92 crores worldwide. Her biggest box-office draw has been Stree (2018). She played an important role in the film, on par with that of Rajkummar Rao and helped the film earn 180.76 crores gross worldwide. Chhichhore (2019), where she played both younger and older versions of herself was another important film. Though she wasn’t the central character, yet she played an important role. This campus dramedy garnered 215.41 crores worldwide.

Katrina Kaif
Katrina Kaif started her career with the forgotten Boom (2003). She bounced back with commercial hits like Sarkar (2005), Maine Pyar Kyun Kiya (2005), Namastey London (2007), Partner (2007), Welcome (2007), Singh is Kinng (2008) and many more. Though she may not have carried her films on her shoulders, she nevertheless is an important component in them. Not that she lacks acting chops. Her stints in Rajneeti (2010), Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara (2011), Ek Tha Tiger (2012) proved that in spades. Filmmakers consider her a safer prospect, who can be relied on to add to a male star’s box-office pull and make 100 crores a certainly. Humongous hits like Dhoom 3 (2013) which grossed 556.74 crore worldwide, Bang Bang (2014), which earned 332.43 worldwide gross, Tiger Zinda Hai (2017), which grossed 564.2 crores worldwide and Bharat (2019), grossing 325.48 crores worldwide have made her into box-office gold.

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