The Mukherjee-Samarth family is really something special with their actresses. Definitely deserving their own special Starter Kit post, to go along with their own special Hindi Film 101 posts.
Born into an old film family, starting acting as a teenager and had to struggle a bit in smaller roles and odd films before she slowly began to get noticed as a wonderful actress. Around that same time, she (supposedly) started an affair with then-married Aditya Chopra, head of Yash Raj Studios. Adi got divorced and eventually married Rani, she semi-retired and had a baby, and now is coming back with a film built around her and produced by her husband. Which is what she deserves, truly the best actress of the current generation.
Raja Ki Aayegi Baraat
Rani immediately got noticed for her first role at age 19, as a rape victim. Not the usual sort of first role for a big name actress! The film was barely noticed, but Rani’s performance stood out.
Rani wasn’t even allowed to do her own dialogue for this film, her voice was judged “too deep”. And yet she still made an impression, even if it was primarily as “the Khandala Girl”.
Kuch Kuch Hota Hai
Rani was cast in semi-desperation after Twinkle turned down the role that Karan had written for her. They planned to dub her voice in this film as well, but then decided not to. Rani managed to make an impression in a role that was supposed to be just the plot impediment to true love, and her career was well on its way.
Change Everything Movie
Rani was known and recognized after Kuch Kuch, but struggled to find a role that would fit her talents, suffering through some odd fits as the sexy heroine in action movies, or the long suffering wife. But the 2000s brought in a new era, starting with this film in which she effortlessly sold herself as a young med student who falls in love without wanting to.
Bunty Aur Babli
Rani shows her brilliant comic abilities, and sparkling romantic chemistry with Abhishek Bachchan, in a film not quite like any other. Funny, clever, romantic, it’s the whole package.
India’s version of The Miracle Worker with Rani playing the Helen Keller role and Amitabh playing Anne Sullivan. Not only does Rani master the role, she managed to hold the screen opposite Amitabh both in star power and in acting ability.
No One Killed Jessica
A film about two women, Rani Mukherjee playing a Barkha Dutt like reporter who swears and smokes and sexes, and Vidya Balan playing a middle-class serious dowdy young woman who just wants justice for her sister. Rani’s performance is an out there unapologetic in your face kind of thing that is unforgettable.
Something totally different! Light, comic, Rani as a naive simple young woman who dreams of love. And yet, she embodied the character just as easily as the totally different character she had played just the year before.
And her 3rd of 3 brilliant different roles just to leave us wanting more! She disappears into the life of a sad wife and homemaker, still beautiful but with all the glamour and spark drained away. And then slowly lets it fill back in as the film goes on. Also, bonus! Her last film before marriage is her reunion with her first major co-star, Aamir, all the way back in the Ghulam days.
Rani’s last movie before her pregnancy-caused break. She plays a tough angry rule breaking police officer. A real hero role, not a heroine at all. And of course, she pulls it off beautifully.
Kajol Mukherjee Devgan
Rani’s second cousin. Their fathers were cousins, both descendants of the founders of the Filmistan studio lot. But Kajol was even more impressive on her maternal side, daughter of Tanuja and granddaughter of Shobhna and niece of Nutan. She took a break from high school to star in her first movie, at age 16, and never went back. By 20, she was on the way to being the top female star. At age 25, she was the top female star, and she walked away from it all to get married. Now, at 43, having released only a handful of films in the past 15 years, she is still so beloved that a new film announcement is still an event.
Not a great movie! Young love, parental disapproval, Canada, etc. etc. It was a joint launch film, Kajol and Kamal Sadanah. But it got Kajol addicted to acting, when her summer break was over and filming was done, instead of going back to high school, she just kept working.
Kajol was such an immediate presence onscreen, she already had a persona and a following right from this, her second film. Playing the spunky loud confident woman with the big heart and tomboy attitude, the audience fell in love with her.
Kajol does Audrey Hepburn! She plays the Audrey role in a remake of Sabrina, a delightful driver’s daughter who goes to the city and becomes a high fashion model and returns to catch the eye of her childhood crush Saif Ali Khan, and his more responsible older brother Akshay Kumar.
Big Change Everything Movie
This really had less of an effect on Kajol’s career than it did on Shahrukh’s. Kajol was already known to be something kind of special, someone who couldn’t be buried in an ensemble, who would always dominate the screen. The success of this film just brought that to the attention of an even larger audience.
Not your usual heroine! And I can’t say any more than that without spoiling the film. It’s ridiculously 90s and horrible, but it’s also surprising and thrilling mostly thanks to Kajol’s performance
Kajol plays an avenging action hero, with Sanjay Dutt there to support her, be her love interest, not the other way around.
Grand Finale Film
Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham
It’s supposed to be a movie about 3 couples, 6 actors with equal parts. But Kajol shines a little extra brightly, her character is a little more amusing, more memorable, more heartbreaking, than all the others. An excellent role to go out on before a post-marriage semi-retirement.
U Me Aur Hum
Directed and produced by and co-starring her husband Ajay. And he made the whole film around her, Kajol as the centerpiece, the vibrant beautiful and mentally troubled woman who ages from a struggling young waitress to an aging wife and mother.
Only Kajol would come back in her 40s to play the sophisticated antagonist in a southern film. Just like only Kajol would have taken a break from Hindi films at the height of her fame in order to make a beloved immediately classic southern film romance (Minsara Kanavu).
Kajol’s little sister. Who, unfortunately, never quite made her mark. Had a few roles for a few years, than worked with her brother-in-law Ajay’s production house for a while, then was a star of the Big Brother TV show for a while, and then kind of faded away again. This will be a short entry
Stupid name, great songs, bad plot. A variation on 10 Little Indians/Scream, with an attractive young cast lead by Tanisha and Dino Morea. Tanisha was 25 when this film came out, 10 years older than her sister was at her launch.
Starting Out Films
Neal ‘n Nikki
A clever movie hidden under a lot of bad sex jokes and ridiculous styling for Tanisha (tan, highlights, tiny tiny clothing). Also supposedly when Tanisha started a relationship with her co-star Uday Chopra (younger brother of Tanisha’s cousin Rani’s future husband Aditya). This film flopped, Tanisha did a few more tiny roles, but essentially her career was over after this.
The previous generation! Daughter and younger sister of two legendary actresses, she found her own way through the same kind of effortless onscreen impression that her daughter Kajol had. Moving through Hindi mainscreen, art films, and the Bengali industry. She married, left, then separated from her husband and came back as a character actress.
Hamari Yaad Aayegi
Her first film as an adult heroine. After occasionally playing child roles, and more recently playing the second lead behind her older sister Nutan.
Change Everything Film
Baharen Phir Bhi Aayengi
Guru Dutt’s last film, supposedly he is the one who taught Tanuja how to be more spontaneous, more herself, onscreen. It worked, she was noticed for this role.
Haathi Mere Saathi
A delightful film! About a young man and his elephants and the woman he loves (Tanuja). A very silly light happy film, which is perfect for Tanuja’s happy light persona.
Grand Finale Film
This doesn’t quite fit, with the shooting schedules and all back then it was harder to set up a final pre-marriage film. But it does work as a sort of “I am taking a risk so people remember me” film. A realistic black and white look at a marriage, a pre-cursor of the parallel films of the 1980s.
Playing a mother a few years after she was the heroine, and at only age 43. But it’s honest work, and she enjoyed acting, so why not?
Playing the mother to her own niece by marriage, and breaking our hearts with her own small little gestures and dialogue delivery.
The Greatest actress of the Samarth-Mukherjee family, and possibly all Hindi film. With a very very difficult relationship with everyone else in her family. An introvert in a family of extroverts, a sensitive artist in a family that tends to see acting as a career, a challenge, “fun”, but nothing to get emotional about.
Directed and produced by her mother, set up to launch her in a solid career at age 14, just as her mother wanted. A decent launch, but it didn’t really highlight what was special about Nutan.
Big Change Everything Film (no starting out movies for her, right to the top)
A film that begins to show something special in Nutan, playing an abused orphan who finally lands at a strict but fair orphanage. And which won her her first of 6 FilmFare awards, a record that stood until her niece Kajol matched it.
A silly light rom-com with plenty of funny misunderstandings, Nutan playing second fiddle to Dev Anand. She did a fair number of roles like this, light-hearted heroines, a little more than love interests but not quite co-leads.
A sensitive drama that relied on Nutan’s subtle expressions to carry the whole thing, as the silent almost invisible untouchable girl.
Grand Finale Film
Technically this is a “married” film. It came after her marriage. But it is the kind of once in a lifetime role that I am sure she would have wanted to be her last film if she could have arranged things. Playing a happy village girl turned murderer and female convict, torn between her guilt and a chance at a future. Nutan’s performance is brilliant, the topic is in many ways unique, the camerawork is gorgeous. You can see why it stood out, and made Nutan stand out once and for all.
Main Tulsi Tere Aangan Ki
6th FilmFare award! At age 42, playing a deceived wife turned saintly mother. Mother to a man only 10 years younger than her.
The first great actress of the family! Her mother worked briefly in films as well, but there is hardly a record of her, it was just a way to make a little money back before films were big business. But Shobha was ambitious and determined and ready to make herself a star over all objections. Just as later she was determined to make her daughters into stars.
Not much information on this film. A Marathi movie, not Hindi, Shobha was only 19 and just engaged to a nice young man of good family who also wanted to work in film.
Starting Out Film
Shobha plays second heroine to the bigger star, Sabita Devi, in a small unremarkable but moderanly successful Hindi film. This is what made up much of her career at this point.
Big Change Everything Film
A film on Ram and Sita, more notable for its subject matter than any one performance in it, including Shobha’s. The only Indian film Gandhi ever watched, and the first film to play in the US.
An historical with Shobha playing a scheming fascinating evil beautiful young woman at the center of it all. Much more interesting than the dull heroines she could have been playing. Shobha had found her niche in these sorts of interesting roles.
Big Grand Finale Film
Another mythological! Shobha has second billing now, behind the hero. And this is her last major film as a heroine, soon after it finished she must have started work on the film she was producing to launch her daughter, pushing another generation forward and therefore pushing herself back.
Love in Shimla
Playing a mother role to a new generation of bright young actresses, and to an actor from the Mukherjee family, a cousin of the man her daughter Tanuja would later marry.
And finally, of course, Nyssa! Daughter of Kajol and Ajay Devgn, her father has a production house and her mother’s family believes in pushing their daughters in front of the camera before age 20 and expecting them to find their own way. So at some point in the next few years, look for her Launch Film.