I already did this for the boys, but can the girls be far behind? And yes, “girls”. Most of these actresses started out before they were 20 and in my book that means you are still a kid.
Okay, jump in my time machine with me and let us go back to midnight on 1/1/2010. What was happening with the top actresses of Hindi film?
It was an exciting time of transition! But not that exciting, because transition times happen with heroines on a routine basis. The career life span of a top heroine is about 3 years. You’ve got 1-2 years of terrible roles, then 2-3 years of second tier roles, then 3-5 years on top (if you are lucky), one year as Queen, and then you get married and move on to art films and interesting roles, and finally graduate to honorary awards and judging and stuff.
The last batch of heroines, Kareena and Katrina and Priyanka, were towards the end of their peak. Rani was Queen and moving from peak into “art films and interesting roles”. Time for a new batch of heroines to be launched and trained and waiting in the wings! So, who was who and what was what?
Kareena, ten years into her career and pushing 30, three years into a serious relationship with Saif, everyone knew she was going to get married soon and retire. It’s what you do. But she was on top right now, just finished 3 Idiots, with three movies scheduled for next year.
Katrina was only 5 years into her career and it had been a slow start but now, finally, she had just reached the top. Hit film the year before with her new boyfriend Ranbir Kapoor, and two big roles signed for the next year.
Priyanka was in a rocky place, on top but wobbly. Good reviews for Kaminey, terrible reviews for What’s Your Raashee? which was supposed to be her showpiece. But she had some good films lined up, she wasn’t out yet.
And then there’s Rani. Enjoying her time in the sun, largely thanks to talent but slightly thanks to timing. Rani was launched young and right at the end of the 90s. Meaning she was a hair more experienced than Kareena-Kat-PC in the early 2000s and (coincidentally) all the other actresses of her era had ended up married or retired by then while the top actresses slightly before her (Madhuri, Kajol, Sridevi) had hit the end of their natural cycle. Rani was the acknowledged Queen right now because she had peaked at just the right time to be alone. But “Queen” just means your time is almost over, it is a crown no heroine wears for long. Rani was already on the way out, her last film had been a flop and she had already signed her first art film and was concentrating on it.
Okay, if Rani is on her way out, and Kat and PC and Kareena are jostling for the crown, who is in waiting at the start of their career?
There’s Anushka, launched in 2008 she was right at the start of her career. Her career wasn’t great, but it wasn’t supposed to be great. 2 years in, she should be suffering through the terrible roles until she earned a better role. In the meantime, her name and face was still in front of the public, she had decent magazine coverage. Lined up to head for the top in a couple years.
There’s Deepika, her career is in a legitimately bad place. She’s in year 3, should be moving towards better roles right now but isn’t. And her name and face are in front of the public for bad reasons of the Ranbir break-up.
And there’s Sonam. The only one with a filmi family background, her first two movies were flops but she took a step back and adjusted and found new fame as a fashionista outside of her film roles. If she can use that to pull in some good roles, she could stick around and reach the next level and then shoot for Queen herself.
Everything seemed fairly predictable at this point, Rani would step back within a year, followed by Kareena and PC, Kat would have a year in the sun, then Sonam and maybe Anushka would move up, Dips would lose and drop out. Producers were focusing on that and so was the media, most risky roles going to Kareena and PC as they moved up, Kat getting top heroine parts, with Sonam and Anushka as the back up choices and Dips nowhere. You didn’t need a crystal ball to see what would happen in the next 5 years.
Midnight 1/1/2015, where are we?
Kareena and Rani did EXACTLY what was expected. Both of them are now married, and both of them are now moving on to riskier art film kind of leading roles. The top popular heroine crown is out there for the taking.
Priyanka kind of threw a curveball. She toppled off the top (as expected) but instead of going for the soft landing in art films and marriage, she leaped over to America. The end result was the same though, her generation was over and it was time for new heroines to rise up and take their place.
Kat is now on top, which everyone expected at this point. Like Rani, she benefited from timing, being launched in the middle of a cycle which made her the only one left standing for a brief period. While PC had moved on to Mary Kom roles and Kareena to Heroine and Rani to No One Killed Jessica, Kat was the one to take the heroine part in Dhoom 3 and Ek Tha Tiger and Jab Tak Hain Jaan, the straight up mainstream love interest roles.
But down below, the Anushka-Dips-Sonam level, these women broke the rules! They didn’t follow the pattern and know their place and it messed everything up. Kat’s doing the mainstream heroine parts, but is there going to be anyone to come after her?
Anushka stopped making multiple movies each year after 2011. She went for interesting heroine parts in only a few movies (Jab Tak Hain Jaan, PK, Matru Ka Bijlee Ka Mandola). And she had a persona! Like, she wasn’t being a “one size fits all” actress who could play whatever heroine the hero required. She was looking for “Anushka Sharma” kind of roles instead of just taking whatever. And now she’s starting her own production house? Without even being married yet? When she is still young enough and unmarried enough to take the love interest roles like actresses are SUPPOSED to want?
Deepika clearly lost her mind a little too. After being a good little girl and taking a bunch of terrible love interest parts in terrible movies, she went out and took a role as a troubled sexually loose alcoholic woman in Cocktail. You AREN’T SUPPOSED TO DO THAT!!! At least, not in a big famous movie and not before you are safely married. She started behaving a bit better after that, took some nice heroine roles in movies like Chennai Express and Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, but the upsetting thing is that she kept stealing the film from her heroes. She was supposed to just dance a bit and show some skin, and now she was actually acting and stuff. And in “real life”, she was openly in a relationship with Ranveer Singh, she’s not supposed to do that either. What happened to the tidy “single love interest-married interesting roles-retirement-come back in mother parts” pattern that the ladies were supposed to follow?
Sonam, thank goodness, was doing what she was supposed to. Nice light roles for a nice light young woman. Except, wait a second! She’s PRODUCING now? Without a ring on her finger? And she’s only doing a few light heroine parts because she is taking time to produce (like a man would)? This is unacceptable.
And then there’s Alia Bhatt. Thank goodness! 5 years younger than Dips-Sonam-Anushka both in actual age and career age. Normally she should be struggling with bad parts in bad movies right now. But if you want to make a rom-com like 2 States, Sonam is going to say “sorry, I’m in the middle of writing a contract with Disney” and Dips is going to say “wait, my character has no internal life or arc?” and Anushka is going to say “she wears a sari? Not my brand, won’t do it” and Kat is going to say “sorry, I just hit my career peak, I’m not taking these roles”. So poof, Alia! Rushed up to the second to the top level immediately because no one else was willing to take it.
Shraddha Kapoor and Kriti Sanon benefited from the same random bump. Shraddha had to make a few lousy movies in the first couple years of her career, and then 2014 hit and she was signing everything while the actresses who “should” have been taking those roles sat back and picked the best scripts. Kriti Sanon had one movie in Telugu, then was rushed north to take a heroine role opposite a new launch kid, and immediately had a whole variety of odd interesting parts handed to her.
So, where are we now, at midnight on 1/1/2020?
Everything’s upside down and backwards!!!! It’s supposed to be nice little eager girls taking garbage at the start of their career, then hardworking on the way up actresses taking small parts in big movies, then top actresses who top out and get married and semi-retire almost immediately. The world keeps spinning, everyone knows their place.
But what do we have now? First, we’ve got married Kareena who took a breath, and then came back to take those heroine parts she isn’t supposed to want any more! A married woman can’t play a love interest, that is The Rule. She has to play something deep and meaningful and befits her stature. But apparently Kareena didn’t get the memo and is happily taking any part that looks like fun.
And then Kat, who is supposed to be old and disgusting now so that all she is good for is marriage, somehow she is still working at the top heroine parts and being a believable love interest past 35, and unmarried. WHAT THE HECK???
Rani is mostly doing what she is “supposed” to, as a married woman she is taking rare high profile roles. But she’s also kind of mouthy, and insisting on being treated like a top star instead of “just” an actress.
Then there’s Sonam. Got married, and promptly released a film with raunchy sex scenes and comedy. Not deep, and not respectable either. Followed by a movie where she plays a Lesbian. And then a light rom-com she also produced. She should be taking the heroine roles opposite top heroes, or else “serious” art films. But instead she is taking small odd movies so long as she can produce them herself and believes in the message.
Anushka, she finally got married off so we can relax. And she’s slowed down post marriage. But her next film is a sports biopic, not a mother role or a “serious family drama” kind of thing. And she’s not showing up places in fancy saris and showing off the jewelry her husband gave her like a married movie star should be doing. What was even the point of her marriage if she isn’t going to flaunt it as the greatest achievement of her life and instead stay serious and focused on her production house????
Dips, she got married and started a production house and signed a Serious Social Issue film. Thank goodness, that’s what married women are supposed to do, have their little hobby businesses and do Good Works. Only thing is, Dips isn’t the usual married woman. That is, she didn’t marry some rich guy who can fund her hobby studio, she married a fellow movie star. A Star Wife is intended to look adoringly at her husband at events and sit home giving interviews about how keeping a house is the most important thing and she is so glad she can give up her career and support his. How do you handle a Star Couple? We’ve never had that before! Especially when she has the film studio and he doesn’t.
Alia Bhatt, she is doing what she is supposed to, just very very fast. Bumped up to “second tier actress” almost immediately, and then “top actress” and now already people are expecting “married actress” any day. An odd fast career, but a little bit more traditional than Anushka/Sonam/Dips who skipped the whole “second tier actress” level in preference for controlling their career.
Poor Shraddha is left behind at the “second tier actress” stage with no one really willing to help her out. So many films per year! And even if she had the talent, I doubt the industry would raise her to “top tier” level just because they need someone down in the trenches doing the dirty work of co-starring with Sid M. and Varun.
Kriti and Pari and Sonakshi and others I am forgetting got caught in the same whirlpool as Shraddha. So long as Kat and Kareena are holding on to “top tier fun movies” and refusing to leave, and Sonam and Dips and Anushka are holding on to “most interesting and famous female performers” without doing the traditional jobs to keep them there, there is no space for Kriti to move into “funky movies and non-traditional heroine” or Pari to move into “comic heroine” or Sonakshi to move into “serious drama heroine”.
And then there’s Sara Ali Khan and Jhanvi Kapoor. Instead of coming in at the low level and working their way up, they negotiated a launch right at the second tier, skipping the waiting room where Kriti and Pari and Sonakshi and Shraddha are stuck. Once Katrina and Kareena retire for real, they are right there to step into place. That is, if Katrina and Kareena don’t throw us any more curve balls, and if Sara and Jhanvi don’t either. These women, acting like they have their own brains and independence and messing everything up.
Anyway, that’s how the past decade looks to me! What do you remember? Who did I miss? What should I have added?