Happy Birthday Kajol! The Best Actress of the 90s, Who Just Walked Away

Happy Birthday Kajol! I love you, even if not everyone does. And I think not everyone does because maybe not everyone remembers what you used to be.

Kajol is from the oldest film family in India. Her dynasty, the Samarth family, is only equaled by the Kapoors for non-stop filmmaking of 100 years and 4 generations. And, I suppose, also the Mukherjees, her other family. What makes the Samarths special is that they are a Matriarchy, always have been. They married with the Mukherjees, your standard patriarchy, but held themselves separate still. Kajol is not considered the heir of her directing father, or acting uncles, or studio-founding great great uncle, she is the heir of her mother and her aunt and her grandmother and her great grandmother. And it is her daughter Nyssa who she expects to go to work and carry on the family tradition, not her son Yug.

After wishing her daughter Nysa; Kajol shares a glimpse of her ...

100 years ago, a widow in Bombay started picking up some film work to help support her family. Her teenage daughter loved watching her act and loved the movies. She declared she would be an actress or she would be nothing. Her family agreed. She became a star, married along the way and then left her husband behind. She worked day and night at the studios to keep her daughters alive, and produced a film to launch her 14 year old daughter when it was time. That oldest daughter became the most awarded actress in the history of the FilmFare Awards, National Award Winner, and beloved and respected by all. Until she walked away from everything to marry her navy officer husband. The younger daughter, she was different, she loved the film world. Fewer awards, but a lot more fun. Stayed up nights drinking and laughing with Raj Kapoor, shocked interviewers with her honesty and blunt language, was one of the boys and adored her life. Married a director from another film family, separated from him when the marriage wasn’t working out, and raised her two daughters. And then there was Kajol. 16 years old, she took a break from high school to do a movie for fun, and never went back. First FilmFare Award at 19. First woman to win a “Best Villain” award at 22. And first woman to win 6 FilmFare award since her aunt Nutan in the 1960s.

That’s the legacy of the Samarth family. The best actresses in Hindi film, right from the start. They work, they love, they marry, they have daughters, they raise the daughters to carry it forward one more generation. Years ago I read an interview with Kajol about her life as a mother, and she casually mentioned that she wanted her daughter Nyssa to start working no later than age 18. That’s the way she was brought up, that’s her values. Young women should be out there, working, in the world, as young as possible. It’s good for them.

This Vintage Pic of Kajol, Tanisha and Tanuja Is Apt For a Women's ...

While almost every family in India says “the way to keep your daughter safe and happy is keep her at home, hidden away, proper”, the Samarths say “you want your daughter to be happy? Give her the world. Get her out there being strong and beautiful and talented and adored as long as she wants.” That’s what Kajol’s life was. As a teenager, she wanted to be in a movie, her parents said “okay, go for it”. She liked it, she wanted to keep acting, her parents said “go for it, do whatever you want to do. Play a villain, kiss onscreen, whatever is good for you.” She met a boy, she liked him, she wanted to get engaged but not married. He said “Okey-dokey, we will be engaged for as long as you want.” Decided she wanted to get married, her family and fiance said “let’s do this, tiny wedding on the terrace of the house”. Decided she was done acting, her husband said “fine by me! Stay home and be happy.” Decided she wanted kids, and this was the sad part. God said “sorry lady, no kids for you. Instead you get tragedy, sadness, years of trying”.

But Kajol decided God couldn’t control everything, told the world “I had to have a medical abortion to save my life, I’m sad, but I’m not ashamed”. Finally had her daughter, told the world “I’ve had a daughter, I’m done acting until I’m ready to leave her”. Daughter turned 5, told the world “I’m back! Let’s get this acting on again!” followed by “whoops a daisy! Pregnant again! Super happy, gonna keep working through pregnancy, then time for another break”. Son turned 2, said “I’m back! Except, don’t call it a comeback, call it a continuation. I’ve always been an actress, I’ll always be an actress, I’m not gonna be an actress on your schedule.”

Kajol laughing while attempting to get a score 1/3 is all of us ...

I just love her so much! Because she makes it so hard to love her! You want to make her a feminist icon, the perfect strong working woman. And here she is saying “nope! I wanted to be married, I wanted kids, and I stayed home so long as my kids were little, and I am totally okay with my husband taking the lead in our life decisions”. You want to make her a perfect loving little wife and mother, and here she is saying “let’s go back to work! I’m ready to act again! Also, I love going to parties and things without my husband”. You want to say she has family values and respect for elders and is close to her sainted mother and part of a long honorable tradition of acting, and here’s her sainted mother saying “eh, I stopped loving my husband so I threw him out. I love working, I love drinking, I’m a probably a difficult mother for my daughters and I know my mother was a difficult mother for me.” Kajol doesn’t fit into any box and isn’t interested in trying to fit into a box. She is a person and she presents herself as the person. Some people won’t like her because of who she is, but for me, I love her.

More than people not liking or liking her, I think a lot of people simply don’t know who she is. This is a teenage girl who blasted on the scene and knocked out Madhuri and Sridevi and everyone else. Right from the start, whole movies were built around her. Right from the start, she wasn’t going to be your standard heroine. Now, we hear about DDLJ and KKHH and K3G breaking all the records for Shahrukh. Heck, even MNIK broke international box office records. But Kajol was there too. You watch those films, Shahrukh is the star, but Kajol is his true partner. She had a little less than 10 years of being so good, so powerful, so impressive that she didn’t even have to work at it. No need for PR games or lobbying for the good roles, she was just herself and the world was at her feet. And then she walked away, and now there is so little left behind for people to remember. We don’t get Kajol tribute numbers at the award shows, we don’t get Kajol listed as an “inspiration” for freshfaced young actresses, she just doesn’t fit easily. This is the actress who broke the gender barrier for villains, who has more FilmFare awards than any other actress, who was in THREE box office record breaking movies, and yet the question of “best actress in Hindi film” or “best actress of the 90s” even somehow just doesn’t include her.

Kajol No1 Blog: Kajol Old Photoshoot Pictures

Not that Kajol would mind. She has her kids, she has her sister and her mother, and she gets to make movies sometimes. What does she care if people remember her or not?

Here she is, still as stunning and confident onscreen as ever, “Gerua”

A few years earlier, sexy as all get out, “Saiyaan”

After first baby, sparkling onscreen, “Chand Sifarish”

Early pre-marriage days with her future husband, having so much fun being young and in love, “Neend Churayee Meri”

Her song from her action revenge movie, “Chithi Na Koi Sandesh”

And her evil role, sexy and strong and fun to watch, “Yeh Pyaasi Jawani”

And finally, because I will always love her, “Hamesha Hamesha”

24 thoughts on “Happy Birthday Kajol! The Best Actress of the 90s, Who Just Walked Away

  1. One of my favorite actresses ever!!! Didn’t know much about her family history, but I love watching her act. The first time I watched her I thought the part was written for her, because of how natural I thought she looked on screen.
    ❤︎

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    • I saw an interesting interview with her and Shahrukh about their different acting styles. Shahrukh works and works at it, practices line delivery, and his exact expressions, and all of that. And then Kajol just closes her eyes and feels it and takes you away with her.

      Here’s the full posts on her family, it’s a fascinating matriarchy, all the power politics and heartbreak and feuds you would expect, except it’s all women. The men are just there to be fathers of the daughters: https://dontcallitbollywood.com/2017/04/20/hindi-film-101-the-samarth-mukherjee-family/

      On Wed, Aug 5, 2020 at 11:08 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      Liked by 1 person

  2. I have a hard time believing she isn’t an inspiration for young actresses. I’m also surprised that people have a hard time loving her, or find her hard to know. I kinda feel she plays herself in every role. And isn’t the true feminist the woman who does what is right for her regardless of what other people think? I do find that the movies I love, and want to watch over and over again, JHMS, Parugu, have both male and female leads who actually act with enough charm or depth to keep you picking up on things you missed the first time around. And yet, though I LOVE Kajol, none of her movies are my favorites. But I kinda think that is because of the plots & other actors. KKHH should be one, but SRK’s character lacks depth. I was too old for DDLJ when I first saw it. Her parts are the best parts of K3G. I love watching her, but I really enjoy many of her films, but they aren’t necessarily my favorites. However, I do think she could have saved KANK.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I should say she isn’t an inspiration, more that she isn’t the inspiration you mention in interviews, you know? If you say “Sridevi” or “Meena Kumari” everyone nods seriously and recognizes the name and approves. If you said “Kajol” the response might be “huh? What now? Wasn’t she just a 90s thing?”

      Agree that she is a true feminist! She does what she wants, just like a person should, and sometimes that is traditionally “female” things, and sometimes it isn’t. But it doesn’t work for magazines, she won’t try to make herself fit some narrative or be a role model or anything. She just lives her life.

      Now I want to find a good Kajol movie for you! I know you like Dilwale, but understand if it isn’t your favorite. Unfortunately since her career peak was in the 90s, a lot of her best stuff is hard to find. You’d probably like Pyaar To Hona Hi Tha (Kajol-Ajay remake of French Kiss, she is trying to find the fiance that jilted her and Ajay is the local conman who helps her), Minsara Kanuvu is a delightful Cyrano De Bergerac variation with Kajol as a young woman determined to be a nun no matter who romances her, and Gupt is Gupt. Oh, have you seen Dushman? Kajol plays twins, one is murdered, so she gets trained from a blind ex commando to defend herself and eventually gets revenge on the killer.

      On Wed, Aug 5, 2020 at 3:10 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      Liked by 1 person

      • The Kajol movie I haven’t seen on your list is Minsara Kanuvu. So I’ll try to watch it. I love her in everything, but for it to be a favorite movie, I have to love EVERYTHING. I think she just needs to make it. She likes to read mysteries and adventure novels, I think she needs to be in a mystery adventure movie, as the detective, who ends up falling in love with the villain. Can Kajol do fight scenes? I love watching women kick men’s buts. SRK needs to be the villian (sorry Ajay he’s a better actor).

        Liked by 1 person

        • Dushman! It’s totally the movie you want! Or Gupt. Except you said you saw both of them, so I guess they don’t work for you after all.

          Anyway, I’m excited about her mother-daughter comedy coming to Netflix, that seems perfect for her.

          On Wed, Aug 5, 2020 at 7:17 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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          • I don’t, they are being terribly close lipped about it. But I will make sure to say on the blog as soon as I do know.

            On Wed, Aug 5, 2020 at 9:49 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  3. Late to the party,but Kajol along with Jaya B is an actress whose subtlety and natural ease at portraying characters often causes the audience to overlook their talent.But people still remember her as that natural,quirky,simple 90s girl.
    And while younger audiences might underestimate her,older audience especially women love her.She is the perfect example of hardworking artist who had almost no gossips,offscreen stories or fanbase working for her.She is loved for just what she is.
    As I type this,I am waiting for a movie that brings out the best talents of Kajol as THE Kajol movie,like all other beloved classic actresses.Most often the plots fail her,or don’t give her enough meat to sink her teeth into.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I was so disappointed in Helicopter Eela, the bits in the trailer made Kajol look charming and as though it was a perfect role for her, and then the actual movie (apparently) was a mess. But I have better hopes for her upcoming Netflix movie, whenever it arrives.

      On Wed, Aug 5, 2020 at 10:07 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  4. I am a 90s teenager. I love all the Kajol movies. As the younger, more rebellious daughter, I have always loved Tanuja more than Nutan. And yet, I can see why Kajol is not loved by all, especially younger women. I have always felt like despite the money and success, the Samarths have always maintained a working class sensibility very different from the Kapoors or the Bachchans or even the Mukherjis. There are plenty of families like that in India where daughters going to work has been perfectly normal for many decades now, especially in places like Mumbai. However, that rarely gets talked about because it does not fit the narrative of India as a place where daughters are encouraged to have a job. Despite all that, and despite the very clear feminism of her mother, aunt and grandmother, Kajol has said some things about feminism and about how women should not be too vehement when talking about sexual assault that would understandably sound very jarring, problematic and oh so 90s to a younger woman. On top of that, Ajay’s flings with younger actresses are always doing the gossip rounds and her complete (act of) unawareness to that also comes across as very old fashioned. Of course nobody knows what goes on within a marriage. Maybe they have an open marriage and she genuinely does not care. However, unlike Twinkle whose husband has similar gossip around him, Kajol has always maintained the traditional wife image so I am not surprised if she comes across as the much wronged, old fashioned married woman to anyone younger than 30. She was also beloved in the 90s for being the actress who did not care about the beauty standards of Bollywood. She did not try to lighten her skin or get perfect eyebrows and we all loved her for that. The Kajol of today is very different and a lot of women my age who looked up to her as teenagers and learned to love our dark skin because of her do feel a bit sad that she is now 5 shades lighter than her natural skin tone with perfect hair and eyebrows. Maybe it was our fault to put all that on her but it still hurts to see that someone who you held to a certain standard turned out to be totally different. Then you also have the fact that Kajol does not have the same body of work of a Madhuri or a Sridevi. She just did not do as many big roles that she would be remembered for by a young person. And now, that she has come back, her roles have been fairly disappointing.

    That ended up much longer than I was expecting. But to summarize, despite having loved Kajol all through my teenage years, I can understand why she is not considered an inspiration by younger actresses and also why a lot of women my age are unimpressed by her feminism.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That “working class mentality”, I think you articulated perfectly what I have been trying to understand. Kajol and the Samarth women work, not to make a statement or break down boundaries or anything like that, but because if you are an adult person you should have a job. They certainly seem to enjoy their work in general, but it’s definitely not a “choice”. Like, “my parents and society told me I should be married and respectable, but I rebelled and got a job”. Or even, “I had a true passion for this so I took a leap out of the standard female box and started working”. It’s just work, everyone works, you should be no different, and the work our family does is in film. That’s the biggest thing I think that she and Ajay have in common, and that Ajay’s family has in common with her family. Very hard workers, no feel for the glamour of film or the possibility to “send a message” or any of that, just go out and do the work day after day.

      I agree, Kajol’s statements can come across as a little bit regressive. But I suspect it is less that she is more regressive than other actresses, and more that she is worse at hiding it. I would guess, within the film world, Kajol’s attitude toward marriage and motherhood and female “sharam” are probably moderate to even slightly liberal. But she doesn’t run her public statements through a “what is the latest trending buzzword and proper thing to say?” filter, so we are getting the actual opinion instead of the processed one. That’s not a defense of her, she still shouldn’t think those things. But maybe if she does think them, I’m glad she says them? So we get an honest view of how the women of her community think?

      I’m sad about her changing look too. Interesting to think about how it maps out changes in the industry though. What I have read consistantly about the 90s and earlier is that actresses were in charge of their own looks. You made sure your make up was done and your hair was done and everything else before you went on camera, because no one else was going to check for you. Even clothes, the actress had to really care about the clothes if she wanted to look good, that wasn’t the job of the film crew. You can really see that in 90s movies, not just Kajol but Manisha Koirala and Shilpa Shetty and Amrita Sing and loads of others, I am sure I’ve seen moments when they were on camera without make-up, just didn’t bother. And Sridevi and Madhuri, that was part of their onscreen feel, that they always had a particular similar kind of make-up and hair and look. But now celebrities have stylists, and film sets have dedicated make-up people and hair people and all the rest. I can’t imagine a modern movie having an actress just stroll on camera with no make-up at all. Of course that doesn’t mean Kajol needs to get her hair relaxed and her skin lightened and all the more intensive stuff. But I imagine the changing expectations, along with the sudden availability of whole teams of people every time you did a photo shoot or made a public appearance, put pressure on her to pay real attention to her looks for the first time.

      Kajol won so many awards, and was in so many movies built around her, I can’t think it’s that she didn’t have the roles exactly. Maybe that she wasn’t in “classy” movies? There’s a big difference between Baazigar and Saajan, or Gupt and Lamhe. She did movies without the classic songs or epic visuals or any of that stuff, just solid interesting stories. And unfortunately, since they were just solid movies not classy movies, they also seem far harder to find than the best films of her contemporaries. The Shahrukh movies, sure, those are around. But Hamesha, Dushman, Gupt, Pyaar To Hona Hi Tha, and the others like that, they are really hard to find! They aren’t sitting on Netflix or Prime now, trying to attract new viewers.

      On Thu, Aug 6, 2020 at 4:21 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      Liked by 1 person

  5. I’ve mostly seen Kajol in her roles opposite SRK, and I have to admit that high- energy over the top bubbly personality isn’t my cup of tea. I was in fact positively surprised by her more mature looks and demeanor around the time of Fanaa.

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    • Have you seen MNIK? I’m not necessarily recommending it, it is a very very hard watch, but Kajol’s performance in that I think is a lot more mature than what she has done with him before.

      I agree though, she has kind of a limited range in terms of the feel of the characters she plays. Which she herself says in interviews. But I think the range of emotions she is able to play within those characters is enormous. She can make you feel sad/happy/scared/unsure/etc. like no one else.

      On Thu, Aug 6, 2020 at 7:15 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • I wasn’t trying to imply that it’s SRK who brings out that kind of performance in her. Even Dilwale had quite a bit of the more mature Kajol, as I recall.

        Guess I should have been more specific and talked about the era of the big, famous SRK/Kajol Films as the time frame when she most exhibited that kind of bubbly character.

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        • No no, you are right, even outside of the SRK/Kajol films she had a kind of super outgoing confident young persona. It wasn’t just Shahrukh that brought it out in her, her natural feel onscreen was just a lovely contrast and complement to his natural feel onscreen and it brought out the best in both of them.

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  6. In the 90s, where heroines were more choreopraphed and dramatic she was a breath of fresh air. But when I see some of her movies now, she seems like a one trick pony. She wasn’t versatile or even layered in her performances like say Rani Mukherji. I happened to rewatch Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham and boy did she ham a bunch in the first half. Thankfully she mellows down in the older avatar but she really does stick out in the first half. I think she’s quite overrated honestly.

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    • There are these flashes of a whole different person sometimes even in Kajol’s most bouncy performances. And DDLJ really is completely outside her usual self. I’m gonna say she is/was more than a one trick pony, but needed a role and a director to force her to move into a new person. And maybe she just wasn’t offered those roles, or maybe she didn’t want to challenge herself and didn’t take them.

      On Thu, Aug 6, 2020 at 9:03 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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    • Sorry, coming into this late. Kajol was my favorite for a long time. I was firmly on the Kajol side during those Kajol vs. Rani debates but over time, I’ve sort of just lost interest in her and have no qualms saying Rani is a much better actress and has more quality work in her filmography.
      I think the issue with Kajol is that she’s very much a product of the 90s. She was never able to transition to contemporary times either in terms of her work or as a person. Every time I see her, she now seems like a relic of the past. Whenever I hear about her, it’s something cringe. For instance, while doing Eela promotions, she did a promo video where she says the N word to sound cool. Truthfully, I don’t think she even meant anything rude by it but her ignorance about the world is shocking. When she does interviews, you hear her loudly braying with lines like “I’m gonna slap you!!” and constantly telling people to shut up and generally just being obnoxious.
      All that might go ignored if her work spoke for her but unlike the 90s, her acting doesn’t hold up anymore. I thought she was annoying with her squealing and shrieking in MNIK and phoning it in Dilwale too. She was a great match with SRK back in the day but now the deficiencies in the pairing are so visible because SRK has become a much better actor and she’s hasn’t kept up. She doesn’t have passion for acting and it shows. She just wanders onto set once in a while when she feels like it.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. For some reason I am really not a fan of Ajay, which when I think about it, which is not often, that sours her a bit for me. But, that’s rare and I really love her. Have you discussed Varun Dawan’s story about how he went to Mannat to ask them to buy a raffle or something for school and when Gauri came, he said where is Shah Rukh Sir’s wife? Gauri was obviously perplexed and said, “that me.” And Varun (who must have been 8 or so) said, “No, Kajol Ma’m!” His family teases him till date about that story.

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  8. I love her as a person, as an actress not so much. She was a bit too much for me – in terms of overacting. Some movies she aced like DDLJ and Baazigar, but others like Karan Arjun etc. were just about horrible. I much preferred Rani Mukherjee’s style of acting.

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