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Remembering Powerhouse Performers: Nargis, Meena Kumari, Nutan

We look back and list the top 10 female powerhouse performers from the past decades.

Written by Geety Sahgal , Namita Nivas | Mumbai |
Updated: October 16, 2014 11:50:35 am
nargis-meena759 iconic actresses Nargis and Meena Kumari.

Iconic actress


Regarded as one of the greatest actress of Hindi cinema, Nargis debuted as a child star in Talas-E-Ishq in 1935 and as a leading lady seven years later in Tamanna. Her portrayal as the feisty Radha and her survival against all odds as she ages, in Mother India is considered her most powerful role. Nargis showcased her versatality as she appeared in several commercial films with some breezy portrayals in films like Barsaat, Andaz, Shree 420.  Towards the end of her career she was honoured with the National Award for Raat Aur Din in which she played a woman with a personality disorder. Nargis was the first Hindi film actress to be conferred with the Padma Shri in 1958.


Meena Kumari Meena Kumari

Tragedy Queen

Meena Kumari

Meena Kumari made her debut as a child artise at the age of seven, and gained recognition in 1952 in Baiju Bawra where she played a boatman’s daughter, Gauri. Be it the Choti Bahu who turns aloholic in Sahib Biwi Aur Ghulam, or the courtesan Sahibjaan in Pakeezah, Meena Kumari played each role with equal poise. In a career spanning 30 years, she starred in more than 90 films and was associated with tragic roles. The actress is remembered for films like Parineeta, Sharda, Aarti and others. Many of the songs picturised on the beautiful actress are evergreen classics. Na jao saiyaan and Ajeeb dastan hai yeh, are hummed even today.


Nutan Nutan



A slender beauty, Nutan was known for her willingness to play unconventional roles and several of her roles were considered path-breaking during the 50s. Some of Nutan’s best remembered films arel are Seema, Anari and Sujata in which she played an untouchable. The actress continued to work as the leading lady in the 60s and 70s, doing memorable films like Chalia, Tere Ghar Ke Saamne and Saraswatichandra. Nutan’s trademark was her finely-tuned dialogue delivery. Though soft spoken, she made a strong impact. One of her last films was Saudagar in which she played Amitabh Bachchan’s wife.


Waheeda Rehman Waheeda Rehman

Classic act

Waheeda Rehman

Ever since  she made her debut in CID in 1956, Waheeda Rehman was seen in a series of successful  and classic films right through the 60s and 70s including Pyaasa, Kaagaz Ke Phool, Sahib Biwi Aur Ghulam, Chaudvin Ka Chand. The actress is still  remembered for her riveting portrayal of the danseuse  Rosie, in Guide. Her other films include Khamoshi, Neel Kamal and Reshma Aur Shera. Rehman who has also had a long stint as a character actor, has been bestowed with the Padma Shri and the Padma Bhushan.


Rekha Rekha

Striking impact


Rekha who continues to charm the audience  made her debut in Bollywood with Saawan Bhadon in 1970. The film, which had the hugely popular Kaan mein jhumka chal mein thumka  song filmed on her was a huge hit and  paved the way for several movies. But it was not till she transformed herself from a gawky girl into a striking personality and showed her acting prowess with Do Anjane in 1976, and Ghar two years later , that people sat up and actually took notice of her. Some of her noteworthy performances were in films like Khoobsurat, Umrao Jaan, Basera, Khoon Bhari Maang, Krrish.


Jaya Bachchan Jaya Bachchan

Intriguing combo

Jaya Bachchan

This FTII alumna made her Hindi film debut as a leading lady in Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Guddi in 1971 in which she played a schoolgirl obsessed with film actor Dharmendra. Jaya Bhaduri’s (now Bachchan) quaint girl-next-door looks and subdued power-packed performance made for an intriguing combo and she  went on to give several sterling performances in Uphaar, Parichay, Mili, Abhimaan, Piya Ka Ghar, Baawarchi, Koshish, Sholay, etc. Following the 1981-release Silsila, she took a long break before making a comeback with a rivetting performance in Govind Nihalani’s Hazaar Chaurasi Ki Maa.


Shabana Azmi Shabana Azmi

Talent mantra

Shabana Azmi

It can be argued that parallel cinema got the best out of this powerhouse performer. But Shabana Azmi, whose first release was the 1974 Ankur, in which she played a married servant who falls in love with a student,  also contributed immensely to mainstream cinema in the 80s. Who can forget Fakira, Amar Akbar Anthony, Masoom, and Godmother ? Azmi, who is also most remembered for her captivating performance in Arth wherein she played a woman who walks out on a cheating husband. The veteran actress was recently seen on television in Anil Kapoor’s  24.


Smita Patil Smita Patil

Double impact

Smita Patil

After her debut in Hindi films in the 1974 black and white film Mere Saath Chal, Smita Patil soon went on to become one of the leading actresses of parallel cinema. She has been acclaimed for some fine performances in films like Manthan, Bhumika, Mandi, Arth   and Aakrosh., while Mirch Masala, which had her playing the strong willed village girl Sonbai, is considered one of her best.  Patil managed to make a mark even in mainstream cinema with sterling performances in the 80s masala entertainers like Namak Halal and Shakti. Some even rate Patil as the second greatest Indian actress after Nargis!


Sridevi Sridevi

Female superstar


Sridevi who made her debut as a child actor, was an established star of Tamil and Telugu films before she entered Bollywood with Solva Saawan in 1978. But it was the blockbuster Himmatwala five years later, with which gained her recognition. A string of commercial hits like Mr India, Chaalbaaz, Nagina, Chandni coupled with critically-acclaimed films like Sadma, Lamhe and Khuda Gawah earned her the tag of a female superstar of Hindi cinema. The 2012 superhit English Vinglish with which she made her comeback to films, once again earned her laurels.


Madhuri Dixit-Nene Madhuri Dixit-Nene

Dancing diva

Madhuri Dixit-Nene

Madhuri Dixit Nene, who ruled the box office for over a decade, made her film debut in 1984 with Abodh, but carved a niche for herself in the film industry  in 1988 with Tezaab  and her robust dancing to Ek do teen. Dixit, who then went on to establish herself with brilliant performances in films like Parinda, Prem Ptatigyaa, Dil, Saajan, Beta, Khalnayak,  Hum Aapke  Hai Kaun, Anjaam and several others , was best  known for her beauty, her smile, and dancing prowess. She is presently making waves on the small screen as a judge of a reality show.

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