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100 Years Of Indian Cinema:The Greatest Indian Actress Ever?

She's the girl-next-door.She's the quintessential Yash Chopra heroine in chiffon saris,an unattainable apsara of breathtaking beauty.She's a vamp,a femme fatale walking in tall silhouettes.Over 100 years of Indian Cinema several beautiful and wondrously talented women have given us much to celebrate gradually letting go of the "arm-candy" tag attached to her. In an industry dominated by men, some of our women have managed to hold their own. Be it singlehandedly carrying a film to box office success or taking on jobs earlier considered a man’s job, our women are doing it all and more.According to the CNN-IBN poll Sridevi has been adjuged as the greatest actress in Indian Cinema for over a 100 years.So in this two part series,let us present some of the greatest Indian actresses to grace celluloid.Who do you think among these beauties is the greatest Indian actress of all time(based on acting ability,box-office potential,beauty,dancing skills,nationwide appeal,etc.)?


A pan-Indian superstar,Sridevi’s career is one quite like no other.After conquering the South with films like Moondru Mudichu and Moondram Pirai beside superstars like Rajnikanth and Kamal Hassan,Sri captured the hearts of Bollywood fans featuring in blockbusters like Mr India, Himmatwala and Judaai; and delivered critically acclaimed performances in Sadma and Gumraah. Such was Sridevi’s aura that directors wrote scripts woven around her character in Nagina, Chandni, Chaalbaaz and Lamhe,a phenomenon not witnessed before in male-dominated Bollywood.More so her legacy as the “First Female Superstar & Last Empress” has been cemented by the fact that after 15 years of being away from the screen,Sridevi returned last year in the critical and commercial blockbuster-English Vinglish,becoming the only Bollywood actress to make a successful comeback.


And it doesn't get any more A-list than this lady right here. Madhuri Dixit is “the actress” an all-time chimera of the quintessential Bollywood heroine. The biggest, brightiest and single-smiliest star in Bollywood's firmament, it took nine films for her to find her blockbuster stride with Tezaab, but there was no looking back after India fell head over heels for the Ding-Dong-Ding song as the lady became our biggest ever and one of the best dancers in showbiz, at par with and even outranking her leading men.As an actress, she's done it all -- from Parinda to Beta to Hum Aapke Hain Koun...! to Mrityudand to Gajagamini.


Whenever a poll has been conducted to name the best actress ever in Tamil and Telugu cinema, one name has always garnered the most votes and that too by a huge margin - Savitri.Titled 'Nadigeyar Thilakam' (Great Actress)Savitri was known outside Tamil and Telugu films as 'Meena Kumari of the South.' Acting opposite stalwarts-Sivaji Ganesan and Gemini Ganesh,she proved to be an extremely versatile actress with no role beyond her, even if most of these roles capitalised on her immense talent as a tragedienne.


Arguably the best looking woman in Bollywood history, Madhubala scorched the screen in a tragically short life, giving us much to remember her by, wistfully. She went on to star with the top leading men of her time and managed effortlessly to emerge as the talking point from the films, be it the breezy Mr & Mrs 55 or the epic Mughal-E-Azam. Her name was enough to light up a theatre-owner's proud marquee, and her oxygenating smile & eyes lead Indian magazines to refer her as 'Venus of the screen' - the definitive screen goddess, compared often to the iconic Marilyn Monroe.


Tears may have been the Tragedy Queen's best weapon but it was her willingness to play some of cinema's most difficult characters – the neglected, alcoholic wife in Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam, a courtesan in Pakeezah that made her unforgettable. Frequently referred to as the tragedy queen, Meena Kumari was an actress we lost ironically early, dying from cirrhosis of the liver when she was just 39.Her most iconic performance, that of Chhoti Bahu in Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam, is one of the finest by any leading lady in any motion picture, one where the craft is so perfect that it becomes impossible to draw a line between actress and character. Sublime.


In an unforgiving industry which still looks askance at married heroines, Suchitra Sen not only forged a career but a hugely successful one at that. She was married with a daughter when she made it big in movies, and the audience couldn't get enough of her. With Bengali superstar Uttam Kumar, she formed a hit partnership in movies like Saptapadi, Sagarika and Harano Sur.She was the first Indian actress to receive an international Best Actress award for Saat Paake Bandha & also appeared in a handful of Hindi movies, memorably playing Paro opposite Dilip Kumar in Devdas.


The first film personality to win the Padma Shri, Nargis had quite the filmography -- from Andaz to Awaara, from Shree 420 to Chori Chori -- and hit peak with Mother India, for which she won the Best Actress prize at Czechoslovakia's celebrated Karlovy Very film festival.An actress with range, style, grace and an incredibly warm screen presence, Nargis is truly a leading lady to celebrate. Paired most often with Raj Kapoor -- to give us that iconic black and white rain-soaked frame. As if we needed a symbol for the stunner who went on to mother Bollywood and the nation.


Legend has it that Hema was evicted from a Tamil film early on, the director declaring that she had 'no star quality.' Hindi cinema was quick to capitalise on this oversight, and the actress proved a breath of fresh air to the industry. At a volatile time with stiff competition, Hema managed to draw audiences on her own with films like Seeta Aur Geeta. She of the whippersnapper tongue and casual grace then went on to do a Basanti, and remains -- in this age of remakes -- the most inimitable part of Sholay armed with her trademark 'nahiin'.


Madhabi started acting at a young age as child artist in Premendra Mitra's Kankantala Light Railway.She then starred in the lead female role in Tapan Sinha's Tonsil,Mrinal Sen's Baishey Shravan & Ritwik Ghatak's 'Subarnarekha'. Her major role was the title role of Charu in Satyajit Ray's masterpiece Charulata. Her impact was such that Madhabi Mukherjee is still considered among the all time greats of Bengali cinema.


Three time National-Award winning actress and Parliament member Sharada is one of the most acclaimed actresses of Malyali Cinema.


Rekha started off as a heroine opposite Dr Rajkumar in the Kannada hit, Goadalli CID 999. Her first Hindi film Saawan Bhadon was a huge success, and she found a place in Bollywood. Her transformation began with Do Anjaane opposite Amitabh Bachchan. Suddenly critics noticed a gravity to her actions, a spark in her eyes. Films like Muqaddar Ka Sikandar were superhits, and she went on to star with Bachchan frequently, most notoriously in Yash Chopra's Silsila,the confidence she got from those films helped her metamorphose into Bollywood's most enigmatic leading lady.


If the Filmfare Awards mean anything -- and, lets face it, back in the day they kinda did -- the luminous Nutan could be called the most talented of our mainstream heroines.She won five richly deserved Best Actress awards -- Seema, Sujata, Bandini, Milan, Main Tulsi Tere Aangan Ki -- and one for Best Supporting Actress (Meri Jung), and was nominated five other times. That just speaks for itself, really. Beloved for her girl-next-door persona and down-to-earth beauty, Nutan's fearlessness in playing unconventional roles cemented her status as one of India's finest actresses.


One of Bengali Cinema’s enduring icons for over half a century, Sabitri Chatterjee formed a formidable pair along with superstar-Uttam Kumar; their combination becoming a favourite of the Bengali cine-goers with films like Lakh Taka,Kalyani ,Anupama , Punar Milan,Mrinal Sen’s first feature film Raat Bhore &Tapan Sinha’s second effort Upahaar (1955). and their friendship withstood strong but false rumours of marriage.


Not every actress would turn down their Filmfare award for the first critical success in their career. Vyjayanthimala, the first South Indian actress to make it big in Bollywood, did just that, refusing to accept the Best Supporting Actress award for playing Chandramukhi in Bimal Roy's Devdas because she didn't think her role was a supporting one. The first dancing star, Vyjayanthimala introduced Bharatnatyam which was her forte and appeared in blockbusters like Jewel Thief, Sangam and Nagin, as well as critically acclaimed films like Naya Daur, the Pygmalion-like Kathputli, Madhumati, Sadhna and Ganga Jumna.


Acting in 200 films for a period of more than 50 years in Kannada,Tamil,Telugu and Hindi movies-Saroja Devi worked with top actors of the time,namely-Sivagi Ganeshan, NTR, Dr.Rajendra Kumar,MGR,among others.She is referred to as "Abinaya Saraswathi" by Kannada film industry and as "Kannadathu Paingili" (meaning Kannada's Parrot) by Tamil Film Industry & one of the most successful female film stars in the history of Indian cinema and she was at her peak as the main female lead in films in the period 1958-85.


Some actresses stun right from the word go. Shabana Azmi made her debut in Shyam Benegal's Ankur, playing a married villager who falls in love with a college student. Immediately the film industry realised that here was a performer of extraordinary talent, and heralded her arrival with the Indian New Wave, arthouse directors clamouring around her as chubby producers might do A-listers.She also holds the record for most number of National Awards – five- and was, with Smita Patil, a leader in the New Wave of Indian cinema.


Despite a relatively short career – just over a decade – Smita Patil was a leading light of parallel cinema, starring in acclaimed New Wave movies such as Manthan, Bhumika, Mirch Masala and Bazaar. Cinema's radicals might have found an actress to celebrate with Shabana Azmi, but the more striking side of the coin was Patil, a compellingly intelligent presence that stood for both empowerment and sensitivity.Winning the Best Actress National Award twice, for Bhumika and Chakra sadly the actress passed away far too young, at the age of 31.


Indian Cinema’s First Lady,Rabindranath Tagore's great-grandniece was not one to follow convention. Co-founder of the Bombay Talkies studio with husband Himanshu Rai, Devika Rani blazed a trail with Achhut Kanya (1936), in which she played the taboo role of an untouchable girl. A four-minute long kissing scene with Himanshu Rai in Karma (1933) – still the longest – shocked orthodox Indian society.


After being pecked by lung infection,Bharat Natyam and a dose of Telugu cinema it all began when Guru Dutt handpicked Waheeda to play a vamp. The film was Raj Khosla's CID, and nobody, but nobody, had ever seen a femme as fatale as Rehman, an ethereally luscious angel with eyes sparkling wickedly.She went from strength to strength, acting increasingly better and with an irresistible screen charm. Pyaasa, Kaagaz Ke Phool, Chaudhvi Ka Chand, Guide, Neel Kamal... Waheedaji was pure poetry.


Niece to the legendary Travancore Sisters - Lalitha, Padmini and Ragini it was only natural that Shobana followed in their footsteps starting her training in Bharatanatyam at a very early age. But what was outstanding is her enduring brilliance which has been dazzling film goers for than a decade Shobhana,as she was catapulted to the dizzy heights of stardom when she paired opposite Mammootty in one of the all time hits Kanamarayathu.She went on to win the National Award for Best Actress twice-for Manichitrathazhu (1993)& Mitr,My Friend(2001)becoming the only actress to do so in two different languages.


One of the finest Hindi film actresses of her time, particularly known for reinforcing a naturalistic style of acting in both mainstream and "middle-of-the-road" cinema,Jaya Bhaduri started her career with two Bengali short films & Satyajit Ray’s “Mahanagar” at the age of 15.The success of Guddi aided by her petite looks, created the girl-next-door image for her, which she was often associated with through the rest of her career though she also starred in glamourous roles in Jawani Diwani, Anamika.Mostly recognised for roles credited with epitomising middle-class sensibility films of "middle-cinema" directors like Gulzar, Basu Chatterjee and indeed Hrishikesh Mukherjee.


Making her debut in 1992 with Bekhudi, Kajol always had a disarming grin, but the potential didn't reach fruition until we saw her in Baazigar. Paired opposite Shah Rukh Khan, the energy levels went visibly higher, the chemistry crackled. Audiences were smitten even before 1995, when came Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge. Kajol was the woman of the decade, filling in a considerably empty number-one slot on the heroine's list and making the throne her own. She abdicated for 5 years, but her return, even in 2006’s abysmal Fanaa, was enough to wow audiences again.


The odds were stacked against her. Rani's 1996 Bollywood debut, Raja Ki Aayegi Baraat, was a washout. Her cousin Kajol was the industry's top actress. And her much-awaited big feature with Aamir Khan wasn't looking to hit screens anytime soon. Rani bit her lip and bided her time. Then came Ghulam, and Kuch Kuch Hota Hai with Shah Rukh Khan.Rani slogged her way with grit and immense drive, working doggedly at the mediocre parts she seemed to be attracting. The films might not have gained ground, but a high-intensity, extremely natural actress was waiting to burst out making Rani Mukerji one of the finest actresses to rule that number one roost.


She's set tongues wagging at Cannes, shared screen space with Ben Kingsley ,draped a sari over Oprah Winfrey & done dinner with Clint Eastwood and Harvey Weinstein. Opinions are undeniably divided over her histrionic abilities, but Ms Rai is the face of Bollywood, making unprecedented headway toward Western shores.From her well-received debut in Mani Ratnam's Iruvar back in 1997, 10 years on she has just silenced critics with a strong performance in the filmmaker's Guru while offscreen there’s no doubt as to who makes the most consistent newsprint even 3 years after abdicating.Nope,this one’s iconic all right.

So who do you think is the greatest Indian actress of all time?

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