A Year in Bollywood 2010 – Part Two: Heroines

Who is Heroine Number One? According to me…no one. Like I said last year, I feel actresses have moved on from the numbers game into a premiere league, made up of actresses who get the best of projects, endorsements and the like, and are just like their male counterparts. Despite many proclaiming Kareena/Katrina to be the new Number One, neither has really succeeded in being all rounder – that is to say achieve uniform success in a variety of fields simaltaneously. For me, Madhuri Dixit was the last number one heroine, able to open a film on her own merit, remained the nation’s darling for a decade and was instrumental in helping Aamir, Salman and Shah Rukh achieve super success. I had always thought either Kajol or Aishwarya would be natural successors to Madhuri as both are very saleable names, have projects written for them and are good dancers. But as Kajol focuses on motherhood whilst Ash pursues other projects, it does seem that there is no one person sitting pretty on the top.

One actress who has had a fantastic year is Sonakshi Sinha, debuting in Dabangg and impressing all and sundry. Whether she will build upon this and race ahead of the pack remains to be seen but as a launch pad, Sonakshi couldn’t have asked for better. For me, there are two heroines who deserve special praise this year – Vidya Balan and Anushka Sharma. Vidya followed up Paa with Ishqiya and had the first major hit of the year with a excellent performance. Similarly, Anushka followed up her debut with Badmaash Company and then Band Baaja Baaraat, both of which did well and gave Yashraj Films a few much needed hits. Both these ladies have an interesting roster of films for 2011 but what I like is the way they have achieved success – letting their work speak for itself.

Here then, is my premiere league of Actresses for 2010:

Kareena Kapoor – She started 201o with a bang, riding high on the glory of 3 Idiots – to be honest, any heroine could have done that role but only Bebo could make sure we noticed her amongst all the testosterone for the right reasons. 2010 saw an old release surface, Milenge Milenge which wasn’t as bad as I had thought it would be and its respectable show at the box office proved this too. It also demonstrated how far Kareena has come in her career. Then, pitted against Kajol in We Are Family, Kareena took a risk which paid off – the film may not have scored at the turnstiles but again, it showed progress as an actress. In a way, Golmaal 3 was a step backwards acting wise but gave Kareena a super hit under her belt and showed that all important versatility (which all the heroines in this list have or show signs of).

Next year sees another enviable roster of films – Ra. 1 with Shah Rukh Khan, Bodyguard with Salman Khan, Agent Vinod with real life beau Saif Ali Khan and of course, Reema Katgil’s untitled film opposite Aamir Khan. With interest in her relationship with Saif constant tabloid fodder, Kareena is a star, there is no doubt about it. But we also saw a similar outlook in 2009 and only 3 Idiots did very well with the others having varied results (fair enough Billu was a cameo but if Bebo is a contender for top of the pack, surely her presence should have helped things out?). I am a Kareena fan and think that she might just pull it off in 2011, so rather than milenge milenge, its dekhenge dekhenge

Priyanka Chopra – Now, here we have another contender for top of the pack – or Kareena’s deputy as some might say. Priyanka had a good 2009, proving her mettle in Kaminey and What’s Your Rashee, showing herself as an actress who takes a risk. But with a heavy heart, I don’t think 2010 was a great year for her – Pyaar Impossible was a dreadful film despite her spirited performance (and PC being the only reason to watch the film) and Anjaana Anjaani sank under the weight of expectation. Once again, the film was bad but Priyanka wasn’t – and this dear readers, is what we call star quality – Priyanka can rise above a bad script and turn in a good performance when needed. However, two bad films in a row can quickly test the patience of the average viewer (as proved by Akshay Kumar) and whilst PC has plenty of goodwill now, it can just as easily evaporate.

Having said that, 2011 looks good for PC – first off she has Vishal Bhardwaj’s Saat Khoon Maaf which sees her test her acting mettle and take a risk (which I feel is her USP). Then she has the perfect foil to SKM in form of Don 2 with Shah Rukh Khan at the end of the year and if both films click, then PC will quite simply be unstoppable. Whether she is dating Shahid Kapoor or not, there is no doubt Priyanka is definitely one of the biggest stars and can only get better with each film.

Katrina Kaif – Speak of improvements and this is one person that comes to mind. In India earlier this year, Kat was inescapable, beaming from every billboard, product and magazine around. Though she had a great year in 2009 with New York and Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani, it was Raajneeti that marked a real turning point for Kat as she managed to pull off a good performance and stand out in a heavily talented ensemble cast. Even in Tees Maar Khan, she gave a good account of herself and reached new heights with her with her now infamous Sheila Ki Jawani item number which has seen her dancing skills and physique at an all time best.

And the best thing about Katrina is her best is to yet to come – provided she picks the right films and starts mixing things up a little – to stay in the premiere league, Katrina needs to perhaps do a few off beat films, take some risks and balance this alongside her more commercial masala fare. 2010 was  a step in this direction – Raajneeti and TMK are as different as chalk and cheese. Next year sees Kat teaming up with Hrithik Roshan in Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara which should work nicely alongside Yashraj’s Mere Brother Ki Dulhan with Imran Khan and Ali Zafar which is encouraging but I would still like Kat to really do something different to what she has so far and really heat things up. With commercial victory all hers, it is time to move up a gear Kat…

Bipasha Basu – Talking about stepping up a gear, here is a good example of someone doing just that. 2009 was nothing to write home about except All The Best which scored out of the dismal Diwali releases. 2010 won’t up the hit tally but does indicate Bips is experimenting – first there was Pankh, which saw Bips doing something totally different to the norm, then Aakrosh which saw an attempt to marry the commercial and the critical as was the case with Lamhaa. Though none really made a dent at the box office, this does show a willingness to try and do something different rather than the done to death glamour girl routine. I think this year is a good thing for Bips as she seems to be trying to build up her credibility and this should be encouraged.

Next year has a interesting batch of films for Bipasha – yes, there is Players with Abhishek which seems more glam doll action though Dum Maaro Dum with Abhishek seems genuinely interesting and may even see Bips in a new avatar. Then there is Singularity with Josh Hartnett and Abhay Deol which may prove very interesting, especially if the film clicks, as this could lead to Bipasha adding some Hollywood films to her portfolio. A few years ago, I didn’t really rate Bipasha but it seems she has grown as an actress and has a lot to offer – with the right films, 2011 may see her ruling the roost…

Aishwarya Rai Bachchan – Perhaps the only international star in the premiere league, Aishwarya has had five releases this year but only one is an out and out box office hit – Robot (Endhiran) with Ravaanan also faring well. 2009 was a lacklustre year for Ash and 2010 was supposed to see a winning streak for her – unfortunately, despite a superb performance, Raavan was panned and not given a chance to shine (even though it has been praised at many a film festival). Sadly, Actionn Replayy with Akshay Kumar was unable to survive the Golmaal 3 enslaught at Diwali and then Guzaarish divided audiences despite Ash matching Hrithik in his career best turn.

One would have thought Ash would have been Madhuri’s natural successor but strangely, Aishwarya seems to achieve either absolute success or crash and burn. This year may have been a mixed bag but one thing is certain – you cannot count Ash out as she has a wonderful way of bouncing back. With the L’oreal and Longines contracts keeping her in the public eye, it will be interesting to see what films she comes out with in 2011…

Kajol – In my opinion, Kajol is another person who is a natural successor to Madhuri – superb acting prowress, a massive fan following and looking incredibly beautiful, Kajol is every inch the premiere league actress. We didn’t see much of her since the fleeting appearance in Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi but this year saw three films – My Name Is Khan, We Are Family and Toonpur Ka Superhero. With MNIK, whilst Shah Rukh Khan rightly took the lion’s share of the praise, Kajol wasn’t far behind, proving it takes two to make a super jodi and her performance showed audiences what they had been missing in her absence. WAF saw a powerhouse performance where Kajol effectively carried the film on her shoulders, as well as outperforming Kareena and Arjun at the same time. I haven’t seen Toonpur Ka Superhero but expect Kajol to have done a sterling job in that film too.

Kajol is another actress who rises above a poor film and always leaves the audience wanting more. With a self imposed hiatus from films to look after her children, the only dose of Kajol we will get is her voice in Koochie Koochie Hota Hai, the animated canine version of Kuch Kuch Hota Hai but here’s hoping a filmmaker can tempt her with an amazing project that will make us all happy. Like Aishwarya, Kajol cannot be written off and what’s more, she still has plenty to give…

Kangana Ranaut – Now here is a dark horse who has quietly and steadily inducted herself into the premiere league. With Raaz – The Mystery Continues being the only real hit she had in 2009, 2010 saw Kangana in one of the biggest films of the year, Kites opposite Hrithik. Sadly, the film didn’t do well but everyone agreed Kangana was wasted. The same couldn’t be said for Once Upon A Time In Mumbai which saw Kangana totally work every inch as the 70’s film heroine and score massive plaudits for making the most out of a little. Sadly, Knockout and No Problem proved duds in every sense but the goodwill from OUATIM saw off any collateral damage and has kept her in good stead for 2011.

2011 will be interesting for Kangana as she is largely going to be seen in some male dominated films – Power sees her with Amitabh Bachchan, Sanjay Dutt and Anil Kapoor, Game sees her with Abhishek whilst Double Dhamaal sees her with Sanjay Dutt again whilst Tanu Weds Manu sees her in another comic role with Madhavan. As we have seen, Kangana often does well in ensemble films and being part of a hit does her no harm at all and will help her prove her versatility – we know she can do unhinged well so it will be interesting to see what else she can offer. But all in all, Kangana is still as full of promise as she was when Gangster released so definitely one to watch…

Anushka Sharma – The chosen one, the girl with the dream debut, the Yashraj saviour, Anushka can claim all of these epithets. With her first film a massive hit and that too opposite Shah Rukh, Anushka was no wallflower in Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi and rightly shared in the success of the film. 2009 was a quiet year for her but 2010 has been her year. First came Badmaash Company opposite Shahid Kapoor where she showed she was not a fluke or one hit wonder with a good performance and a good show at the box office. Then came the double punch in form of Band Baaja Baaraat which opened on the same day as the bigger No Problem and not only surpassed it but crossed safely into hit territory and gave Yashraj an optimistic note to end the year on. Furthermore, Anushka was the only known name and carried the film on her shoulders with aplomb, giving a career best turn in the process.

Anushka has certainly done well, with each film turning out well. Next up, she has Patiala House with Akshay Kumar and her first non Yashraj project but I think she has made a very good start and Yashraj or not, she certainly has the talent and the drive to push forward and be at the top of the premiere league in a few years time but for now, 2010 has crowned her as the one to watch and she certainly has what it takes to make it…

Vidya Balan – A highly underrated actress, Vidya reminds me of Anushka in that she made a fantastic debut and on the whole, has done good films along the way, with even her worst film being equivalent to a lesser heroine’s best work. 2009 ended on a high with Paa which saw a career best and managed the impossible which was to better her turn in Parineeta. 2010 saw her take a different direction with Ishqiya where she played a femme fatale superbly and marked herself with that all important versatility quality that we all look for in a top actress.

Even though she only had one release, quality counts for more than quantity and Vidya has been on a high and a deserved favourite for Best Actress awards everywhere. Next year sees her working with Rani Mukherjee in No One Killed Jessica which is carrying favourable reports and then there is Chenab Gandhi which was meant to release this year but has yet to be seen. Either way, Vidya seems to be overtaking her contemporaries on the outside lane and building an impressive body of work and carving a niche of her own in the industry. Though her style might be slated, Vidya is different, and as we know, unique is always in demand…

Deepika Padukone – Now here is another story of mixed fortunes – like Aishwarya, Deepika had up to five releases this year but strangely, a worrying pattern emerged. Karthik Calling Karthik and Lafangey Parindey underwhelmed, whilst Khele Hum Je Jaan Se and Break Ke Baad totally missed the mark – the common link in all of these? Deepika was the solo heroine. It was her ensemble film Housefull, that hit the mark. To be fair though, Deepika cannot be blamed for the failure of any of her films as the silver lining for her is that with each film, she is steadily improving and building up on that potential she showed in Love Aaj Kal. Furthermore, Deepika’s popularity seems to be growing with each year and though she is constantly compared to Sonam, I think Deepika is slightly ahead, showing a willingness to experiment and needing one breakthrough role to ignite that acting bug in her and bring her on par with the stars of the premiere league.

2011 sees Deepika as a part of Race 2 in addition to another film with Saif Ali Khan and Amitabh Bachchan and possibly Housefull 2. Like Katrina, Deepika now needs to focus on choosing the right films and showing a balance of pure commercial ventures with other offbeat projects that show she is not just a pretty face. Deepika does have the advantage of being able to surprise everybody and seems to be maintaining a steady ascent to becoming a true actress in every sense of the word – will 2011 be her year?

Do you agree with my premiere league? Who would you like to see at the top of the pack? Is there really no more Number One Heroine?

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