Bollywood has a strong influence on people all over the country. We’re glad that female characters are really evolving nowadays. Thanks to these powerful and talented female actors of Bollywood, we have no dearth of female-led films.
The best female performances of all time in Bollywood are some of the most memorable and iconic roles in Hindi cinema.
From actresses who started their careers in the 1950s to those who have started in the last couple of decades, these women have given some of the most stunning and unforgettable performances on the big screen.
While lists of these kinds are merely symbolic in nature to celebrate a certain ‘date’, on this occasion of Women’s Day Week, the least we could do is share the best female performances of all time that amazed us and continue to do so.
You may also like to read my previous post on this series Amazing and Strong Female Bollywood Characters We Love.
10+ Best Female Performances of All Time in Hindi Cinema
In any art form, there are some performances that stand out and leave a lasting impression.
Compiling a list of the most powerful female performances of Hindi movies as a homage to the bravura and hard work of these ladies who, with their talents, established a firm footing in an industry, which used to be dominated by male actors and was considered evil, and/or even downmarket.
Konkona Sen Sharma – Mr. and Mrs. Iyer, 2002
It was her first big film and it got her a national award. Unlike what may be defined as a typically powerful performance – aggressive and – Konkona’s portrayal of Meenakshi Iyer was much subdued and silent.
The only two scenes where she brought out a hint of aggression were the ones where Muslim extremists storm the bus and Konkona asks Rahul Bose to pretend to be her husband, and the one in the final 20 minutes where she realizes she may be on the verge of crossing the line with a stranger.
Konkona’s performances bind the film together, balancing Bose’s sophisticated tone and the film’s somber flow with a touch of vehemence.
The film got her a National Award for Best Actress in 2003, and many advocated the film to be an ideal entry for Oscars that year – only to be fallen on deaf ears.
Nargis Dutt – Raat Aur Din, 1967
Another National Award for Best Actress performance, also the first actress to make to this list TWICE (Keep reading and the second entry shall hit soon).
Nargis Dutt, portraying the role of a housewife suffering from multiple personality disorder, was so convincing juggling Varuna – the unassertive housewife, and Peggy – the wilful club singer/dancer, that you actually believed these were two different women.
Raat Aur Din was a landmark plot for its times, and Nargis Dutt’s performances were one of its biggest highlights.
Madhuri Dixit – Mrityudandm, 1997
Prakash Jha’s Mrityudand was as much a scathing commentary on one of India’s most common social problems – domestic abuse – but it was also the perfect showcase reel for Madhuri Dixit, the performer.
Having done a plethora of glam roles, most with subtle undertones of her histrionic abilities, Mrityudand gave Madhuri the perfect vent to spout about a decade of suppressed genius.
Credit also must be given to Prakash Jha for supplementing her with a character as Ketki that looks subdued, to begin with, but transforms into a powerful proponent of female self-respect.
So awesome was Madhuri, that she even towered above the perennially wondrous Shabana Azmi in this one.
Priyanka Chopra – Mary Kom, 2014
It’s not only a fictional character but a real person. A story of a real-life hero, Mary Kom.
A young girl falls in love with the boxing glove and decides to pursue her dream despite the innumerable challenges she faced including her father’s disapproval.
Her journey of becoming a boxing world champion is a true inspiration for all young girls out there.
Priyanka Chopra through her convincing and powerful performance as Mary Kom blows us away while she takes us through Mary’s journey of struggles and victories.
Shabana Azmi/Smita Patil – Arth, 1982
This entry puts the two big names of the 70s/80s parallel cinema together because each would be incomplete without the other.
Smita Patil’s glitter had to be balanced with Azmi’s underplayed simplicity and vice versa – Arth was incomplete if not for its female leads.
The two ladies as Pooja and Kavita Sanyal, playing the outside woman and the wife respectively, brought so much intensity on-screen that the male leads were reduced to mere props despite their worthwhile efforts.
Mahesh Bhatt whose films until Arth carried strong male characters (namely the two leads in Naam), gave the two seasoned actresses two of the strongest and best characters of their careers …
and the terrific performers that they were, neither of the two pulled any string wrong.
Shaban Azmi won the National Film Award for Best Actress for this film.
Vidya Balan – Kahaani, 2012
The most recognized of seasoned female performers have rarely been able to carry an entire film on their shoulders and become their core star.
Vidya Balan carries that unique prowess within herself. She’s a class darling and she’s a masses favorite, who thrives on the thrills and wizardry of scripts like Kahaani.
Director Sujoy Ghosh obviously knew what he was doing, when he made his heroine his film’s hero.
Despair, Distress, Loneliness, Adrift, Aggression – there was not one artificial note in Vidya’s performance as Vidya Venkatesan-Bagchi throughout the film. Somewhere you could sense, even she knew she was in with a winner here.
Priyanka Chopra – Barfi, 2012
In spite of having fewer dialogues, Barfi, 2012 tear-jerker, speaks volumes to us. Priyanka Chopra’s performance in Barfi is one of her breakthrough performances.
Jhilmil Chatterjee is an autistic girl who won the hearts of millions with her childlike purity and innocence.
Despite her physical and mental handicaps, she had an inner strength and courage that was admirable and inspiring. She loved Barfi (Ranbir Kapoor) with conviction.
When she guards her husband from Shruti, Barfi’s first love interest (Ileana D’Cruz), all you can do is the root for this spirited woman.
Kalki Koechlin – Margarita With A Straw, 2014
Laila is an endearing character with cerebral palsy. Laila may be confined to the use of a motorized wheelchair, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t live life to the fullest.
Kalki Koechlin plays the character of Laila with all her heart and wins several awards for her scintillating performance.
The way Kalki portrays the physical changes and voice modulation in Margarita with a straw is breathtaking. Indeed, a very powerful female performance of Hindi Cinema.
Tabu – Haider, 2014
Haider is a modern-day adaptation of Shakespeare’s tragedy Hamlet. Tabu played the role of the male protagonist’s (Shahid Kapoor) mother and nailed it.
She played the character Ghazala Meer like a queen and amazed the audience. From the long list of her great performances, this is definitely remembered as one of her powerful performances till now.
For Tabu’s performance, late Irrfan tweeted –
Sridevi – Sadma, 1983
Her portrayal of a girl as Nehalata Malhotra ‘Reshmi’ who loses her memory in an accident and lands up in Ooty as a kid trapped in a girl’s body is the stuff legends are made of.
Time and again have contemporary actresses cited her role in Sadma as their dream role.
It was and still is considered one of the best female performances of all time in the Indian Film industry.
The film gained Sridevi much acclaim and firmly established her as an actress worth her salt, which Sri followed up and proved right for almost a decade after that – Mr. India, Lamhe, Chandni, Judaai, Gumraah, Khuda Gawah, and of late … English Vinglish.
Watch the film if you still haven’t, to witness one of Hindi cinema’s finest and greatest female performers unleash her hidden potential.
Nargis Dutt – Mother India, 1957
Only a few as talented as Nargis Dutt could have made it to this list twice. TWICE. That’s right.
Nargis Dutt’s performance in Mother India as Radha remains the epitome against which every single female performance in India is measured.
She was THAT epic and that is why it is one of the best female performances of all time.
The idealistic mother who is as much a patriot as an idealist, and as much a fighter as an affectionate, was a sketch of how every mother in India wanted to be and everyone in India, wanted India to be.
It was a deep metaphor, but not as deep as how Dutt went into herself and dug up emotions and intensity hitherto unknown to Indian actors.
It is hard to separate Dutt and Mother India, she was the film, the film was her.
She won her first National Film Award for Best Actress for this film in 1958.
Some Notable Mentions
Bollywood is a complex and ever-evolving industry that has given us some of the most talented and unforgettable actresses of all time. These women have shown us what it means to be powerful, beautiful, and strong both on and off the silver screen.
Whether it’s because of their acting skills, or the emotional impact of the scene, these actresses have truly blown us away.
However, there are some other powerful performances by Indian actresses which are equally amazing and inspiring.
- Nutan in the moive Sujaata
- Meena Kumari’s performance in Saahib Biwi aur Ghulam and the fim Paakezah
- Rekha’s unmatched acting in Umrao Jaan and Utsav
- Waheeda Rehman in the film Guide
- Hema Malini in a double role in the movie Seeta aur Geeta
- Kajol in her films Gupt, Dushman, and Fanaa
- Rani Mukherjee in the iconic film Black
- Preity Zinta in the movie Salaam Namaste
- Priyanka Chopra in the film Fashion and Bajirao Mastani
- Kangana Ranaut in Gangster and Queen
- Kareena Kapoor in Jab We Met
- Taapsee Pannu in the film Thappad and Pink
We hope you will enjoy watching these best female performances of all time as much as we enjoyed putting this list together.
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