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Madhubala in Mughal e Azam

10 Inspiring Women In Indian Cinema

Indian women have excelled in the last few decades. No matter which field, Indian women have shown that they can surpass and outshone their counterparts.

Hindi cinema, also referred to as Bollywood, is part of the largest film production in the world. In the last century and this one, Bollywood has produced several show stopping actresses.

Leena Kundnani compiles a list of 10 inspiring women in Indian cinema. 

  • 1. Hema Malini

Also known as the “Dream Girl”, Hema Malini is the iconic, power woman. She is well known for her Hindi films, perhaps the most iconic one being Sholay. She is also remembered as a trendsetter, being one of the first actresses to wear bell bottoms and shirts in Hindi movies.

Hema Malini

Hema Malini is not only an actress but also a producer and a renowned Bharata Natyam dancer and choreographer. Born on 16th October 1948, she was born in the Tamil-speaking Chakravarthy household on in Ammankudi, Tamil Nadu. Her father was V.S.R. Chakravarthy and her mom, Jaya, was a film producer.

Jaya had performed as a dancer in a 1961 regional movie. However she was rejected by a Tamil Director, in the year 1964. However, Hema didn’t give up and eventually debuted opposite legendary showman, Raj Kapoor in ‘Sapnon Ka Saudagar‘ just 4 years after her rejection.

Hema has, since then, starred in nearly 155 movies; produced and directed two movies, and also directed a TV serial ‘Noopur‘. These days she is actively engaged in politics as well.

  • 2. Madhuri Dixit

Madhuri Dixit is perhaps one of the most inspirational and gorgeous female icon Bollywood has ever produced. Born as ‘Madhuri Shankar Dixit’ on 15th May 1967, in Mumbai, Maharashtra, she initially planned to become a microbiologist and attained her Bachelors Degree in Microbiology. While studying, she also trained as a Kathak dancer.

Madhuri shot to fame in the 80’s and 90’s. An all-time favorite, the beautiful actress is best known as the “Dancing Queen of Bollywood”. Besides being an excellent dancer, Madhuri is also a very talented actress who can play different roles with equal ease.

In recognition of her great talent, Dixit has won several Filmfare Awards for Best Actress. She holds the record for the highest number of Best Actress nominations at Filmfare. She also bagged the award for the Most Inspirational Bollywood Icon at the 3rd Annual Bradford Inspirational Women’s Award in the UK.

In 2008, she was awarded the Padma Shri, India’s fourth-highest civilian award by the Government of India. Not only is she talented but she also supports various charities such as Goodwill, Sotheby, and Emeralds for Elephants. She is married to Dr. Nene and shuffles between the USA and India.


  • 3. Sridevi

Sridevi hails from Virudhunagar, Tamil Nadu, and was born to Ayyapan and Rajeswari on 13 August 1963. She started her career as a child actor in the 1967 in a Tamil movie, ‘Kandhan Karunai‘.

She also starred as a child actress in a Telugu movie ‘Bangarakka‘ in 1977, and in a Malyalam movie ‘Kumara Sambhavan‘ in 1969. She is regarded as one of the greatest and most popular actresses of Hindi Cinema. She is also often cited as “The First Female Superstar of the Indian Cinema”.

She has acted in a diverse range of movies and has an impressive 63 Hindi movies, 62 Telugu movies, 58 Tamil movies and 21 Malyalam movies between the years 1967 through to 2007. She was the only actor, perhaps, who was able to say no to films with Amitabh Bachchan and yet come up trumps.

Besides the big screen, Sridevi has also made her presence felt on the small screen when she appeared in the TV series ‘Malini Iyer‘. She also judged a TV show ‘Kaboom‘ as well as appeared in numerous print and TV ads. She is also on the Board of Directors of the Asian Academy of Film & Television.

Sridevi got married to producer Boney Kapoor, Anil Kapoor’s older brother, on June 2, 1996 and they are now proud parents of two daughters, Jhanvi and Khushi.

  • 4. Sharmila Tagore

Sharmila Tagore is an iconic Bollywood Actress. She was born a Hindu on 8 December 1946, and later converted when she got married to Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi.

Sharmila shot to fame when she starred with Shammi Kapoor in 1964 in the movie Kashmir Ki Kali. She has several more hits under her belt such as An Evening in Paris (1967), again with Shammi.

Sharmila Tagore

That was the first appearance of an Indian actress in a bikini, and it not only shocked conservative Indian audiences but also set off a new trend of more Indian actresses, such as Zeenat Aman and Dimple, shedding their inhibition and appearing in bikinis.

Sharmila is the proud winner of the National Film Awards and Filmfare Awards for her performances. She was also part of the Indian Film Censor Board from October 2004 till March 2011.

  • 5. Rekha

Rekha was born on 10 October 1954 in Chennai to Tamil actor, Gemini Ganesan, and Telugu actress, Pushpavalli. Having acted in over 180 films in a career spanning over 40 years, Rekha has also done several arthouse films and played the role of strong female characters.

Rekha in Umrao Jaan

Her portrayal of a classical courtesan in Umrao Jaan (1981) is still remembered and also won her the National Film Award for Best Actress. She is also known for her role in Khubsoorat (1980), Khoon Bhari Maang (1988) and Khiladiyon Ka Khiladi (1996).

  • 6. Madhubala

Madhubala was born as Mumtaz Jahan Begum Dehlavi in New Delhi, on 14 February 1933. She hailed from a conservative Muslim family and was the fifth child among eleven children. She was regarded as one of the most beautiful film stars and is sometimes still considered as someone with unparalleled beauty.

Madhubala in Mughal e Azam

She shot to fame with the movie Mahal, and later starred in several successful movies in the 1950s and early 1960s. It was the film Mughal-e-Azam that marked what many consider to be her greatest and definitive characterization as the doomed courtesan Anarkali.

Madhubala became one of the most sought-after actresses in India, and also attracted attention from Hollywood.

  • 7. Mumtaz

Mumtaz was born to Abdul Saleem Askari and Shadi Habib Agha on 31 July 1947 in Mumbai. She started her career as a child actress at the tender age of 12.


She is best known for her roles in Tere Mere Sapne (1971) and Khilona (1970). She even bagged the Filmfare award for the Best Actress for Khilona.

Mumtaz acted in 108 films in a career that spanned 15 years till 1977. She married Mayur Madhvani on 29 May 1974, and they have two daughters, Natasha and Tanya.

  • 8. Aishwarya Rai

Aishwarya learnt classical dance and music for five years during her teens. She also started modeling at a young age and was seen in several advertisements; some of the most popular ones being the garden sari and the Pepsi ad.

She narrowly missed being crowned Miss India and was crowned Miss World in 1994. She made her acting debut with the 1997 Tamil film, Iruvar. Her first Hindi film release was Aur Pyaar Ho Gaya, also in 1997.

Aishwarya Rai

Her first commercial success was the Tamil romantic drama, Jeans (1998), after which she received wider recognition and began her collaborations with the filmmaker Sanjay Leela Bhansali in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam (1999) and Devdas (2002).

She is quoted as being “The most beautiful woman in the world” and has been featured in “Time’s 100 most influential people in the world twice.” She is now married to Abhishek Bachchan and has a 4 year old daughter.

  • 9. Kajol

Kajol Mukherji was born on born 5 August 1974. Her father, Shomu Mukherjee, is from Bengal while her mother, Tanuja, is from Maharashtra. She has a younger sister, Tanisha Mukherjee who is also a Bollywood actress.


She made her acting debut with Bekhudi (1992), while she was still in school. She had her first commercial success with Baazigar (1993), opposite Shahrukh Khan.

As their screen chemistry was fabulous, she subsequently starred with Khan in several blockbusters such as Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge (1995), Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998), and Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham (2001). Kajol starred with Sharukh in 5 movies, all of which were super hits. She won 6 Filmfare awards.

  • 10. Tabu

Tabu was born on 4 November 1971 as Tabassum Fatima Hashmi. Niece of veteran actress Shabana Azmi, Tabu spent her early years Hyderabad. She was known to study far too rigorously for her school exams.

This often worried her grandmother—a kindergarten teacher for 35 years who didn’t like children getting so stressed about studies. Says Tabu, “I always felt films were a big distraction. And all I wanted to do was stand first in class. And I could never achieve that, because there was always someone smarter.”

Tabu in The Namesake

Tabu is believed to have more than hundred nicknames such as Tabs, Tubs, Tubby, Tobler, and Toblerone. She has appeared in Hindi, English, Telugu, Tamil, Malayalam, Marathi and Bengali films.

Some of her most popular movies include Maachis (1996), Virasat (1997), Hu Tu Tu (1999), Astitva (2000), Chandni Bar (2001), Maqbool (2003), Cheeni Kum (2007), and Haider (2014). Life of Pi and The Namesake are some of her other well-acclaimed movies.





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3 thoughts on “10 Inspiring Women In Indian Cinema

  1. These are some amazing names in the industry and women who have achieved a lot in this domain. Nice to read and know more about them 🙂 

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