Rani Mukerji: MARDAANI
The return of the rani. “Bring out the mardaani in you,” was Rani Mukerji’s message to the t2 girl gang in the run-up to the release of Mardaani. The Pradeep Sarkar film in which one woman — Rani’s tough cop Shivani Shivaji Roy — pummelled and punchlined her way through the system and the men who dominate it, did more than just entertain, giving us a wonder woman with the guts to tell it as it is. Like the scene in which Shivani slaps the goon, once for each section of law he’s broken... like the bit where she gets the better of the man who tries to rape her, kicking him, well, where it hurts the most... like the moment where she takes on Walt (Tahir Raj Bhasin) punch for punch, kick for kick, cuss-word for cuss-word. #Ceete #Taali.
Kangana Ranaut: QUEEN
For many of us, the film of the year. Kangana Ranaut shone in a journey of freedom and self-discovery making her transition from an under-confident girl ditched at the altar to a woman of today, unfraid to live life on her own terms. Our hearts went out to her as her heart broke... we rooted for her as she decided to wing off on her honeymoon alone. Rani’s (Kangana) biggest achievement lay in the fact that she made her story the story of Everywoman. Rani dancing with abandon on the bartop became an image of liberation. And then came that final smile and confident walk towards freedom as Rani became the queen we all want to be. What turned out to be even sweeter? Queen became the first woman-centric Bolly film to power its way into the Rs 100-crore club.
The last word here belongs to The Telegraph columnist Ruchir Joshi, who wrote: “Kangana’s performance was glorious and truly awesome and you never tire of it, not for a second. Across the film you watch a timid young person occasionally capable of happiness transform into a formidable adult who knows how to cry and how to really laugh; you witness a parochial Indian girl absorb diverse lessons and become a street-smart citizen of the world; you watch an achhi ladki transform into someone far more formidable and in that transformation is a deep and subtle social seditiousness that our sick Indian society needs as badly as a life-saving injection.”
Alia Bhatt: HIGHWAY
The airheaded bimbette of Student of the Year became the assured child-woman of Highway. Alia made Veera, the poor little rich girl who finds freedom in bondage and embraces strangers even as she lets go of her own family, so real. We applauded her life choices as she transitioned from naive brat to wide-eyed lover to woman of the world. She stood out in that scene, filmed in dim candlelight, where Veera pours her heart out to Mahabir (Randeep Hooda) about the abuse she suffered as a child, capturing the vulnerability and strength of a woman at the same time. And then, of course, was that final look over the valley — powerful and peaceful, happy to be living her life for Mahabir... if not with him. Maahi ve...
Priyanka Chopra: MARY KOM
Real-life shero Mary Kom’s life and times was brought alive on screen by Priyanka Chopra. She underwent a transformation, both physical and emotional, to pour her heart and soul into playing the five-time world champion who punches her way through prejudice and poverty to become “Magnificent Mary” from Mangte Chungneijang. That last tearful glance at the Indian flag after boxing her way to world glory... Priyanka as Mary said — and showed — it all.
Madhuri Dixit-Huma Qureshi: DEDH ISHQIYA
The t2 review called them the “Thelma and Louise” of Dedh Ishqiya. As femmes fatales Begum Para and Munira, Madhuri Dixit and Huma Qureshi dictated the moods and moments of this Abhishek Chaubey film. These were women who walked the walk and talked the talk, stringing the men along and making them do their bidding... with a smile. We loved it when Babban (Arshad Warsi) tells Munira: “Iraade nek nahin hai” and she retorts with a smile: “Iraade nek nahin toh anek hain?” But the bit that made us go ‘wow’? The homoerotic hue to the Para-Munira bond revealed through shadowplay.
Sunny Leone: RAGINI MMS 2
This one may not have had a champion boxer or a woman rediscovering herself, but Sunny Leone and her film Ragini MMS 2 ‘figure’ in this list for one big reason: Sunny the bunny. Her hot moves in Baby doll to her hotbod in the shower scenes trumped bigger stars and films with bigger budgets to notch up big box office for this horror fest. The Bolly audience loves this Babydoll, Sunny side up.
Madhuri Dixit and Juhi Chawla:GULAAB GANG
Calcutta boy Soumik Sen’s tale of power and politics had two women — Madhuri’s Rajjo and Juhi’s Sumitra Devi — calling the shots. On either side of the right-wrong divide, the two made Gulaab Gang worth a watch, giving us fiery face-offs and crafting an engaging film characterised by drama and deceit. Who we loved more? Juhi’s first villainous turn as a wily and wicked politician rattling off lines like: “Chhappad phaad ke de sakti hoon ... aur chappal phaad ke bhi!”
When it released, t2 said that Haider should have been named ‘Ghazala’. Tabu — slipping into the shoes of Gertrude in Vishal Bhardwaj’s retelling of Shakespeare’s Hamlet — was vulnerable and strong at the same time, with Bhardwaj making her the pivot for the film’s chaos and conflict. Achingly beautiful and fragile, Tabu made her story of a wife and woman, mother and mistress oh-so-compelling, our eyes refusing to leave her right from the time we spied her singing through the lace curtains to when she looks skyward and pulls the pin.
Monali Thakur: LAKSHMI
Calcutta girl Monali Thakur was the shero of this Nagesh Kukunoor film. Playing a14-year-old who is forced into flesh trade as a child but musters enough courage to stand in a court of law and testify against those who had wronged her. Bold and hard-hitting, Kukunoor made Lakshmi’s story a raw and visceral experience, making us first cringe at her plight and then cry out for her when she takes on the world.
Surveen Chawla: HATE STORY 2
The film came a cropper and Surveen was not a patch on our Paoli Dam in Hate Story, but the story of a woman wronged who uses her body as the passport to revenge, is worth a mention. That image of Surveen’s bare back, holding a gun in her hand even as a tear rests on her cheek, made a mark.
Vidya Balan: BOBBY JASOOS
Kahaani to The Dirty Picture — she’s been a Bolly shero and with Bobby Jasoos Vidya did what she does best: carry a film entirely on her shoulders. The Dia Mirza-produced film may have bombed, but Vidya made sure her Bobby — quirky and cute and fighting against the odds — stood out, even as she broke into a largely male domain, playing a detective.
Kangana: REVOLVER RANI
The film was a howler, but kudos to Kangana for going beyond the conventional and taking on a role that no Bolly mainstream heroine has ever played before. Kangana was a delight to watch as the over-the-top, trigger-happy don calling the shots in the rural heartland. We loved it when her Alka Singh, gun in hand and sporting a spiked bra, went: “Hum hain Alka Singh… I love ‘phasun’, ‘phun’ aur gun!”