Ah, the 70s. The era of Dum Maaro Dum and Jawani Jan-E-Man. While Bollywood baddies like Amitabh Bachchan, Rishi Kapoor, and many others dominated the big screens, actresses were not far behind. Many of Bollywood’s leading ladies took cinema to great lengths by playing bold roles and were not afraid to show some skin in a country that expected it’s actresses to hide behind their ‘Ghoonghat’. Here is a list of actresses who defied societal pressures and won the hearts of millions through their incredible acting chops:
Bhanurekha Ganesan was born on October 10, 1954, to popular Tamil actor, Gemini, and popular Telugu actress, Pushpavalli. As a child, Rekha’s family life was extremely tragic and she had to start acting in South Indian films from a very young age as her family was not well off. Her inability to speak Hindi, darker complexion as well as weight made it a little difficult for her to get roles in Bollywood initially. She made her debut in Bollywood during the 1970s with Sawan Bhadon under the name of Rekha and the movie blew box office records making her an overnight success. The actress received widespread acclaim and enjoyed success throughout the decades and her roles won her a lot of fame and attention.
2. Zeenat Aman
Zeenat Aman was born on November 19th, 1951. She was an only child and her folks separated when she was very young. An alumnus of Saint Xavier’s school in Bombay, Zeenat won a grant to study in California. Zeenat was the third decision for the addict ‘Janice/Jasbeel’ character in Dev Anand’s Hare Rama Hare Krishna which also featured himself and Mumtaz. Zeenat portrayed the ganja smoking, free-spirited character of Janice/Jasbeel. The film was a monumental hit and Zeenat won the Filmfare Award for Best Supporting Actress. Zeenat proceeded to change the Hindi film industry. She was one of the few actresses who rejected bouffants, donned a bob, rarely wore saris or bindis and carried off a bikini in an era when western clothes were still considered taboo. Her characters were always bold, independent and modern.
3. Hema Malini
Born to Tamil parents in a small district of Tamil Nadu, she first performed as a dancer in a 1961 Tamil film. Initially deemed “too skinny” by many regional film directors, Hema persevered and was paired with Raj Kapoor in Sapnon Ka Saudagar only 4 years after getting rejected. Sadly, the movie was a flop. However, the actress persevered and went on to star in nearly 155 films. From that point, there has been no turning back for the lady who was popularly known as the “Dream Girl” of Bollywood. She was among the first Bollywood leading ladies to wear shirts and bell bottoms in Hindi films.
4. Parveen Babi
Brought up in Junagadh, Parveen was noticed by eminent B.R. Ishara at Ahmedabad University, and he asked her to audition for his film, Charitraheen. Her co-actor was none other than Salim Durrani, the famous Indian cricketer. Parveen Babi lit up the cinema with her enchanting looks and powerful characters from the 1970s. Some of her critically acclaimed hits with megastar Amitabh Bachchan are, Kala Pathar, Namak Halal, Deewar, and Amar Akbar Anthony. She moved to the USA for ten years and seemed to have taken an indefinite break from acting. When she came back to India, she was a changed woman. The once bubbly and talented actress fell into the trap of paranoid schizophrenia and eventually died alone in her Mumbai flat after she suffered a diabetes-related ailment.
5. Shabana Azmi
Shabana Azmi was one of the few women to rule the movies of the aptly-titled “Parallel Cinema” during the 1970s and 1980s. Shabana has acted in films by some of India’s most talented directors, including Satyajit Ray, Shyam Benegal, Aparna Sen, Mrinal Sen, and others, where she had channeled strong female leads in Godmother and Mrityudand: The Death Sentence. Shabana Azmi was often paired with Rajesh Khanna and they starred in 7 fruitful movies. She is noted for force on-screen, coordinated by her furious support of women’s rights, minorities, and street urchins off the screen, both through advocacy and in her job as a Parliament Member.
6. Jaya Bachchan
Jaya Bachchan ventured into acting when she was just 15 and acted in a Bengali film called Mahanagar. She gained a solid foothold in Bollywood when her film, Guddi was released. She proceeded to act in numerous Bollywood films, including blockbusters like Bawarchi, Uphaar, Abhimaan, Anamika, Sholay, Jawani Diwani, and Chupke Zanjeer. Her acting career spanned many years but she quit acting after 1981 and only came back for Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham.
7. Smita Patil
Smita Patil was an alumnus of the prestigious Film and Television Institute of India and she made her debut in veteran director Shyam Benegal’s Charandaschor. Some of her most prominent roles were in the movies Aakrosh, Manthan, Mirch Masala and Bhumika. Alongside Shabana Azmi, she was one of the prominent faces of the new age, new wave cinema in India. In her movies, her characters represented a sense of feminine intelligence, which was very whimsical in those days, in the wake of living in a male-overwhelmed society. Unfortunately, the actress met her demise at a young age after suffering complications from her delivery. Her son, Prateik Babbar went on to become an actor himself and her legacy lives on through him.
There’s no denying that Bollywood has come a long way since the 70s, but the women of that era seemed to have a charm rarely found in actresses in today’s day and age. Although India was still a young and conservative country, these women defied the odds and changed the face of the industry. Who is your favorite veteran actress? Let us know in the comments below.
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