In the Indian film industry it is the heroes who get paid  higher than the heroines but it is the latter who win the hearts and minds of the audience. Throughout its hundred years history the Hindi cinema has had a range of  wonderful heroines who left a mark on its historical pages. In a male dominated industry and prevailing social taboos it was not easy for women to make a name for themselves as leading ladies during the thirties and forties of the last century. Yet the bold ones did it and are remembered with respect and honour today.

After the advent of sound in the first Hindi film Alam Ara in 1931, its first heroine was named Zubeida. However it was Devika Rani who emerged as the greatest star in the forties. Married to Himanshu Rai she starred with him in the picture 'Karma' in 1933 and their kiss on the screen is supposed to be the first on screen kiss in Indian movies. The beautiful Devika Rani is acknowledged as the First Lady of the Indian Cinema and was often paired with Ashok Kumar. Some of their successful movies were Achut Kanya,Anjaan and Janma Bhoomi. She is credited with the discovery of Dilip Kumar when she was producing movies. She was honoured with  the first Dada Sahib Phalke Award in 1970.She passed away in 1994.

Another famous star of that era was Naseem Banu, mother of Saira Banu,who is reputed to be one of the most beautiful faces in Hindi movies ever.She became a hit with her acting in the Sohrab Modi directed  movie Pukar in 1939 and went on to act till her retirement in early fifties. Another great actress of that era was Durga Khote who started her acting career in 1925 in the film Ayodhecha Raja in 1925. She acted in over 200 films in a acting span of nearly 50 years. Shanta Apte who acted in V Shantaram's movies and Shobhana Samarath (mother of Nutan) were also hit actresses in this era.

The singing heroines made their mark with Khursheed setting the trend in 1931 itself. She remained as the only singing superstar till Noorjehan  made her entry in 1939 in the film Gul-Bakavalli. Both captivated the audiences and went on to achieve tremendous success. Khursheed went on to pair with another singing sensation of the time K.L.Saigal and gave many hit songs. Noorjehan also has sung many legendary songs which are remembered today also. Both migrated to Pakistan in 1947. However it was the singing superstar Suraiya who was the favourite of the masses. Her songs went on to make her movies super successes at the box office. She also was romantically involved with Dev Anand. Her somg "Tu Mera Chand Mein Teri Chandni" is popular today also. She however chose to retire at her peak in mid fifties.

The fifties and sixties saw the emergence of a large numer of talented heroines.One of the first was undoubtedly Madhubala,the most beautiful face to grace the Hindi cinema screen. She gained super stardom in the 1949 film Mahal a suspence thriller opposite the evergreen hero Ashok Kumar. She was a brilliant actor and was at ease in both comic and tragic roles. Her acting in Mughal-e- Azam is remembered today also. She died young. Another one who went on to make her mark was Nargis who tasted success with Raj Kapoor in Barsaat. After starring in a number of hit movies with Dilip Kumar she chose to act only with Raj Kapoor from 'Awara" onwards in 1951 till some time. However it was 'Mother India ' which brought her global fame. She also found in Sunil  Dutt her co star in the movie her future husband. The tragedy queen Meena Kumari was another great actress of this period. She could make the viewer weep with her emotion packed acting. However she was equally adept in light comedy roles. Her last movie was the super hit Pakeeza.

Vyjantimala was the first of the South Indian actresses to make a name for herself in Hindi movies. She was an excellent dancer and ever since any actress from South especially is expected to be an accomplished dancer. She started in 1951 in the film Bahar which went on to become a super hit and the audiences appreciated her dance numbers immensely. Her role in Devdas got her first Filmfare Award in 1955. Her roles in Naya Daur, Madhumati, Ganga Jamuna, and Sangam were very well received and she formed a very popular pair with Dilip Kumar.She quit in 1967 after giving another hit Jewel Thief.

Nutan and Waheeda Rehman were the other two great actresses who captivated the viewers with their acting prowress. Nutan was a sublime beauty and entered films in 1950, but it was her role in Seema which gave her a breakthrough in Hindi films.Winner of a record five Filmfare Awards for Best Actress she gave sterling performance in Bimal Roy directed Bandhini. Waheeda Rehman was brought into Hindi films by Guru Dutt in C.I.D in 1956. It was her role in Pyasa in 1957 which brought her recognition. She went on to act in a large number of films most famous being Guide in 1965. She too was an accomplished dancer and gave beautiful classical dances in many movies.

Another actress of the era was Mala Sinha who went on to act in a number of films whose music were very strong. Her roles with Shammi Kapoor are especiall famous. Some the other famous actresses were the coy Geeta Bali who went on to marry Shammi Kapoor, ravishing Nimmi, Nalini Jawant, the beautiful Sadhana famous for her Sadhana cut hair sytle, vivacious Asha Parekh and beauty queen Saira Banu.

The actresses of seventies and beyond will be covered in a follow up article. 

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