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Women's Day: How actresses from outside the industry made a mark

With Karan Johar's recent statement, the insular nature of the Hindi film industry has once again posed a question.

Shriram Iyengar

In recent times, the film industry has seen its insularity broken down by several strong women, who have become indispensable to its success. On International Women's Day, we take a look at the women 'outsiders' in the industry, who marched in and took over. 

Anushka Sharma 

Raised in the very un-filmy climates of Bangalore, Anushka Sharma never wanted to be an actress growing up. The actress made her way to the top through modelling contracts. Starting from Aditya Chopra's Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi (2008), the actress has gone on to become a stellar performer with her bold, radical choices. The journey wasn't easy. Even Karan Johar thought her to be unfit for a career in cinema. Yet, Sharma has persisted. Through films like Band Baaja Baaraat (2010), PK (2014), NH10 (2015), Bombay Velvet (2015), Sultan (2016) and Ae Dil Hai Mushkil (2016), the actress has established herself firmly at the top of the industry. Her recent rise as a producer, picking films like NH10 and the soon-to-release Phillauri (2017), is an example of her intelligence as an actor, and proves her confidence in the industry. 
Priyanka Chopra 

The blue-eyed girl of Hollywood did not have an easy journey to the top. Born to army physicians, Madhu and Ashok Chopra, Priyanka won the Miss World pageant in 2000 at the age of 17. The title soon transformed into a film debut in Hero: The Love Story of a Spy (2003). It took her performance as the sultry seductress in Aitraaz (2004), for the film industry to sit up and notice her talent. Since then, Priyanka has marked herself out by choosing courageous roles in films like Fashion (2008), Kaminey (2009), 7 Khoon Maaf (2011), Mary Kom (2014) and recently, Bajirao Mastani (2015). Having won the Padma Shri last year, the actress has gone to greater heights. She is now set to make her Hollywood debut alongside Dwayne Johnson in the movie version of the iconic Baywatch series. Now a regular on the Hollywood circuit, the actress has established herself as the global face of Indian cinema. As she herself declared in an interview last year, "I have made sure that whatever opportunity comes my way, I give my heart and soul to it. So the credit of my work goes only and solely to me because I am the one who stands in front of the camera between action and cuts and nobody else does."  

Deepika Padukone 

A debut opposite Shah Rukh Khan in a blockbuster film could be the dream of any struggling actress, but Deepika Padukone never dreamed of it as a badminton player in Bangalore. The daughter of former All England badminton champion, Prakash Padukone, Deepika was quite the sportsperson in her school days. From being the Liril girl during her modelling days, to a music video with Himesh Reshammiya, Deepika went through the grind before being launched alongside Shah Rukh Khan. Even then, things haven't been easy. The public breakup with Ranbir Kapoor and a struggle with depression were among the many fights the actress had to face. Despite these, Deepika struggled and delivered top notch performances in films like Love Aaj Kal (2009), Cocktail (2012), Piku (2015) and Bajirao Mastani (2015). She has already made an impact on the international stage in the blockbuster xXx: Return Of Xander Cage. As she stands alongside Priyanka as an ambassador of Indian cinema on the global stage, she has every right to feel proud of her struggle. 

Vidya Balan 

From being body-shamed to being criticised for her fashion sense, Vidya Balan has faced a lot of flak. Starting out as the nerdy Radhika in Ekta Kapoor's Hum Paanch, the actress took a courageous jump into films while pursuing her Master's degree in Sociology. After multiple failed projects, Vidya returned to music videos and commercials before Pradeep Sarkar came to her with Parineeta. Since then, the actress has gone on to win multiple Filmfare awards, a National Award and a Padma Shri. As an actress, Vidya had to fend off fashion critics, body-shamers, and her own health problems while seeking to find her way to the top. As she prepares for the release of her next, Begum Jaan, Balan is among the few actresses who are considered an icon for the modern woman in India. 

Kangana Ranaut 

The current 'Queen' of Hindi cinema, Kangana Ranaut knows a thing or two about being an outsider. From battling her own parents, an unaccepting industry, stereotypes, depression and slanderers, the actress has endured and survived quite the career. Even directors like Karan Johar were not very welcoming of this brash new entrant to the film industry. The recent comments by the director are a reflection of how disapproval continues to lurk among the industry elites for newcomers. However, Ranaut has neither bowed nor blunted herself to these comments. Her public break up with Hrithik Roshan, a bonafide industry insider, earned her wrath from the industry elites. However, the ever feisty Ranaut replied, "They can't kill my fierceness." With two National award sitting pretty in her cupboard, this 'Queen' has every right to cock a snook at her critics. 

Swara Bhaskar 

Another actress along Ranaut's line, Swara Bhaskar took the conventional route through the theatrical circuit before breaking out into films. Her first film, Madholal Keep Walking (2010) was a debacle. After taking on supporting roles in films like Guzaarish (2010), Tanu Weds Manu (2011), Listen...Amaya (2013), Raanjhanaa (2013), the actress has emerged as an individual performer with a strong voice. Whether it is calling out the industry's obsession over looks or choosing roles that established actresses would seldom pick, Bhaskar belongs to the generation of women unafraid of speaking out. Her next film, Anaarkali of Aarah will see her portray a party singer's fight against abuse. A necessary film at a necessary time. 

Radhika Apte 

With a degree in Economics and Mathematics from Fergusson College, Radhika Apte's CV feels like that of a CEO. Having trained and worked in theatre for several years, she made her debut in the Bengali film, Antaheen (2009). Her performances in Shor in the City (2011), Badlapur (2015), Manjhi — the Mountain Man (2015) and opposite Rajinikanth in Kabali (2016) has put her on the map. A natural actor, Apte has broken through the myth of dark-skinned women not being successful in cinema. Her refreshing choice of roles is a sign that the glass ceilings in the industry are slowly crumbling.