DEEPIKA PADUKONE, 32
She followed up her debut Om Shanti Om in 2007 with some wishy-washy roles. Six years ago, she did an about-turn, both in terms of her persona and performance. Now she’s the queen of the box office and the go-to actress for roles that demand both flair and finesse.
Top 3 roles: Mousy, underconfident woman coming into her own in Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani; warrior who goes to battle alongside the man she loves in Bajirao Mastani; young woman navigating through life in Piku.
Top box-office winners: Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani (2013), Chennai Express (2013), Padmaavat (2018)
Last hit: Padmaavat (2018)
t2’s fave turn: Piku, because she was like one of us — a girl with roots and wings. Despite Amitabh Bachchan and Irrfan Khan in the frame, our eyes were on Deepika.
Best pairing with: Former love Ranbir Kapoor — Bachna Ae Haseeno to Yeh Jawaani to Tamasha — though she’s made some good films with real-life boyfriend Ranveer Singh.
Coming up: Nothing; hasn’t signed a film after Padmaavat.
On social media: Twitter (24.2 million followers), Facebook (34 million followers) and Instagram (24.3 million followers).
Strength: Has the ability to shine in any role and is unafraid to go for roles against type (like in Cocktail, which was a turning point in her career). Deepika’s off-screen persona — talking about her fight with depression and refusal to cow down in the face of threats in the run-up to Padmaavat’s release — contributes to her screen image.
Weakness: Can’t always resist the big-budget multi-starrer film with an ornamental role, like Race 2 and Happy New Year.
Opportunity: Has delivered three blockbusters on the trot — Ram-Leela, Bajirao Mastani and Padmaavat — with Sanjay Leela Bhansali, who considers her his muse. Her Holly debut in xXx: Return of Xander Cage went off well too, and DP is in a position to expand her horizons in the West. That she’s being invited to premium events like Met Gala and Cannes Film Festival is a good sign.
Threat: A young actor like Alia Bhatt, who is delivering hits with films (like Raazi) that rest squarely on her shoulders.
ALIA BHATT, 25
Mahesh Bhatt’s daughter has been Bolly’s biggest success story in the past few years, often stealing the thunder from her co-actors in a filn.
Top 3 roles: Poor little rich girl who is kidnapped in Highway; an aspiring hockey player who fights drug addiction in Udta Punjab; a brave spy who puts country above everything else in Raazi.
Top box-office winners: 2 States (2014), Badrinath Ki Dulhania (2017), Raazi (2018)
Last hit: Raazi (2018)
t2’s fave turn: The girl without a name in Udta Punjab. Alia went deglam for this role and topped off her act with an impassioned speech on her broken dreams.
Best pairing with: Varun Dhawan, with whom she has a ‘buddy’ chemistry. They’ve made three hit films together — Student of the Year, Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania and Badrinath Ki Dulhania.
Coming up: Multi-starrer Kalank, Gully Boy opposite Ranveer Singh and Brahmastra with Ranbir Kapoor, who Alia is currently dating.
On social media: Twitter (17.4 million followers) and Instagram (22.4 million followers). Alia is not on Facebook.
Strength: Makes a role her own, whatever role that is.
Weakness: Despite her range, is still not thought of for roles that require her to play older. Also, is considered cute, and not sexy.
Opportunity: With Raazi, Alia’s shown she can frontline a film alone. More such films ought to be coming her way.
Threat: Unlike Deepika, Katrina or Anushka, Alia, given her age, is unlikely to be cast opposite the 50-plus Khans, limiting her chances of featuring in blockbusters.
KANGANA RANAUT, 31
The Bollywood outsider is a trailblazer. Winner of three National Awards, she makes films that are just like her: fierce and forthright.
Top 3 roles: The supermodel on the decline in Fashion; the sheltered girl who goes on a solo trip in Queen; the diverse double roles — Tanu and Datto — in Tanu Weds Manu Returns.
Top box-office winners: Krrish 3 (2013), Queen (2014), Tanu Weds Manu Returns (2015)
Last hit: Tanu Weds Manu Returns (2015)
t2’s fave turn: Rani, the Delhi girl ditched at the altar, who finds her strength and zest for life when she embarks on her ‘honeymoon’ alone.
Best pairing with: R. Madhavan in the Tanu Weds Manu films, for their bittersweet chemistry.
Coming up: Manikarnika, in which she plays Rani Lakshmibai; Mental Hai Kya with Rajkummar Rao and Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari’s untitled film where she plays a kabaddi player.
PS: She’s not on social media.
Strength: Can spearhead a film without a leading man. Doesn’t do two-bit ornamental roles in big-budget films.
Weakness: Tends to sign the wrong kind of films; there are more bad movies on Kangana’s filmography than good ones.
Opportunity: Is the only current Bolly actress who has got screenplay and dialogue credits for films like Queen and Simran. An aspiring director, Kangana can explore her writing potential more to expand her range as a performer.
Threat: Has publicly declared that she doesn’t need to work with the Khans, Kapoors and Kumars, something that all the other actresses on this list are doing. Kangana said ‘no’ to Salman Khan’s Sultan, though the leading lady, later played by Anushka Sharma, had a substantial role.
KATRINA KAIF, 34
The leggy stunner has been a part of some big hits and sometimes surprised with her natural ease on screen. Despite debuting as far back as in 2003, she’s on this list because she’s still considered for the same roles as the others here.
Top 3 roles: The carefree girl thrust into politics in Raajneeti; the woman living in the now in Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara; the secret agent kicking ass in Ek Tha Tiger.
Top box-office winners: Ek Tha Tiger (2012), Dhoom: 3 (2013), Tiger Zinda Hai (2017)
Last hit: Tiger Zinda Hai (2017)
t2’s fave turn: As Laila, the diving instructor who loves seizing every moment in Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara.
Best pairing with: Akshay Kumar hands down; it’s better than her chemistry with Salman Khan, Shah Rukh Khan or Ranbir Kapoor.
Coming up: Thugs of Hindostan with Amitabh Bachchan and Aamir Khan; Zero opposite Shah Rukh.
On social media: Facebook (14 million followers) and Instagram (11.5 million followers). She’s not on Twitter.
Strength: Is said to be the most hard-working among the current set. Picks the right films.
Weakness: Struggles with emotions and Hindi accent. Is rarely considered for roles that require heavy-duty acting.
Opportunity: Kat is the favourite of most camps, Karan Johar’s Dharma Productions to Yash Raj Films. Has at least one big-ticket release every year, irrespective of her box-office status.
Threat: Better actors like Deepika, Alia and Anushka.
ANUSHKA SHARMA, 30
The former model has built her CV carefully and ventured into production early.
Top 3 roles: The wedding entrepreneur in Band Baaja Baaraat; the spunky journalist who befriends an alien in PK; the woman who avenges her husband’s murder in NH10.
Top box-office winners: PK (2014), Sultan (2016), Ae Dil Hai Mushkil (2016)
Last hit: Ae Dil Hai Mushkil (2016)
t2’s fave turn: As Meera in NH10, who turns predator from prey in the thriller with a social message, which she produced herself.
Best pairing with: Shah Rukh Khan — Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi to Jab Tak Hai Jaan (and also a damp squib like Jab Harry Met Sejal).
Coming up: A cameo in Sanju; Sui Dhaaga with Varun Dhawan; Zero with SRK and Katrina.
On social media: Facebook (9.1 million followers), Twitter (17.1 million followers) and Instagram (18 million followers).
Strength: Never does two-bit roles. Shines even in bad films like Jab Harry Met Sejal and Bombay Velvet. Can get down and dirty for a role, like in Pari.
Weakness: Hasn’t explored her skills in a typical Bolly masala potboiler.
Opportunity: Has turned producer with quality films like NH10, Phillauri and Pari. Is in a position to greenlight projects that showcase her range as an actress.
Threat: At a time when the others are stacking up blockbusters, Anushka hasn’t had a hit since 2016’s Ae Dil Hai Mushkil.
SONAM KAPOOR AHUJA, 33
After a shaky start, Anil Kapoor’s daughter has come into her own, with strong roles in Neerja and Pad-Man.
Top 3 roles: The student activist in Raanjhanaa; the real-life braveheart Neerja Bhanot in Neerja; the spunky girl who stands beside Akshay Kumar’s Lakshmi in Pad-Man.
Top box-office winners: Raanjhanaa (2013), Prem Ratan Dhan Payo (2015), Neerja (2016)
Last hit: Veere Di Wedding (2018)
t2’s fave turn: Sonam made Neerja Bhanot, a real-life flight purser who died in the line of duty, a woman of spirit and strength.
Best pairing with: Hasn’t had blazing chemistry with any leading man yet, though we did love her with Fawad Khan in Khoobsurat.
Coming up: Sanju with Ranbir Kapoor; Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga with dad Anil and Rajkummar Rao.
On social media: Facebook (15 million followers), Twitter (12.1 million followers) and Instagram (13.2 million followers).
Strength: Has learnt to play to her strengths, with films like Khoobsurat and Veere Di Wedding being right up her alley.
Weakness: Has limited acting ability. Tends to overact.
Opportunity: Turning producer with an all-girls film like Veere Di Wedding and making it a hit means Sonam can go the Anushka way and start putting her money on films that break the mould.
Threat: Most of her peers are better actors.
SONAKSHI SINHA, 31
Starting off with a potboiler in Dabangg, Sonakshi has won indie cred with films like Lootera. But Shotgun Junior is now on a sticky wicket at the box office.
Top 3 roles: The spunky Rajjo to Salman Khan’s Chulbul Pandey in the Dabangg films; the dying girl with a last wish in Lootera; the college girl who kicks ass, quite literally, in Akira.
Top box-office winners: Dabangg (2010), Rowdy Rathore (2012), Dabangg 2 (2012)
Last hit: Holiday (2014)
t2’s fave turn: Sonakshi brought both strength and helplessness to Pakhi in Lootera.
Best pairing with: Salman (in the Dabangg films). The chemistry is sparkling yet familiar.
Coming up: Happy Phirr Bhag Jayegi and Kalank.
On social media: Facebook (23 million followers), Twitter (13.5 million followers) and Instagram (10.4 million followers).
Strength: Can straddle contrasting genres like Rowdy Rathore and Lootera.
Weakness: Has played insignificant roles in big-budget films that have done nothing for her career. Too many special appearances. Has picked parts that objectify women.
Opportunity: Does action well, like in Akira, and can explore that in future films. Is fun on social media and that contributes to her popularity.
Threat: Isn’t the first choice for many roles. Hasn’t scored a hit in four years.
SHRADDHA KAPOOR, 31
Shakti Kapoor’s daughter has had a chequered career, delivering in some films, failing in many.
Top 3 roles: Gifted singer unlucky in love in Aashiqui 2; girl caught in political crossfire in Haider; carefree girlfriend in OK Jaanu.
Top box-office winners: Aashiqui 2 (2013), ABCD 2 (2015), Baaghi (2016)
Last hit: Baaghi (2016)
t2’s fave turn: Not much to choose from, so we go with fresh-faced Aarohi in Aashiqui 2.
Best pairing with: Ex-boyfriend Aditya Roy Kapoor. They can be both intense and easy on screen, Aashiqui 2 to OK Jaanu.
Coming up: Stree with Rajkummar Rao, Batti Gul Meter Chalu with Shahid Kapoor; the bilingual Saaho with Bahubali man Prabhas.
On social media: Facebook (16 million followers), Twitter (10.6 million followers) and Instagram (21.4 million followers).
Strength: Aces the girl-next-door and romantic parts well. Is a great dancer.
Weakness: Doesn’t have the emotional range of Alia Bhatt or Parineeti Chopra, her closest contemporaries. Picks more wrong films than right. Fails when she tries something out of her zone, like Haseena Parkar.
Opportunity: A blockbuster-in-the-making like Saaho that will help her reach out to a pan-Indian audience.
Threat: Has notched up four flops in a row that has dented her box-office standing.
PARINEETI CHOPRA, 29
After a cracking start, Parineeti lost her way with a spate of flops, but seems to be rediscovering her mojo.
Top 3 roles: Plucky Delhi girl in Ladies vs Ricky Bahl; modern-day Juliet in Ishaqzaade; eccentric genius in Hasee Toh Phasee.
Top box-office winners: Ishaqzaade (2012), Hasee Toh Phasee (2014), Golmaal Again (2017)
Last hit: Golmaal Again (2017)
t2’s fave turn: Parineeti was a riot as the Chinese-speaking scientist in Hasee Toh Phasee and shared some cute chemistry with Sidharth Malhotra.
Best pairing with: Her Ishaqzaade co-star and good friend Arjun Kapoor.
Coming up: Namastey England and Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar, both with Arjun Kapoor; Kesari, opposite Akshay Kumar.
On social media: Facebook (10 million followers), Twitter (12.3 million followers) and Instagram (13.9 million followers).
Strength: Nails parts that require both spunk and emotional heft. Has Yash Raj scion Aditya Chopra as mentor.
Weakness: Is inconsistent in picking her roles. Sometimes overdoes the fun girl, like in Meri Pyaari Bindu. Unlike Alia, doesn’t have roles written for her.
Opportunity: Her last hit Golmaal Again belonged more to the boy gang than to her, but is in a position to surprise with something hatke. Will Kesari, in which she plays a warrior princess, be the one?
Threat: Alia Bhatt has raced miles ahead.
JACQUELINE FERNANDEZ, 32
The Sri Lankan stunner has worked her way up the Bolly ladder, bagging big-budget films… and making them work.
Top 2 roles: Girl in love with Salman Khan’s Devi/ Devil in Kick; wife and mother caught at the crossroads in Brothers.
Top box-office winners: Kick (2014), Race 2 (2013), Judwaa 2 (2017)
Last hit: Judwaa 2 (2017)
t2’s fave turn: Brothers, for lack of options!
Best pairing with: Both Salman Khan and Akshay Kumar.
Coming up: Drive with Sushant Singh Rajput. Her Race 3 is in the theatres now.
On social media: Facebook (22 million followers), Twitter (12.5 million followers) and Instagram (19 million followers).
Strength: Is a good dancer and brings freshness to her roles.
Weakness: Limited as an actor. Piggybacks on her leading men to score hits.
Opportunity: Like always, her upcoming films are with big banners. And she’s a favourite of many a production camp — Dharma to Dhawan.
Threat: Hasn’t had a breakout role so far.
AND THE OTHERS
KALKI KOECHLIN, 34
Having made her debut with Dev.D, Kalki has had success both in indie films as well as mainstream Bollywood.
Top turn: As the wheelchair-bound Laila — a woman with wants and desires like any of us — in Margarita With a Straw.
USP: Her ability to carry off any character, imbuing it with her signature touch. Doesn’t always look for lead roles, scores with parts that leave a mark. Is also in theatre and small-screen projects.
Coming up: Gully Boy with Ranveer Singh and Alia Bhatt; Haathi Mere Saathi with Rana Daggubati
TAAPSEE PANNU, 30
Pink was her breakout role and since then Taapsee hasn’t looked back, scoring with both comic and serious acts.
Top turn: The unapologetic Minal who breaks many barriers in Calcutta man Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury’s Pink.
USP: Can do both a Judwaa 2 and a Pink. It’s early days for Taapsee, but she’s shown she can shoulder a film, like Naam Shabana.
Coming up: Soorma with Diljit Dosanjh and Angad Bedi; Manmarziyaan with Abhishek Bachchan and Vicky Kaushal.
KRITI SANON, 27
The leggy lass has become a firm favourite in a short time, notching big films with top banners.
Top turn: Her tomboy Bitti Mishra was the perfect blend of small-town earthiness and big-city ambitions.
USP: Can play both Plain Jane and sexy.
Coming up: A slew of big-ticket films —Kalank to Housefull 4, Panipat to Arjun Patiala.
ILEANA D’CRUZ, 30
After scoring on debut with Barfi!, Ileana has had an inconsistent run.
Top turn: As the sweet Shruti who Ranbir’s Barfi falls in love with in Barfi!. We loved that Bangali bou look in Half Two.
USP: Has an easy charm that works for the roles she plays.
Coming up: Hasn’t signed any new film.
DISHA PATANI, 26
The looker hasn’t had a chance to show off her acting chops yet, but is very popular with the Gen-Y audience.
Top turn: As the fresh-faced Priyanka Jha who meets a tragic end in M.S. Dhoni — The Untold Story.
USP: Is a superb dancer and scores with her bubbliness.
Coming up: Bharat, with Salman Khan and Priyanka Chopra.
YAMI GAUTAM, 29
Yami hasn’t had overnight success, despite a stellar debut in Vicky Donor in 2012. She’s making a mark, one film at a time.
Top turn: Her Ashima Roy in Vicky Donor was like any other young girl — independent, strong, ambitious and in love.
USP: Freshness. Handles emotional roles well.
Coming up: Batti Gul Meter Chalu with Shahid Kapoor and Shraddha Kapoor; Uri with Vicky Kaushal.
BHUMI PEDNEKAR, 28
She impressed — many kilos heavier — on debut in Dum Laga Ke Haisha and continues to ace with her film choices and camera confidence.
Top turn: As the no-nonsense Sandhya, battling social prejudice and an insecure husband, in Dum Laga Ke Haisha.
USP: Can hold her own in front of seasoned co-stars. Picks films that have a lot for her character to do — Dum Laga Ke to Toilet to Shubh Mangal Saavdhan.
Coming up: Sonchiriya with Sushant Singh Rajput.
RADHIKA APTE, 32
The largely indie actress has made a mark with every role.
Top turn: As a young woman grappling with the fear of people and places in the thriller Phobia.
USP: Effortless performer. One of the most uninhibited actresses in Bollywood.
Coming up: Baazaar with Saif Ali Khan; Shoot the Piano Player with Ayushmann Khurrana.
HUMA QURESHI, 31
She burst into the scene with Gangs of Wasseypur and has had middling success since. Has showed that films don’t always have to have a leading lady with an hourglass figure.
Top turn: As the spunky Mohsina in the Gangs of Wasseypur films — a brave choice for a debut.
USP: Mixes it up well, films to shorts to international projects.
Coming up: No new announcements.
ADITI RAO HYDARI, 31
Still not in the big league, the porcelain beauty is a luminous presence on screen.
Top turn: Aditi lent spark and soul to her Mehrunnisa in Padmaavat.
USP: Retains an old-world charm rarely seen in actresses today.
Coming up: No announcements yet.
PRIYANKA CHOPRA, 35
After setting sights on American TV and films, Priyanka hasn’t had a Bollywood release since the flop Jai Gangaajal in 2016. Her last big Bolly hit was the 2015 blockbuster Bajirao Mastani. Even as her TV show Quantico has been cancelled after three seasons and she hasn’t signed a big Holly film yet, Priyanka will be back in Bolly with a biggie on Id 2019 — Ali Abbas Zafar’s Bharat with Salman Khan. And yes, she’s going full throttle as producer, putting her money on regional Indian films.
Which of these actors make it to your Top 3 list and why?