Early leading ladies talk about Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan, Aamir Khan, Akshay Kumar, Ajay Devgn and Hrithik Roshan
Deepali Singh (DNA; February 3, 2017)

Bollywood’s biggest leading men wooed young actresses in the 1990s early in their careers. It’s 2017 now, and while the actors remain heroes (despite some being 50 years old) and are paired opposite younger heroines even today, their female counterparts didn’t quite share their successful streak for several reasons.

AFTERhrs reached out to the early leading ladies of today’s superstars — Shah Rukh Khan, Akshay Kumar, Salman Khan, Aamir Khan, Ajay Devgn and Hrithik Roshan — to ask them why they believed their ‘heroes’ are still successful today and what it would take actresses to get to that level of success, among other things...

Suchitra Krishnamoorthi on Shah Rukh Khan
By the time SRK’s Sunil got around to wooing Suchitra’s Anna in 1994’s Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa, the actor was already a few films old. The first thing Suchitra noticed about him was his fire and drive. “It was like he had blinkers on when it came to his ambition and he’s sustained that over the years,” she says. And although they haven’t kept in touch over the years, she does watch his movies and is happy to see that he’s had an interesting mix of films over the years. “I really liked Fan. I feel he needs good directors and good stories because he can deliver in any scenario,” she says. Suchitra feels that SRK is still at the top of his game after all these years because he produces movies and creates opportunities for himself. “I’m sure if a woman showed that kind of enterprise and drive, she would be able to create opportunities for herself as well.” Would the audience be willing to accept an older heroine? “Didn’t Aishwarya just do that in Ae Dil Hai Mushkil? It all depends on how confident you are and how apt you are for a role,” she adds.

Ashwini Bhave on Akshay Kumar
He remains one of her fav co-stars, but Ashwini admits she never thought that this prankster would emerge as one of the top actors of Bollywood. “He never tried to compete with the macho stars of those days, be it Sunny Deol or Salman Khan. He created his own identity,” says Ashwini, Akshay’s co-star in films like Sainik, Zakhmi Dil, Kaayda Kanoon and Ashant. And while she moved to the US after her marriage, she continues to keep in touch with the Khiladi. “He was in the US recently for a show and we spoke over the phone,” she says. Her Marathi film Dhyanimani is due for release. The reason she says she continues doing Marathi films is because they offer her roles that Bollywood does not. “Our industry has always been male-dominated. In the West, a Meryl Streep might get the main role, but here, a Shabana Azmi wouldn’t get a role like that,” she feels. However, given the kind of films being made these days, she is hopeful of powerful roles coming her way, too.

Bhagyashree on Salman Khan
They debuted together in the 1989 superhit Maine Pyar Kiya. But while Salman went on to become one of the country’s biggest superstars, Bhagyashree settled for marital bliss. “We didn’t interact much after that, but I hold Salman very fondly in my heart. We had had some really fun times on the sets and in fact, Salman was the first to know about Himalaya (her husband) and me,” she recalls. And while she watches most of Salman’s films, she also admits she couldn’t sit through Bodyguard and Ek Tha Tiger. “But when I saw the promos of Bajrangi Bhaijaan, I texted him saying, ‘Welcome to real cinema’. On a personal level, I’m happy to see him do movies that touch a chord with the audience,” she adds. The former actress recently got herself a degree in nutrition and plans to start a blog on health and fitness. She believes that actors like Salman are successful because they’re focussed about work and that’s their priority. “I guess unlike their international counterparts, Indian women are brought up differently and so are the expectations from them. Priorities change after marriage, whether they like it or not and therein lies the difference.”

Madhoo on Ajay Devgn
Madhoo remembers the sets of Phool Aur Kaante, in which she starred opposite Ajay, as being one big party. Since they were both newcomers, there was an instant bonding. “He was always self-assured. Although he looks serious and intense, he was always a prankster,” she recalls. Madhoo says she is not surprised at the way Ajay has charted his filmi career, since she always knew that he was a good actor. “He has only become better and tried different roles and diversified,” she says. The two haven’t really kept in touch and only bump into each other on social occasions. Madhoo is of the opinion that actors can carry on with their profession, no matter what stage of life they are at, but a woman has to change her priorities when she gets married or has kids. “Having said that, it makes me feel good that actresses like Kajol, Aishwarya and now Kareena are pushing boundaries and paving the way for others. I feel that even I can expect some good roles to come my way,” says Madhoo, who has been busy down South with movies for the last two years.

Juhi Chawla on Aamir Khan
Juhi was already one-film-old and had some South film projects at hand when she starred opposite Aamir in the 1988 film Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak. “Having Aamir as my co-star was like having a buddy on the sets,” recalls Juhi, who went on to do a number of films with him. And while she reveals that his ‘perfectionist’ image is pretty accurate, he also had a prankster side to him. “When we were shooting for Tum Mere Ho, he has practically chased me all over Filmistan with a baby snake in his hands!” she laughs. The actress respects Aamir for being brave enough to focus on one film at a time when his contemporaries were acting in a number of films simultaneously. “It was a huge gamble, but look at how it paid off. The audience looks forward to every single movie of his, because they know it would be worth waiting for,” she says, adding that she has loved all his last few films. “We do occasionally keep in touch, messaging each other on birthdays and anniversaries,” says Juhi, whose last film was Chalk & Duster.

Ameesha Patel on Hrithik Roshan
Even before the release of their debut film Kaho Naa Pyar Hai, Ameesha recalls telling her co-star Hrithik that whether or not the film worked, he would be a superstar. Of course, the film was hugely successful and Hrithik became an overnight sensation. “I’ve known him since childhood and have seen him grow from a shy teenager to this gorgeous hunk. For me, if there is any star who can make the transition from Bollywood to Hollywood and become a megastar there, it’s Hrithik,” she exclaims. His humility, the actress tells us, is his biggest plus point. “And it’s not just about his good looks or his dancing or action. Look at Guzaarish, where he played a disabled person. That’s why I say he’s a real actor,” she states, adding that they have consistently kept in touch. Ameesha launched her own production company in 2011 and is looking forward to the release of her first production Desi Magic. “It would be my honour to work with Hrithik if he chose to work for my home production. His production house made me feel like family when I was working with them. I would love to reciprocate the feeling,” she adds.