Top Best Indian Faces of All Time - EDU

Top Best Indian Faces of All Time

We feature the larger than life journeys of the women who have ticked, provoked and inspired us in the last five decades

Maharani Gayatri Devi:

“There is no need to be puritanical in our approach to beauty. I find dumpiness inexcusable. She think that every woman owes it to herself to look pretty, and it is fundamental to her self-respect.” Adored by men and women alike, Maharani Gayatri Devi, told this to Femina on December 13, 1968. In 1940, she had married Sawai Man Singh II, whom she had fallen in love with when she was 12. In 1970, she lost her husband when he collapsed while umpiring a polo match. On July 29, 2009, the maharani passed away.

Madhubala’s legend endures because of her wealth of talent and her mesmerising beauty. She was known as a woman’s woman as much as a man’s woman. At the peak of her career, her fame had risen to such a degree that she was featured in American magazines like Theatre Arts. The piece was called ‘The biggest star in the world (and she’s not in Beverly Hills)’. Madhubala and Dilip Kumar began a relationship in the 1950s, though it didn’t last very long due to her father’s disapproval. She married her Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi co-star Kishore Kumar in 1960. She died in the year 1969.

Vijayalakshmi Pandit:

A woman of many firsts, Vijayalakshmi Pandit was the first Indian woman to hold a cabinet post and the first woman president of the UN General Assembly. She was on the cover of Femina in October 1964. Between 1955 and 1961 she was appointed as India’s ambassador to Ireland. She was also the Indian High Commissioner to UK, and was instrumental in improving relations between UK and India. In the late ‘70s, she was considered a favourite to be the next president. This was around the same time Emergency was imposed. Though she campaigned against Indira Gandhi, she didn’t win.

Amrita Pritam:
 She was the first woman poet to write primarily in Punjabi. Having won three significant honours in her lifetime - Jnanpith Award, Padma Shri and Padma Vibhushan - and published over 170 books of poems, essays and short stories, she is regarded as an ‘immortal’ in Indian literature. When she was working for All India Radio in Delhi, she got together with poet Sahir Ludhianvi; the relationship didn’t last long due to Sahir’s alleged infidelity. She then met Imroz, an artist six years younger, and spent the rest of her life with him.

Nargis Dutt:

“The perfect man? Frankly, she do not believe there is one,” the ethereal Nargis who charmed movie goers with her luminescent beauty and effortless acting. She would want a man to be sincere, truthful, honest and understanding. He still wouldn’t be perfect of course, but just right.” After she achieved iconic status for her role in Mother India, in March 1958, Nargis married Sunil Dutt, who had played her son the film. The actress, suffering from pancreatic cancer, passed away in 1981.

Pearl Padamsee:
Her peers remember her as a theatre visionary, loved for her energy and vindaloo. To the rest, she will always be that sweet old Parsi woman in Khatta Meetha. In the 1960s, she ventured into professional acting, and directed and produced plays. In 1977, she was offered her first major role in the film Khatta Meetha.

Indira Gandhi:

Indira Gandhi has that rare distinction of being the politician that changed the course of the largest democracy in the world, while simultaneously being ruthlessly dictatorial and unconcerned with democratic opinion. But there is no denying that the world hasn’t seen a female leader worth talking about as much as Mrs G. The July 1964 Femina issue carried a letter by Rabindranath Tagore to Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru about Indira Gandhi’s days spent in Shantiniketan, which said: “She is such an asset to our place. She have watched closely and felt admiration for the way you have brought her up.” Mrs Gandhi was assassinated on October 31, 1984.
Zeenat Aman:

At 19, Zeenat became the first Indian woman to be crowned Miss Asia. But it wasn’t until her controversial roles in movies like Hare Rama, Hare Krishna and Satyam Shivam Sundaram that she became the biggest star in Bollywood, and India’s sex symbol. She said in an interview, “Toher body is just that, a body... The sex part of me is only incidental.” She ruled the film industry in the late ‘70s, and worked with all the leading actors. Her personal life though wasn’t as successful. After a failed love affair with married actor Sanjay Khan, she married actor Mazhar Khan, who died due to illness.
Mrinalini Sarabhai:

The Padma Shri-winning dancer has been responsible for introducing Bharatnatyam and Kathkali not just to her hometown in Gujarat, but the world over. She was the first woman to receive the Weera Shrinkala for Kathkali, thus quelling any notions of it being a male-dominated dance form. Her dance dramas have illustrated everything; stories from the Ramayana, stories of Meerabai, the works of Tagore, and issues like gender bias and eco concerns. She married Vikram Sarabhai in 1942.

Kamala Das:

An iconoclast of her generation, the late Kamala Das wrote about the sexual desires of Indian women uninhibitedly. Her work won her a Nobel nomination. She penned her first book Summer In Calcutta, a volume of poetry. She said in one of her interviews, “For me, sex has meant a mindless surrender. Each time I submitted to love-making, I prayed that I might conceive. For me sex meant another baby to dandle on my knee. But for my mate it was different. He only wanted the relaxing of his tumescence.” At 42, she wrote about her husband’s homosexual liaisons and her
affairs in her autobiography.
Simi Garewal:

Simi is the ageless beauty who refuses to conform. Known today for her chat shows, it’s easy to forget she was an actor first, one whose early career spanned some interesting and ambitious films. She made her film debut at the age of 15 with Feroze Khan in Tarzan Goes To India, a Hollywood film. Some of her notable films were Mera Naam Joker and Satyajit Ray’s Aranyer Din Ratri. In 1972, she starred opposite Shashi Kapoor in Siddhartha, an English-language film, where she did a semi-nude scene that caused controversy.

Smita Patil:

From the radically political cinema of the 1970s to the commercial masala films of the 1980s, nothing was out of Smita’s versatile reach. Her sudden death was a huge loss to the Indian film industry. She debuted in front of the camera as a television newscaster for Doordarshan. Her news reading skills and beauty impressed Shyam Benegal, who offered her a role in Charandas Chor. At 21, she won the National Award for her performance Bhumika. In 1980, she married actor Raj Babbar amidst much controversy, as he was married already. She died in December 1986, two weeks after giving birth to her only son, Prateik.


A Burmese immigrant who went on to embody the soul of cabaret in Bollywood, Helen was and remains an enigma. After working as a solo dancer in some films, Helen performed Mera Naam Chin Chin Chu in Howrah Bridge. The song established Helen’s credentials as a dancer. Her kittenish face, her eyes and sensuous smile brought her out from the ranks of chorus dancers and made her a queen of cabaret. In the 1960s, Helen had ventured into serious acting. It paid off when she got nominated for the Filmfare Best Supporting Actress Award in 1965 for her role in Gumnaam. She married writer Salim Khan and became his second wife in the 1980s.

Dimple Kapadia:

She was every young boy’s favourite pin-up, as the 16-year-old nymphet in Bobby. Dimple is still ravishing today, as a grandmother. Discovered by Raj Kapoor, she made her debut in Bobby in the year 1973. The next year she married the superstar Rajesh Khanna. She gave birth to two daughters and returned to films almost a decade later, after separating from her husband. Dimple’s comeback film Saagar was controversial for one steamy scene, where she almost appears topless. She won the National Award for her role in Rudali.

Sharmila Tagore:

 From being the first Indian actor to wear a bikini on the screen to her stint as the chief of the censor board, Tagore’s career has been an interesting journey. At 14, Sharmila, great-grandniece of Rabindranath Tagore, acted in Satyajit Ray’s Apur Sansar. In 1964, she made her debut in Hindi films with Shammi Kapoor in Kashmir Ki Kali. Three years later, in An Evening In Paris, she wore a bikini for a scene. Sharmila married cricketer Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi and converted
to Islam.

Shabana Azmi:

Since her scorching debut in Shyam Benegal’s Ankur, Shabana has continually dazzled on screen and stage. In 1983, she won three consecutive National awards for Arth, Khandhar and Paar. She married poet-lyricist Javed Akhtar in 1984. She’s also played conscience to the Hindi film industry through her role as a social activist. She was awarded the Padma Shri in 1988. In an interview she said about her identity, “If I’m asked to put into words my identity, I’d say, woman, Indian, actress, Muslim, daughter, wife.” Her film Fire where she played a lesbian shocked the country. In 1997, she became a Rajya Sabha MP. She won a National Award for her role in Godmother again.

Protima Bedi:

She didn’t live her life to please anyone else, but she made everyone who mattered to her proud: children, lovers, students and dance gurus. Protima lived a life filled with passion and had a lot to show for it. She started her modelling career in 1969, and started living in with Kabir Bedi. She had dated Pandit Jasraj, Vijaypath Singhania, French artist Jacques Lebel, barrister Rajni Patel and conservationist Rom Whitaker. In 1974, Protima ran naked on Juhu beach in Mumbai to publicise the launch of a film magazine. She started Nrityagram, India's first free dance school near Bangalore. She died in a landslide in the Himalayas while on a pilgrimage to Kailash Mansarovar.

Neetu Kapoor:

As an actor who left filmdom to marry her co-star and recently made a comeback of sorts, Neetu has courted stardom at her own pace. She made an appearance as a child artiste in Dus Lakh. She played one of her most popular roles as Salma Ali in Amar, Akbar, Anthony. In 1980, she married Rishi Kapoor after a much-publicised engagement. “
she been brought up very strictly. She had no boyfriends and had a very touch-me-not attitude. But when Rishi told her he was in love with her, She started feeling for him.” In 2010, she starred in Do Dooni Chaar with him.


She’s a diva in the old-fashioned sense of the term: reclusive, glamorous and even by Bollywood standards of eccentricity, unfathomable. This lovechild of Tamil actors Gemini Ganesan and Pushpavalli started her career at the age of 12, in the Telugu movie Rangula Ratnam. She made her debut in Hindi films as a lead actor in the hit Sawan Bhadon. Rekha stays in secluded splendour in her bungalow by the seaside. The gate is rarely opened to visitors. Her private telephone number is given only to Amitabh Bachchan and foreign journalists.

Qurratulain Hyder:
Often referred to as the first lady of Urdu literature, Hyder was one of the most prolific writers of the 20th century. Known for being ahead of her time, she wrote novels before the form really took root in the poetry-oriented world of Urdu writing. Although she migrated to Pakistan in 1947, she moved back a decade later. Her first novel was Mere Bhi Sanam Khane (My Lover’s House) that came out in 1947. But her magnum opus came out in 1959 and was called Aaag Ka Dariya (River of Fire). She never married. In 2005, she was awarded the Padma Bhushan by the Government of India.

 Persis Khambatta:

 Born and brought up in a middle-class family in one of Mumbai's Parsi colonies, Miss India Persis Khambatta went on to become something of a legend in Hollywood-complete with an action figure modelled after her-for her role as Lieutenant Ilia in Star Trek. She became the first Indian to present an Academy Award. She married Hollywood actor Cliff Taylor in 1981, but the marriage lasted only two months. She wrote a coffee table book in 1996. Persis died of a heart attack in the year 1998.

Bhanu Athiya:

The first Indian to bring home an Oscar, Bhanu has a repertoire of over 150 films. She was assigned to design Nadira’s costumes in Shree 420. She made her debut with Guru Dutt’s C.I.D. in 1956. She’s also credited for creating Waheeda Rehman’s iconic look in Guide. She created Zeenat Aman’s controversial look in Satyam Shivam Sundaram. The highlight of her career was when she received an Academy Award for Costume Design for Gandhi. She said in her acceptance speech, “This is too good to be true.” Her first national award was for the film Lekin, and the second for Lagaan. She turned author with the book The Art of Costume Design.

J Jayalalitha:

The fiery actor-turned politician continues to take the male-dominated political arena by storm. Due to financial constraints, she debuted in the Kannada film, Chinnada Gombe, at 16 under the guidance of her mother. In 1965, she made her first Tamil film Vennira Aadai which helped her establish a career in the Tamil film industry. In 1968, she starred in her first Bollywood film Izzat opposite Dharmendra. After quitting films in 1989, Jayalalitha worked her way to the top pf the political ladder with AIADMK. A landslide victory by AIADMK  in the 1991 general elections led to her becoming the first woman CM in Tamil Nadu.

 After ruling Telugu and Tamil film industries, Sridevi made her debut in Bollywood with the film Julie. Drama, comedy, dance - there was little she couldn't do. Sridevi won her first Filmfare Best Actress Award (Tamil) for the film Meendum Kokila (Sadma, in Hindi) opposite Kamal Haasan. Riding high on the success of the films Janbaaz and Mr India, Sridevi won her first Hindi Filmfare Best Actress Award for Chaalbaaz. She married director, producer Boney Kapoor in 1996. After almost a decade, she   comeback again with English Vinglish film.

Juhi Chawla:
 Under Juhi’s bubbly exterior lies an award-winning actor, dedicated mother and shrewd businesswoman. After winning the Miss India pageant in 1984, she made her Bollywood debut in Sultanat in 1986. Her big break however came in 1988 with  Mansoor Khan's Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak opposite Aamir Khan. The film won the Filmfare Best Movie Award. She married industrialist Jay Mehta in 1998. In 2008, along with her husband, she became co-owners of IPL team Kolkata Knight Riders.

Madhuri Dixit:
She ruled the roost in Bollywood, and then gave it all up to get married. Madhuri made her debut in Abodh opposite Tapas Pal. After a handful of mediocre films, she achieved major success for Tezaab in 1988. The actor’s performance was much appreciated in the song Ek Do Teen. The film also went a long way in fuelling the Madhuri-Anil Kapoor equation. With hits like Ram Lakhan, Parinda and Tridev, she firmly established herself as a ‘hit’ actor. At 32, Madhuri got married to US-based doctor Sriram Nene.

Mira Nair:
 Mira Nair’s first film on Bombay’s street children, Salaam Bombay in 1986, created ripples that are still felt today. Besides an Academy Award nomination, the film won a National Award, the Golden Camera and Audience Award at Cannes, and three awards at the Montreal World Film Festival. Her career has given us beautifully crafted films like Monsoon Wedding and The Namesake. Talking about the former, “I have no recipe for universalism; my recipe is to enter human hearts.” After her plans to film Shantaram with Johnny Depp got shelved, she has brought the rights to The Reluctant Fundamentalist, which is her current project.

PT Usha
 PT Usha made her international debut at the age of 16 in the Moscow Olympics. Although she didn’t win any medals, she was the first Indian sports woman to enter the Olympics final under the age of 20.  In 1984, although PT Usha finished first in the semi-finals of the 400 m hurdles in the Los Angeles Olympics, she faltered in the finals. After a nail-biting photo finish for the third place, she lost the bronze by 1/100th of a second. She got married in 1990 and has a son named Ujjwal.

Anjolie Ela Menon:

Hers was a talent that blazed so bright, it required no corporate patron or PR stuntman to get noticed on an international stage. Menon’s work has found expression on canvas, in ceramic and through murals, and its influence has survived five decades of changing tastes in art. Born in India, she is of Bengali and American parentage. She started holding solo exhibitions in Bombay and Delhi in the late 1950s while still in her teens. In the 1970s, Anjolie exhibited in Calcutta, where she’d been living for a while with her father. She was awarded the Padma Shri in 2000.

Neena Gupta:

An NSD student, Neena Gupta has fought for creative and intelligent entertainment throughout her career. She played the niece of the Mahatma in the film Gandhi. Her big break came thanks to her role in the TV series Khandaan. After a short-lived affair with West Indies cricketer Vivian Richards, Neena gave birth to their daughter Masaba in 1989. “Love can never get over. However, the only problem is when in spite of the love, you can’t get along. This is because it involves a lot of compromise.” She is now married to Delhi-based CA, Vivek Mehra .

Sushmita Sen:
 Sushmita Sen caught the nation’s fancy because in a world full of perfect plasticity, she seemed real. Even after winning the Miss Universe title, she may not have achieved the success some of her beauty pageant contemporaries did, but she’ll always be the people’s choice. In 2000, she adopted daughter Renee.  Sushmita was nominated for the Filmfare Best Supporting Actress award for Filhaal, where she played a surrogate mother.  She adopted her second daughter Alisah in 2010.

Anu Aga:

Fondly called the ‘grand old businesswoman of India’, Anu Aga is a rare tycoon with a heart of a reformer. She joined her husband Rohinton Aga’s company Thermax in 1985, and since his death in 1996, took over as the chairperson. In Femina’s January 1997 issue, she said: “Popular theories that men think and women feel are nonsense. Both sexes think and feel. And a woman may or may not bring in a little more feeling to the job.  In 2010, she was awarded the Padma Shri and made it to the Forbes’ Heroes of the Philanthropy list.

Arundhati Roy:
Arundhati Roy shot into the news when she won a Booker Prize for her debut novel The God Of Small Things. Her writing has since moved from sensuous fiction to fierce political outrage, delighting fans and infuriating just everyone else. She’s been charged with obscenity and even sedition, but the barbs just glide off the sharp edge. In 2006, she refused to accept the Sahitya Akademi Award for The Algebra Of Infinite Justice in protest against India toeing the US line on the Lebanon war. She’s donated her Booker prizemoney to the Narmada Bachao Andolan.

 Aishwarya Rai Bachchan:

She has lived out most young girls’ fairytale dreams: she has beauty, fame, success, adulation and a doting prince. She got home India’s second Miss World crown in 1994, after Rita Faria in 1966. Mani Ratnam’s Iruver was her film debut. Her first Bollywood film was Aur Pyaar Ho Gaya. Her first successful film was Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam. She started dating her co-star Salman Khan during the shooting. However, they broke up in 2001. In 2004, she was chosen by Time magazine as one of the world’s 100 most influential faces. She got married to Abhishek Bachchan in 2007.She given birth to beautiful child.

Barkha Dutt:

Her reportage from ground zero of the Kargil war made her a household name. Barkha was born to journalist Prabha Dutt, a pioneer among women journalists, who has influenced her ideologies. After the war, Indian Navy Chief Admiral Sureesh Mehta insinuated that Barkha had compromised the troops’ security by disclosing their locations. Barkha was recently implicated in the 2G scam and is accused of liaising with the Congress on behalf of lobbyist Niira Radia to broker deals for the 2G spectrum sale. She has denied all the allegations.

Mehr Rampal:

A former Miss India and one of India’s first and finest supermodels, Mehr Rampal has been a muse to topmost designers. Today, she partners her husband, Arjun Rampal and friends in her restaurant venture. Mehr was born in a Parsi family on November 30, in Kolkata. Her father, Homi Jesia, was a former Mr India. She was asked to replace Isabella Rossellini as the international face of LancĂ´me, which she refused. She set up Face One, a modelling agency, and quit modelling at the peak of her career.

Ritu Beri:

She was the first Indian designer to show at a Parisian haute couture show and even though her designs are Indian by heritage, her identity is shared between the two countries. “When I design something, it’s just my way of thinking. It’s not a revolution, only my point of view.” In 2002, she became the first Indian to create a new image for prestigious fashion label Jean-Lois Scherrer. In 2004, she tied the knot with long-time friend Bobby Chadda. In 2010, she celebrated 20 years of being in the business of fashion. She was also awarded one of France’s highest civilian awards, the Chevalier Des Arts et Des Lettres.

Sonia Gandhi:

Sonia Gandhi went from dutiful daughter-in-law to supportive wife to widowed campaigner in full public glare. Sonia met Rajiv Gandhi at Cambridge while working as a waitress. Both the families had not exactly approved of the match, but the adamant couple won over all. Sonia said “When you are in love with somebody, that love gives you a strange strength and then you are not afraid of anything.” After her husband’s assassination, she was elected leader of the opposition. Today, as head of Congress, it’s no secret who has the last word.

Kareena Kapoor:

She’s always had the famous last name, but she’s earned the star value. At 30, Kareena is at the top of her form and has worked with the best directors in Bollywood. She’s also one of the highest paid in terms of movies and endorsements. In 2000, Kareena made her debut opposite Abhishek Bachchan in Refugee. Chameli released in 2004, winning Kareena much critical acclaim for her role as a streetwalker.  Kareena began seeing co-star Saif Ali Khan during the making of Tashan in 2007. “Saif is the man I’ll marry,” she said. In 2009, Kareena starred in 3 Idiots, the highest grossing Bollywood hit of all time. Finally Kareena Saif geeting Marry.

Chanda Kochhar:
 At only 49, Chanda Kochhar is credited with revolutionising the way women are looked at in the finance world. In 1984, she joined The Industrial Credit and Investment Corporation of India (ICICI) as a management trainee after completing her Master’s degree. In April 2001, Chanda took over as executive director and under her leadership, ICICI won The Asian Banker’s Best Retail Bank Award in India. The bank won the award successively in 2003, 2004 and 2005.  Kochhar had   believes always there are four quadrants in a woman’s life, and in that order — work, family, self and lastly, others.
Sania Mirza:

Sania is India’s highest ranking female tennis player — she reached world number 27 in 2007. Sania was awarded a Padma Shri, India’s fourth highest honour for her achievements. “It’s great to know that there are people who pray for her to win, but at the same time it’s tough being stared at,”  Sania married Pakistani cricketer Shoaib Malik following a storm of controversy (he was allegedly married already). The couple lives in Dubai. They continue to pursue their respective sports careers.

Sunita Williams:

NASA astronaut Sunita Williams is proof that there is no stopping a woman on her way up. The only NRI to be awarded the Sardar Vallabhai Patel Vishwa Pratibha Award, she is never far from her roots. On board the Discovery space shuttle she carried a copy of the Bhagvad Gita, a small Ganesha figurine and some samosas to ward off  homesickness. Sunita received her Bachelor of Science degree in Physical Science from the US Naval Academy and began her career as a helicopter pilot. She met her husband Michael Williams there.

Vidya Balan:
 Vidya Balan holds her own in an industry where chiselled features and a bikini-bod are considered prerequisites to stardom. Producer Vidhu Vinod Chopra spotted her at a concert and several screen/make-up tests later, she made her Bollywood entry in Parineeta in 2004. She took home her first Filmfare Award for Best Debut Female. In 2006, she moved up the Bollywood elite with the success of Lage Raho Munna Bhai. Her role in No One Killed Jessica was widely acclaimed. Now, she’s busy preparing for The Dirty Picture based on the life of controversial actor, the late Silk Smitha. She’s rumoured to be dating UTV CEO Sidharth Roy Kapoor.

Anoushka Shankar
Anoushka Shankar has more than outgrown her days as sitar legend Ravi Shankar’s daughter. She has established herself as a performer and composer, exploring various genres, including electronica, jazz, flamenco and western and Indian classical music. In 2001, she became the youngest ever nominee in the World Music category at the Grammy’s for her Live at the Carnegie Hall album. In 2006, she became the first Indian to play at the Grammy Awards. In 2008, she was featured on the cover of the Indian edition of Rolling Stone. She tied the knot with British filmmaker Joe Wright in 2010, and has a son named Zubin.

Priyanka Chopra
 Between brand endorsements, performances, films with top banners, directors and actors, this former beauty queen keeps herself very busy. Priyanka’s first Hindi film to hit the screens, Andaaz, won her the Filmfare Best Female Debut Award. In 2004, her portrayal of a sex-starved and manipulative Mrs Sonia Roy in Aitraaz won her critical acclaim. Priyanka wooed fans and critics with her performance in Vishal Bhardwaj’s caper thriller Kaminey and Saat Khoon Maaf. A self-confessed Twitter-addict, the actress will be heard singing with Lady Gaga soon.She Started her Own Album also.


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