How They See Their Heroines

A few weeks ago, I had written about stars & genres, where I spoke about consumer expectations from the top male stars in Bollywood. Given the high interest in the post from the film fraternity, we decided to undertake a similar research for the leading ladies of Bollywood.

But we faced a unique problem. In the case of men, we could simply ask for genre fit on the popular genres like comedy, action, romance and family. However, for the female actors, this classification made little sense. While the male stars often play the genre-defining character in a film, that is rarely the case with a female star. She typically plays a character type that may often have nothing to do with the genre of the film itself.

So, we decided to redefine the objective to ‘understanding the type of role the audience wants to see each of the top female stars in’. Four types of roles were given as options to the respondents in the research – Carefree & bindaas, Bold & sexy, Strong & powerful and Emotional & serious. Of course, like the male stars research, a fifth option of ‘None of these’ was allowed, to avoid forced choices.

The table below showcases the results:

Heroine Bindaas Bold & Sexy Powerful Emotional None
Katrina Kaif 36 28 17 10 10
Kareena Kapoor 49 17 9 10 14
Priyanka Chopra 33 28 20 8 10
Aishwarya Rai 20 19 19 23 20
Madhuri Dixit 37 13 24 15 11
Deepika Padukone 25 42 13 8 13
Kajol 34 9 20 27 10
Vidya Balan 10 27 36 14 13
Rani Mukherjee 29 13 15 26 16
Sonakshi Sinha 34 22 14 14 16
Anushka Sharma 45 22 12 13 8
Parineeti Chopra 45 21 12 8 15
Genelia D’Souza 54 14 9 10 13
Preity Zinta 37 10 11 19 23
Sonam Kapoor 28 14 14 17 27
Kangana Ranaut 17 41 18 12 12

Some key takeouts:

1. Very few heroines have a distinct profile, with many being “clones” of each other in terms of the expectations from them. One big set is the Bindaas heroines gang, led by Kareena Kapoor (evidently driven strongly by Jab We Met) and including Anushka Sharma, Parineeti Chopra, Genelia D’Souza and Preity Zinta. This also tells us how important a film Heroine is for Kareena. She needs to get out of a seemingly unidimensional image of a carefree/ bindaas heroine.

2. Katrina Kaif and Priyanka Chopra have very similar profiles, with a combination of bindaas and bold, in that order, defining their image. No wonder then that Priyanka has been the one most affected by Katrina’s meteoric rise in the last 3-4 years. They are competing for similar roles and similar audience reactions. Even Sonakshi Sinha has a similar profile. But Katrina has a huge advantage in looks, making her lead this pack comfortably.

3. Deepika Padukone and Kangana Ranaut are the two heroines highest on the ‘bold and sexy’ attribute. This research was conducted well before Cocktail’s release, and hence, we can expect Deepika to have grown further and acquired the status of the hottest heroine in Bollywood, at least in terms of relative strength, if not absolute.

4. Vidya Balan has acquired a unique profile of her own – a mix of bold and powerful characters. While most of the roles being ‘written’ for heroines today tend to be in the bindaas space, Balan is the only candidate for the few strong & powerful roles, as and when they come by.

5. The serious & emotional roles for heroines are a thing of the past. Kajol, Rani Mukherjee and Aishwarya Rai show a skew on this dimension, but all of them are well past the prime of their career. No recent films have showcased heroines in such roles. This is fairly similar to very few contemporary men being associated with the family genre.

Of course, this data is about the current viewer expectations, and not a measure of what a heroine can or can’t do. Some, like Balan, will continue to explore unchartered territories and manage to stand out in the crowd. While others, like Kaif, will lead the pack by playing roles that work across the masses today – the bindaas, hot babe roles.

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About Shailesh Kapoor

Founder & CEO - Ormax Media. Film Lover. Media Insights Detective. Budding Author. Lifelong Student.
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3 Responses to How They See Their Heroines

  1. Himanshu Manroa says:

    Hello Shailesh,

    Following-up from my comments on the male star imagery piece, this one about heroines is an even bigger exercise in futility. Call it chauvinism, but heroines are always amongst the most dispensable commodities in the movie business. Infact, the recent spate of musical chairs between Kareena, Priyanka, Aishwarya and sundry underlines this fact like never before. If the top 5 actresses can be dropped and chopped around like stale potatoes, who really cares about which actress is bold, bindaas, powerful, emotional or paranormal?

    Talking about actresses, there are just 3 broader categories, and let’s be downright unpretentious about it –
    1. Bimbettes (for all the Cocktail, Bol Bachchan, Housefull 2 and Rowdy Rathore kind of ornamental roles).
    2. Slightly mature Divas (for big-ticket movies like Ek Tha Tiger, Agneepath, Don 2, Ra-one and Bodyguard that need a bit of face-value and some decent acting chops).
    3. And finally Vidya Balan! Yes you read that right. Vidya today, is a category by herself…where we have strong, powerful roles that would need only Vidya and no one else!

    Also, despite being a researcher myself, allow me to be upfront in admitting – that beyond a point, all that these research exercises make for is good to read stuff, stating the obvious and well-written conclusions. Dig deep and one realises, that it’s taking you nowhere!

    Most research methodologies like these, simply skim through the surface and come up with good to know results like attitude, imagery and positioning. In the movie parlance, your image and positioning is as good as your last hit/flop.

    Allow me to quote the maverick Steve Jobs on continuous Innovations at Apple –
    “This is what customers pay us for–to sweat all these details so it’s easy and pleasant for them to use our computers. We’re supposed to be really good at this. That doesn’t mean we don’t listen to customers, but it’s hard for them to tell you what they want when they’ve never seen anything remotely like it. Take desktop video editing. I never got one request from someone who wanted to edit movies on his computer. Yet now that people see it, they say, ‘Oh my God, that’s great!’”

    To translate this to our context, who on earth could have imagined a ‘behenji’ Vidya Balan in her smouldering and silky avatar in Dirty Picture? But now that she has hit the bulls eye, can we imagine anyone else in that Dirty role? So it’s hard for the audience to tell which actress fits which image, when they’ve hardly seen anything like that before.
    What you’ve collected as data is nothing more than the audience’s awareness about an actress’ last movie. And any last movie is nothing more than precisely that i.e. THE LAST MOVIE! And as Henry Ford had famously remarked “History is Bunk!”

    An actresses positioning on her last few or most popular movies, takes us nowhere! While casting, the movie-makers would still just consider the above mentioned 3 categories i.e. Bimbettes, Mature Divas or Vidya Balan. And ofcourse, more ground realities like available dates, price, chemistry with the lead actor and other multiple equations.

    • Sorry, seems you have derived more meaning than I intended. I never said this is it and it cannot change. This (and the males post) is about reporting facts. It is nothing to do with saying these are cast in stone. And yes, this is not a deep dive but skimming stuff. But that’s why it’s public. Deep dive work is commissioned and paid for. It would never make it to my blog hence. This is food for thought. The industry likes these facets. It gives them some thoughts. Every free piece of data doesn’t have to be directly actionable!

  2. Himanshu Manroa says:

    Agree Shailesh. It was just meant to be a ‘food for thought’ exercise. But even then, don’t you think it’s too bland in terms of the final take-outs? Practically, no insights…or nothing startling or surprising that we don’t already know. Both for the actors and the actresses.

    Don’t you think it would’ve been more worthwhile for both the respondents and us (the researchers) to much rather transpose the exercise and try to gauge the ‘share of genre space’ for all actors across genres…rather than a star’s individual imagery. Or as a suggestion, why not as a follow-up exercise to this data? Yup, I agree, I am not paying for it and hence can’t be demanding. But just trying my luck with free lunches. Trying my luck with a more appetising food for thought 🙂

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