Hindi film’s funny girls
Comic parts for women actors in Hindi films are limited, but this doesn’t mean there haven’t been brilliant turns. Here are 7 recent triumphs
Who are the funny women of Bollywood? There are at least half-a-dozen male actors who are regulars in comic parts today, from Aparshakti Khurana and Varun Sharma to Brijendra Kala. But among female actors, only Seema Pahwa (Shubh Mangal Saavdhan, Bareilly Ki Barfi, Bala) is cast consistently for her comedy chops. There have, of course, been some brilliant comic turns, but spread out thinly over the last few years, which points to a paucity of comedic roles for women, and perhaps a wariness among younger actors about being labelled as the funny one.
While none of the big stars today have the slapstick skills of the late Sridevi, Kangana Ranaut can be extremely funny when the part calls for it, Sonam Kapoor Ahuja is the lone actor persevering with breezy romcoms, and Anushka Sharma gets a surprising amount of mileage out of scowls and a poker face. The best turns, though, often come from character actors not widely regarded as comedians: Ratna Pathak Shah, brilliantly severe in Khoobsurat; Sheeba Chaddha, enunciating her disapproval of her daughter’s boyfriend in Badhaai Ho. We have rounded up seven varied comic performances by women actors from the last few years.
Radhika Madan and Sanya Malhotra in ‘Pataakha’
In a rare Hindi film built around dual comic turns by female actors, Malhotra and Madan play warring sisters whose attempts to make separate lives for themselves come undone. The actors commit fully to the physical comedy and the pettiness of the characters.
Seema Pahwa in ‘Shubh Mangal Saavdhan’
In Shubh Mangal Saavdhan, Pahwa, one of the finest comic actors around, gives a sex education talk for the ages, speaking in arch metaphors and fondly remembering her own first time, to the embarrassment of her daughter. You will never think of Alibaba’s cave the same way again.
Yami Gautam in ‘Bala’
In Bala, Gautam plays a TikTok model whose insistence on surface beauty in herself and in her partner takes a knock when he is forced to admit that he is balding. The scene where Gautam conveys her character’s deep shock and hurt while remaining very funny and proudly shallow is a high-wire act that walks away with the film.
Maanvi Gagroo in ‘Shubh mangal zyada saavdhan’
The brash, impulsive north Indian woman has become a staple of the new Middle Cinema, from Diana Penty in Happy Bhag Jayegi to Kriti Sanon in Bareilly Ki Barfi. In Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan, Gagroo, in a supporting part as the hero’s take-no-prisoners sister, steals every scene she’s in. The highlight: riding, bedecked and wearing her ever-present shades, to her own wedding on a horse.
Parvathy in ‘Qarib Qarib Singlle’
Of the handful of ditsy career women looking for love in recent films—Sonakshi Sinha in Noor, Sonam Kapoor Ahuja in The Zoya Factor—Parvathy’s performance in Qarib Qarib Singlle is a high point. Her mobile face registers everything, as exasperation for Irrfan Khan’s chattering poet turns to affection.
Kangana Ranaut in ‘Simran’
Ranaut’s versatility makes it difficult to label her performances as “comic" or “dramatic"—she switches from one to the other with lightning speed within a scene. Still, Simran could be seen as a largely comic performance, with Ranaut continually fascinating as an Indian in the US who falls on hard times and starts robbing banks.
Richa Chadha in ‘Panga’
Chadha hit comic gold earlier with her scene-stealing Bholi Punjaban in Fukrey Returns. Panga sees her in a more relaxed persona, playing a kabaddi coach who helps Kangana Ranaut’s character rediscover her mojo. Chadha is affectionate but straight-shooting—and her blunt declarations, both in training and in social situations, are the film’s best moments.