(pronounced [rɑ:niː mʊkhərdʒiː]; born 21 March 1978) is an Indian film actress. The recipient of such accolades as seven Filmfare Awards, her roles have been cited in the media as a significant departure from previous screen portrayals of Indian women. Mukerji has featured in listings of the most popular and highest-paid Hindi film actresses of the 2000s.
Although Mukerji was born into the Mukherjee-Samarth family, in which her parents and relatives were members of the Indian film industry, she did not aspire to pursue a career in film. As a teenager she dabbled with acting by starring in her father’s Bengali-language film Biyer Phool and in the social drama Raja Ki Aayegi Baraat (both 1996). Mukerji had her first commercial success with the action film Ghulam (1998) and breakthrough with the romance Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998). Following a brief setback, the year 2002 marked a turning point for her when she was cast by Yash Raj Films as the star of the drama Saathiya.
Mukerji established herself by starring in several commercially successful romantic films, including Chalte Chalte (2003), Hum Tum (2004), Veer-Zaara (2004), and Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna (2006), and the crime comedy Bunty Aur Babli (2005). She also gained praise for playing an abused wife in the political thriller Yuva (2004) and a deaf and blind woman in the drama Black (2005). Mukerji then collaborated with Yash Raj Films on several unsuccessful films which led critics to bemoan her choice of roles. This changed when she played a headstrong journalist in the thriller No One Killed Jessica (2011), and further success came for her starring roles in the thrillers Talaash: The Answer Lies Within (2012), Mardaani (2014) and its sequel Mardaani 2 (2019), and the comedy-drama Hichki (2018). The lattermost emerged as her highest-grossing release.
Mukerji is involved with humanitarian causes and is vocal about issues faced by women and children. She has participated in concert tours and stage shows, and featured as a talent judge for the 2009 reality show Dance Premier League. Mukerji is married to filmmaker Aditya Chopra, with whom she has a daughter.
Early life and work
See also: Mukherjee-Samarth family
Mukerji was born in Bombay (present-day Mumbai) on 21 March 1978. Her father, Ram Mukherjee (born to the Mukherjee-Samarth family), is a former film director and one of the founders of Filmalaya Studios. Her mother, Krishna Mukherjee, is a former playback singer. Her elder brother, Raja Mukherjee, is a film producer and director. Her maternal aunt, Debashree Roy, is a Bengali film actress and her paternal cousin, Kajol, is a Hindi film actress and her contemporary Another paternal cousin, Ayan Mukerji, is a scriptwriter and film director. Despite her parents and most of her relatives being members of the Indian film industry, Mukerji was uninterested in pursuing a career in film. She said, “There were already too many actresses at home and I wanted to be someone different”.
Mukerji received her education at Maneckji Cooper High School in Juhu and graduated with a degree in Home Science from SNDT Women’s University. She is a trained Odissi dancer and began learning the dance form while in the tenth grade. As part of an annual tradition, the Mukherjee family celebrates the festival of Durga Puja in the suburban neighbourhood of Santacruz every year. Mukerji, a practising Hindu, takes part in the festivities with her entire family.
In 1994, director Salim Khan approached Mukerji to play the lead female role in his directorial, Aa Gale Lag Jaa. Her father disapproved of a full-time career in film at such a young age, so she rejected the offer. At age 18, Mukerji experimented with acting by playing the leading role in her father’s Bengali film Biyer Phool (1996). The film starred Prosenjit and Indrani Haldar and narrates the story of two sisters; Mukerji played the younger sibling of Haldar’s character. Soon after, Khan approached her with another film offer to play the leading role in the social drama Raja Ki Aayegi Baraat, after Mamta Kulkarni refused the offer. Mukerji accepted the role due to her mother’s insistence that she continue to pursue acting on an experimental basis.Before she began work on it, Mukerji trained at Roshan Taneja’s acting institute. She portrayed a rape victim who is forced to marry her rapist in Raja Ki Aayegi Baraat, which also released in 1996. Although the film was a commercial failure, Mukerji’s performance earned her a special recognition trophy at the annual Screen Awards ceremony.Following the film’s poor showing at the box office, Mukerji returned to college to complete her education. However, inspired by her cousin Kajol’s success in Bollywood, she decided to pursue a full-time career in films.
See also: Rani Mukerji filmography
Breakthrough and initial struggle (1998–2001)
In 1998, Mukerji starred opposite Aamir Khan in Vikram Bhatt’s action film Ghulam, her first commercial success. Though her role in the film was small, the song “Aati Kya Khandala” earned her public recognition. Due to Mukerji’s husky voice, Bhatt had someone with a higher pitched voice dub her lines; Mukerji stated that it was done as her voice “did not suit the character”. In the same year, Karan Johar cast her opposite Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol in his directorial debut Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. The role was originally written for Twinkle Khanna, but when she and several other leading ladies rejected it, Johar signed Mukerji on the insistence of Khan and the filmmaker Aditya Chopra. She played Khan’s character’s love interest and later wife, who dies after giving birth to their daughter. Johar had originally intended to dub Mukerji’s voice, but she improved her diction and eventually provided her own voice.Reviewing the film for India Today, Nandita Chowdhury wrote that it was “the gorgeous Rani who steals the show. Oozing oomph from every pore, she also proves herself an actress whose time has come”. Kuch Kuch Hota Hai proved a breakthrough for Mukerji; it had earnings of over ₹1.03 billion (US$14 million) to emerge as the year’s top-grossing Hindi film, and won eight Filmfare Awards, including Best Supporting Actress for Mukerji. Following this, she had starring roles in Mehndi (1998) and Hello Brother (1999), critical and commercial disappointments that failed to propel her career forward.
By 2000, Mukerji wanted to avoid typecasting as a “standard Hindi film heroine” and thus decided to portray more challenging roles in addition to the archetypical glamorous lead.In Badal and Bichhoo, two male-centric action dramas (both starring Bobby Deol), she played roles that were met with little acclaim from critics. A supporting role in Kamal Haasan’s bilingual film Hey Ram proved more rewarding. The film was a partly fictionalised account of Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination and Mukerji played a Bengali school teacher who is raped and murdered during communal riots in Calcutta. Having only portrayed glamorous roles thus far, she was challenged by Haasan’s insistence on realism and to appear on screen without wearing make-up; she believed that the experience changed her approach to acting. The controversial subject matter of Hey Ram led to poor box office earnings, but the film was critically acclaimed and selected as India’s official entry to the Oscars After starring in the romantic comedies Hadh Kar Di Aapne and Kahin Pyaar Na Ho Jaaye, Mukerji starred alongside Salman Khan and Preity Zinta in the romantic comedy Har Dil Jo Pyar Karega, which earned her a Best Supporting Actress nomination at Filmfare. Padmaraj Nair of Screen found her role to be “too meagre for her to prove herself” but added that “she is quite adequate in whatever scenes she has been given”.
Mukerji’s first film of 2001, Chori Chori Chupke Chupke, was released after controversy over the film’s funding by the Mumbai underworld delayed it by a few months.The film was based on surrogacy and marked her second collaboration with Salman Khan and Zinta. Film critic Sukanya Verma found Mukerji to be “handicapped with a role that doesn’t give her much scope besides weeping and sobbing” and preferred the “meatier” role of Zinta. In Bas Itna Sa Khwaab Hai and Nayak: The Real Hero, films that failed to gain a wide audience theatrically, Mukerji played the love interests of Abhishek Bachchan and Anil Kapoor respectively. In a review for the latter film, Sarita Tanwar of Rediff.com bemoaned that she had “very little to do except being part of some magnificently picturised songs”. An article in Mint summarised that a majority of her roles post Kuch Kuch Hota Hai were “inconsequential”
Artistry and media image
Mukerji is considered in the media as one of the most popular and accomplished actresses of Bollywood.As part of a career analysis, Sukanya Verma noted that after making an unconventional debut in films, Mukerji oscillated between success and failure for a few years before achieving “the status of a star, performer and showgirl”. Indo-Asian News Service reported that during her initial years in the industry, Mukerji was written off as the successful Kajol’s poor cousin for being “plump” and “short”. Raja Sen opined that despite that, Mukerji “slogged her way with grit” and emerged as “the most powerful leading lady in Bollywood”.
Mukerji’s directors Pradeep Sarkar and Reema Kagti have taken note of how much Mukerji prepares for her roles, with Kagti adding, “She gets obsessive about the role and wants to know everything about her character. What’s her character’s back-story, what is going on in her head at a specific point”.Mukerji described her approach to acting in 2012:
A month before I start shooting, I sit with my director, try to understand how he has visualised the character on the screen and take notes. Then I start working on the most basic thing — the look. It’s very important that the physical appearance of the character gets decided because if I look the character, it makes it all the more believable. Once that is achieved, I go into the finer nuances of what the girl is like, her background. And then from there […] I have to get the accent right.
Mukerji actively avoids typecasting, and has been credited in the media for her versatility. Hindustan Times has published that she balances between high-profile blockbusters and small-scale films. Namrata Joshi of Outlook adds that she is unafraid to take risks and portray roles that “none of her contemporaries have been able to do”. Mukerji has often played roles that were considered to be a significant departure from traditional portrayals of women in mainstream Indian cinema at that time, as they engaged in pre-marital sex, extramarital affairs, mouthed expletives, and smoke and drank.The media cites her as an “unconventional beauty” — her husky voice, eyes and smile being her distinctive features. Baradwaj Rangan believes that Mukerji’s unusual “sandpaper-scratchy, I’m-recovering-from-a-bad-cold” voice sets her apart from her contemporaries.
At the peak of her career, Mukerji featured in listings of the most attractive Indian celebrities, was one of the highest-paid actresses in Bollywood, and the brand ambassador for a number of products Filmfare featured her in their listing of the ten most powerful people in Bollywood for two consecutive years (2005–2006). In 2006 and 2012, Eastern Eye ranked her as one of Asia’s sexiest women. Mukerji featured in Box Office India’s top actresses listing for six years and ranked first for two consecutive years (2005–2006). She featured in Rediff.com’s annual listing of the best Bollywood actresses in 2002–2007, 2012, 2014 and 2018 and topped the list for three consecutive years (2004–2006). She was also featured by Rediff.com in their listing of Bollywood’s best actresses of all time in 2007. Since 2007, Mukerji’s popularity was on a decline and she lost out on her brand endorsements to a number of younger actresses. In 2013, she featured among the greatest Bollywood stars in a UK poll celebrating 100 years of Indian cinema.That same year, the American Embassy in India honoured her with a special trophy for her contributions to Indian cinema. In 2015, the University of Mumbai felicitated her for her contribution to Bollywood, in 2017, she was honoured with the Outstanding Contribution to Cinema Award by the Government of Mauritius, and in 2018, was received an award for Excellence in Cinema at the Indian Film Festival of Melbourne.
Main article: List of awards and nominations received by Rani Mukerji
For her roles in the films Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998), Yuva (2004) and No One Killed Jessica (2011), Mukerji won the Filmfare Award for Best Supporting Actress. She also won the Filmfare Critics Award for Best Actress for her roles in Saathiya (2002) and Black (2005), and received the Filmfare Award for Best Actress for her roles in Hum Tum (2004) and Black (2005)