Rani Mukerji (Mukherjee) and Preity Zinta, two of the biggest superstars ever, entered Bollywood simultaneously. Rani debuted in 1997 with ‘Raja Ki Aayegi Barat’ and Preity debuted with ‘Dil Se’ in 1998. Their careers share a number of uncanny similarities which have always baffled me. The kind of movies they did, the co-stars they worked with, the time at which they peaked and the time at which their careers hit rock-bottom. So many similarities! No wonder they managed to co-star together in not one but four Bollywood movies. At a time when hero-heroine pairings were talked about, their heroine-heroine camaraderie made headlines. Even though the duo experienced a career high very few get to experience, unfortunately, they were unable to sustain the super success for long. Let us see how it all happened.
Success happened first to Rani Mukherjee with Aamir Khan starrer Ghulam. Though she had a small role in the movie, the song ‘Aati kya Khandala’ made her an overnight sensation. She was now referred to as ‘the Khandala Girl’. She consolidated her success with the humongous hit ‘Kuch Kuch Hota Hai’. The supporting role of ‘Tina’ in the movie brought her nationwide acclaim and her maiden Filmfare award in the Best Supporting Actress category. Rani Mukherjee was rearing to go. Preity Zinta, on the other hand, started with the box office dud Dil Se… in a supporting role opposite Shah Rukh Khan. This Mani Ratnam flick got her immense critical acclaim and her song ‘Jiya Jale’ became very popular. Her next release Soldier gave her her first commercial hit and established her in the industry. She too won her maiden Filmfare award for the best debut in the same year as Rani. Now, in that very year 1998, both Rani and Preity had gotten their first Filmfare trophies and also had starred opposite the then numero uno actor Shah Rukh Khan in a supporting role. Isn’t that surreal?
The new millennium had arrived. Dynamics in Bollywood were changing. Star kids had grown up (read Kareena Kapoor, Hrithik Roshan, Abhishek Bachchan, Tushar Kapoor and Esha Deol) and were ready to fill in their parent’s shoes. The then numero uno Karisma Kapoor (also a star kid) had gradually moved to art house cinema. In a way, I believe Karisma was making room for her sister as her successor in Bollywood. For whatsoever reason, Karisma’s mainstream career had taken a back seat. The other superstar (again a Star Kid), Kajol also had stopped signing movies and was happy being in marital bliss. The field was open for Rani Mukerji and Preity Zinta to take the throne. The only actress who was a serious threat was Aishwarya Rai who had signed some really big movies after the success of Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam (1999). Both Preity and Rani had hits in the year 2000 (Rani with Badal and Preity with Kya Kehna), but they were nothing compared to the mammoth Mohabbatein starring Aishwarya Rai and Kaho Na Pyar Hai starring a newcomer Ameesha Patel (not a Star Kid this time). The year 2000 also marked the beginning of their many collaborations, when these two actresses starred in the average fare Har Dil Jo Pyar Karega. Though the film did not do very well at the box office, their Priti-Pinky dance number, Piya – Piya became the song of the year. It gave them a lot of visibility which only added to their star power. Meanwhile, the struggle for the number one position was still on. By this time the reigning queen’s sister, Kareena Kapoor had also debuted and Hema Malini’s daughter was to debut the next year. The competition had suddenly become fierce.
Shaky start to the new Millennium
In the year 2001, the duo came up with their second offering together, Chori Chori Chupke Chupke. The film looked quite similar to the previous one they did and was aiming to cash in their chemistry with each other and also with their hero Salman Khan. Coincidently it was the only movie that worked for them in 2001. It had not been their best year for sure. All the follow-up movies Rani did with Govinda after Hadh Kar Di Aapne had failed miserably. Preity had a musical success in Dil Chahta Hai but the movie had limited appeal. On the other hand, both Kareena Kapoor and Ameesha Patel had super hits in Mujhe Kuch Kehna Hai and Gadar Ek Prem Katha respectively. The stupendous success of Gadar Ek Prem Katha had made Ameesha the first choice for the producers. But as luck would have it, all her subsequent movies released in 2002, one of the worst years for the industry financially, and consequently, curtailed her stardom. Meanwhile, luckily Rani had one of the rare hits of 2002 to her credit, Saathiya. Preity had only one release, Dil Hai Tumhara which as most of the other movies of the year did not do too well.
Ascend to the throne
The year 2003 was crucial for both the actresses. Both had four releases lined up. Chalte -Chalte for Rani was the savior as all her other movies did not do well. What worked in her favor was that her pairing with the then numero uno hero, Shah Rukh Khan was successful, which for any commercial actress was huge and guaranteed future collaborations. But the year belonged to Preity Zinta. She had two massive hits in Rakesh Roshan’s Koi… Mil Gaya (opposite Hrithik Roshan) and Nikhil Advani’s Kal Ho Na Ho ( opposite again Shah rukh Khan ). So both had one hit each with the superstar and as a result also became part of his world tour called Temptations. Both got nominated for the Best Actress at Filmfare which eventually Preity won for Kal Ho Na Ho (though I feel Urmila Matondkar deserved all the awards that year for Bhoot). Co-incidentally, both the actresses were not meant to do their respective movies as Chalte Chalte was offered to Aishwarya Rai and Kal Ho Na Ho to Kareena Kapoor. But as they say what is meant to be, always finds a way and the rest is history. Preity Zinta was the numero uno actresses and Rani was the close #2.
The superstardom had begun. If 2003 belonged to Preity Zinta, 2004 had Rani Mukerji written all over it. She had a clean hit in Hum Tum, her third collaboration with Yash Raj Films. She followed it up with two supporting roles in Yuva and Veer Zaara. Both the roles fetched her unanimous praise and also got her nominations next year. Preity had a super hit in Veer Zara, but Lakshya with Hrithik Roshan flopped. The actresses swapped their positions. Rani this time around was awarded both the Best Actress(Hum Tum) and Best Supporting Actress(Yuva) trophies at the Filmfare. Preity had to be content with just a nomination for Veer Zara. But the actresses had reached the pinnacle of their stardom. They were the biggest names in the business now. The biggest banners wanted to sign them, the biggest heroes wanted to work with them, the biggest brands wanted to get associated with them. They were the new Karisma Kapoor and Kajol, Sridevi and Jaya Prada, Madhuri Dixit and Juhi Chawla. As a result, they were now constantly pitted against each other and were rivals. If Preity Zinta endorsed Cadbury Perk, Rani Mukherji was crunching Nestle Munch. This was the time both these actresses had the liberty to choose who they wanted to work with from the pool of offers they had. But unfortunately, they played safe and banked heavily on Yash Raj Films. They came to be known as the Yash Raj heroines, a tag that proved detrimental to their future in Bollywood.
Meanwhile, the year 2005 saw Rani in the role of her lifetime, Black, and the commercial hit Bunty Aur Babli. Preity too had a success in the Yash Raj Rom-Com, Salaam Namaste. But somehow the actresses restricted themselves professionally, working with only the big names (read Yash Raj and Dharma productions) in the industry as everything seemed perfect. They were getting meatier roles in these big budget movies that seemed to be the best pick on paper. But as luck would have it, none of their subsequent movies worked. The year 2005 marked the end of their innings as the Number 1 and Number 2 heroines. Karan Johar directed them in their last movie together, Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna, which did not perform as expected at the box office. Both Baabul and Janeman, coincidently co-starring the current number one Salman Khan, were resounding flops and curtailed their magnificent careers. Ta Ra Rum Pum and Jhoom Barabar Jhoom, both Yash Raj products released in 2007, hit the final nail in the coffin.
Preity moved on to the Indian Premier League (IPL) and devoted her time to understanding Cricket while Rani kept doing movies relentlessly under the Yash Raj Films banner out of which none worked. The lucky charm was certainly lost. Even though all these movies were packaged well they failed to hit the chord with the audience. The decline was inevitable but what was surprising was that they were unable to bounce back in spite of their stature. A Karan Johar was not there for a role anymore, a Shah Rukh Khan had moved on to Anushka Sharma and Deepika Padukone, the big brands were not interested in renewing their contracts with them, and the rest of the industry still thought of them as the ‘Yash Raj Heroines’ and thus inaccessible. I believe their careers are the biggest examples of the price you pay when you put all your eggs in the same basket.
Today, as I write this post in 2017, both the actresses are happily married to their respective spouses. Preity married Gene Goodenough and Rani married the Yash Raj head, Aditya Chopra. Although both these actresses are no more in the rat race now and their superstardom was unexpectedly short-lived, the success achieved by them is a rare accomplishment even today. They were all round actresses, they could act brilliantly, dance equally well, were versatile and worked with some of the biggest names in the industry. At the end what amazes me and leaves me bewildered is the similar fashion in which their career began, peaked and then plummeted. They soared together, very high, but the fall was as steep.
Please let me know if you liked this article on the two superstars. Below are the links to my other articles on Bollywood! Do check them out!
- Top 5 outsiders who deserve more recognition in Bollywood
- Top 5 Shahrukh Khan Movie Performances
- Parveen Babi – The Superstar among Heroines
Authored by – Abinash Gupta