Rani Mukerji is undoubtedly one of the finest actresses we have in Hindi cinema today. She is capable of fine understatement and is one of those extremely expressive actresses who is able to convey what she is going through with just a look or a gesture rather than have to say it through dialogue.
Rani was born in 1978 to a family with strong film connections. Her father Ram Mukerji was among the founders of Filmalaya Studio and a filmmaker in his own right. She is Kajol’s cousin and Debashree Roy is her maternal aunt. While still a teenager, she first acted in a Bengali film made by her father, Biyer Phool. In 1996, she made her Hindi film debut with Raja ki Aayegi Baraat in the role of a poor girl who fights for her rights after she is raped by spoilt, rich boy Shadaab Khan. The film flopped but the Hindi film industry took notice of Rani. This led to roles in Ghulam (1998) and Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998). Though her roles in both films were supportive at best, they were nevertheless strong stepping stones for Rani into the Hindi film industry. And Rani more than had her share of fine moments in both films. She is the perfect foil to Aamir Khan in the Aati Kya Khandala song in Ghulam and made quite an impact as the glamourous new girl in college who comes between Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol in the latter. Rani went on to win the Filmfare Best Supporting Actress Award for Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (KKHH). Though her voice was dubbed in Ghulam, Rani turned her husky and hoarse voice to her advantage, creating a distinct identity for herself. Thereafter, she has dubbed for herself in all her films.
For the next couple of years Rani settled into the role of a conventional leading lady opposite most of the top heroes of the day. She did make a solid impact as Kamal Haasan’s Bengali wife in Hey Ram (2000), India’s official entry to the Oscars even though the film made more news for her intimate scenes with Kamal. She was also quite effective as the girl who takes up with hit-man Bobby Deol after her family is slaughtered in Bichchoo (2000).
2002 was an extremely important year for Rani as she did her first film with the Yashraj Banner. Though Mujhse Dosti Karogi, flopped Rani’s performance was appreciated and was in fact the best thing in the film. That year she also did Saathiya where Yash Chopra was one of the producers along with Mani Ratnam and Bobby Bedi. Saathiya, directed by Shaad Ali and co-starring Vivek Oberoi, was a re-working of Mani Ratnam’s Alai Payuthey (2000) about a young couple who get married and realize that marriage is not a bed of roses. The film was a hit at the box office. Rani was the life and soul of the film responding with a beautifully shaded performance. Chalte Chalte (2003) with Shah Rukh Khan, again looking at post-marital problems of a young couple and their trials and adjustments, brought Rani futher accolades. She was now being recognized as an extremely able actress.
Rani hit her peak in 2004 with Yuva, Veer Zara and Hum Tum. In Yuva, again playing a young Bengali woman, Rani is outstanding as Sasi, married to Lallan (Abhishek Bachchan) and who gamely tries to get him to leave a life of crime finally aborting their baby when she realizes he cannot and will not change. In Veer Zaara though playing a supporting role of the lawyer getting the two lovers together, it is Rani who moves the film forward and makes maximum impact in the film and in Hum Tum she perfectly plays Sally to Saif Ali Khan’s Harry. Rani went on to sweep all the Best Actress as well as Best Supporting Actress Awards for Hum Tum and Yuva respectively. She was now the reigning queen of Hindi cinema and with Kajol’s retirement post marriage, undoubtedly Bollywood’s finest actress.
If 2004 took her to Hindi filmdom’s numero uno position, 2005 saw Rani outdo anything she had done so far and give one of her best performances ever in Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s otherwise overblown Black. As the deaf, dumb and blind Michelle McNally, Rani is absolutely stunning. Be it her ‘speech’ at graduation or the scene at the dining table or as she ‘dances’ to the music being played at a party, she is absolutely spot on. Incidentally, Rani initially refused the film as she wasn’t sure she could do justice to the role but when Bhansali persisted, she trained at the Helen Keller institute in Mumbai for picking up the sign language and other nuances for her role. Needless to say she swept all awards for Best Actress for the second year in succession. She also had a huge commercial success the same year with Bunty Aur Babli and was in fact, the life of the otherwise disappointing film. Her other major release of the year was another overblown film, The Rising and she was adequate enough in her small role as the prostitute.
Since then Rani has been efficient enough in her performances without being spectacular. Of course, she is too good an actress to be bad but her performances in Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna (2006) and in particular in her films in 2007 – TaRaRumPum, Laga Chunari Mein Daag and Saawariya (2007) have been good enough but the extra spark has been missing. Of these, she comes across best in Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna (KANK), Karan Johar’s take on the institution of marriage as it is she, in particular, from the ensemble cast who rises above the script and saves many a moment in the 3 hour plus marital saga.
Unfortunately for her, her following releases Thoda Pyaar Thoda Magic (2008) where she plays an angel, and Dil Bole Hadippa! (2009), in spite of a reliably efficient performance from her, did nothing for her and Rani too faded away from the scene for a while.
She made a smashing comeback of sorts with No One Killed Jessica (2011) as an outspoken TV journalist but continues to work infrequently now. Yet when she is seen on the screen be it as Aamir Khan’s wife in Talaash (2012), or in one of the shorts of Bombay Talkies (2013), she proved what a matchless performer she is. Mardani (2014) saw yet another landmark act from her as a tough cop working towards breaking a human trafficking nexus.
On the personal front, Rani is married to filmmaker Aditya Chopra.