Prior work and breakthrough, 1997-2002
After doing a short cameo appearance for the first time in her father's Bengali film Biyer Phool (1992), Mukerji made her acting debut five years later, as the protagonist of Raja Ki Aayegi Baraat (1997). Her performance as a rape victim in the film was well received, but the film failed to do well commercially. Nevertheless, she received a Special Jury recognition at the Star Screen Awards. However, when the film failed at the box office, she returned to college to complete her education.
Mukerji had a successful comeback in 1998 with Ghulam, opposite Aamir Khan; the film did well at the box office. The song Aati Kya Khandala made Mukerji popular among the masses, earning her the nickname of Khandala Girl. Karan Johar's directorial debut, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, co-starring Shahrukh Khan and Kajol, followed for her that year. The movie was a blockbuster, and she received her first Filmfare Award in the Best Supporting Actress category.
She followed her career by signing on several projects. Unfortunately, most of them did not do well at the box office. Although Badal was one of the highest grossing films of 2000, she still did not succeed to establish her status in the industry at that point of time. Among other films of that period, Kamal Haasan's Hey Ram was a critical success.
In 2001, Mukerji starred in Abbas Mustan's romantic drama Chori Chori Chupke Chupke, co-starring Salman Khan and Preity Zinta. The film was released after a one-year delay, and was one of the first Bollywood movies to handle the issue of surrogate childbirth. Mukerji's role was that of Priya Malhotra, a woman who is unable to conceive after a miscarriage, thus hires a surrogate mother. Rediff.com wrote, "Rani Mukherji is handicapped with a role that doesn't give her much scope besides weeping and sobbing. To her credit, she manages to hold her own even while playing a stereotypical sacrificing bhartiya nari."
In 2002, Mukerji played the lead role in Kunal Kohli's romance Mujhse Dosti Karoge!, co-starring alongside Hrithik Roshan and Kareena Kapoor. Although the movie did not do well in India, it generated great business overseas, and marked her entry into India's biggest production house: Yash Raj Films. Later that year, Mukerji starred in Shaad Ali's critically acclaimed Saathiya opposite Vivek Oberoi. Essaying the role of Suhani Sharma, a medical student who deals with the tensions and discontent of being married at a young age, she won a Filmfare Critics Award for Best Performance, and among several other nominations, received her first Best Actress nomination at the Filmfare. Manish Gajjar from BBC noted, "...Rani Mukerjee...plays the character of a middle class girl with great conviction.
Mukerji's first 2003 release was Aziz Mirza's drama Chalte Chalte opposite Shahrukh Khan.The film saw her play a similar role to that of Saathiya, and she received her second nomination for Filmfare Best Actress Award. Among another three releases that year, Mukerji starred in Chori Chori, where she portrayed her first comic role. Although the film did not do well at the box office, Mukerji's comic timing was praised.
In 2004, her performance as a Bengali housewife in Mani Ratnam's Yuva won Mukerji her second Filmfare Best Supporting Actress Award. Though the film failed to do well, her performance was critically acclaimed with one critic writing, "the role demanded an actress of substance and Rani more than lives up to the expectations". She followed through by playing the leading role in the romantic comedy Hum Tum, which became one of the biggest hits of the year. The film, based on the 1989 film When Harry Met Sally..., was directed by Kunal Kohli. Mukerji's portrayal of Rhea Sharma, a woman of today's generation, won her several awards, including her first Filmfare Best Actress Award. BBCwrote about her performance," Rani is fast becoming one of the more dependable and versatile actresses of her generation."
Her last release of the year was Yash Chopra's love saga Veer-Zaara, co-starring alongside Shahrukh Khan and Preity Zinta. The film, which emerged as the top grossing movie of the year in India and abroad, tells the love story of an Indian officer, Veer Pratap Singh, played by Khan, and a Pakistani woman, Zaara, played by Zinta. Mukerji played the supporting role of Saamiya Siddiqui, a Pakistani lawyer who takes it upon herself to find the truth about Veer Pratap Singh.
In 2005, Mukerji starred in four high-profile films: Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Black, Shaad Ali's Bunty Aur Babli, Amol Palekar's Paheli and Ketan Mehta's The Rising. She was primarily noted for her performance in Black. When Bhansali first came to Mukerji with the offer, she turned it down and stated that she was not confident enough to play a deaf-blind girl. Once the director put faith in her, she agreed to do it and intensely studied sign language with professionals at the Helen Keller Institute in Mumbai. Mukerji received much critical acclaim for her performance and collected numerous trophies in the category of Best Actress at various award ceremonies. IndiaFM noted, "There's no denying that Rani delivers her best performance to date. With no dialogues in her lap, the actress conveys through expressions solely and what a terrific impact she makes. Here's a performance that should act as a reference guide for all aspiring actors". Her next release, Bunty Aur Babli, surfaced as one of the biggest hits of the year. The film, though successful at the box office, opened to mixed reviews, and so did Mukerji's performance, with one critic writing, "Rani has done a great job most of the time, though she does tend to go a little over the top in the crying scenes. Nevertheless, Mukerji received Best Actress nominations from the IIFA Awards and Filmfare Awards.
Mukerji was offered the lead role in Mira Nair's Hollywood film, The Namesake (2007) but owing to clashing dates with Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna, she could not commit to the project. Her first release in 2006 was Karan Johar's drama Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna, which consisted of a multi-starrer that included Amitabh Bachchan, Shahrukh Khan, Abhishek Bachchan, Preity Zinta and Kirron Kher. The film opened to mixed reviews but emerged as the most successful movie ever overseas. The film tells the story of two unhappily married couples in New York, which results in an extramarital affair. Mukerji played the role of Maya Talwar, a woman layered with self-doubt and question about the relationship between her and her husband, played by Abhishek Bachchan; her performance was well received. Rajeev Masand from CNN-IBN concluded, "Rani looks a million bucks and she dives under the skin of her character to make that part one that we will remember for a long time."She received several nominations for Best Actress, and won her third IIFA Best Actress Award for the third consecutive year. Mukerji's next release was B.R. Chopra's Baabul. The movie did not do well at the box office in India, though proved to be a hit overseas. Her role as a widow met with mixed reviews.
Recent work, 2007-present
Mukerji's first 2007 release, Ta Ra Rum Pum, where she played a pianist turned housewife and a mother for the first time on celluloid, was a semi hit. Her performance was generally well received, with one critic noting, "Rani enacts the role of the mother/wife proficiently." Her last two releases of the year, Pradeep Sarkar's drama Laaga Chunari Mein Daag where she played the role of a woman who is forced to take up prostitution due to family problems and Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Saawariya where she again essayed the role of a prostitute, were critical and commercial failures in India.
Mukerji's role in Kunal Kohli's Thoda Pyaar Thoda Magic, which released on 27 June 2008, received positive reviews from critics; however, the film failed to do well at the box office. Her following release, Dil Bole Hadippa (2009) was selected to be screened at the Toronto International Film Festival. The project under-performed at the box office and Mukerji's portrayal of a feisty Punjabi village girl who dreams of playing first class cricket was generally well-received by critics. She next starred in UTV Motion Pictures' No One Killed Jessica (2011), a film based on the Jessica Lal murder case. Upon release, Mukerji's acting received mixed reviews. Anupama Chopra of NDTV wrote, "For me, the fatal, false note in No One Killed Jessica is Meera, the fictionalised tough-talking reporter played by Rani Mukherjee. The character is written superficially and Rani’s portrayal of her is equally banal. It’s all about externals. She argues a lot and proudly labels herself a bitch but her hair stays perfectly in place and in the end, she even gets to do a super-hero-like slow motion walk."
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