Bollywood star Madhuri Dixit
Bollywood star Madhuri Dixit
Raveena Tandon
Raveena Tandon
Bollywood actress Karishma Kapoor
Bollywood actress Karishma Kapoor

Mumbai - Bollywood heroines from decades gone by are making a return, defying the traditional career trajectory that consigned older, married Indian actresses to more minor roles or even retirement.

Most prominent among the comeback queens is Madhuri Dixit, 44, once a top female lead in the popular Hindi-language movie industry, who moved to the United States after tying the knot.

Also returning to the screen are Dixit's rival Sridevi, plus sirens Raveena Tandon and Karishma Kapoor. The four women were among the biggest names in cinema through the 1980s and 1990s.

Mainstream Bollywood heroines - objects of desire for millions of cinema-goers - have historically tended to be young and unmarried, with few, if any, bagging leading roles after settling down and having children.

But Dixit and her contemporaries believe the time is now right for older actresses to have more meaningful and mature roles as the country's economy expands, changing attitudes and expectations.

"Our society is changing and so are the attitudes of people," said Dixit, best known for her role as a dancer in the 1988 film Tezaab (Acid).

"The subjects of our films have changed dramatically compared to 10 years ago. I feel there is a lot to do for actresses like me in the film industry. The audience tastes too have matured."

Dixit, who has moved back to Mumbai, the home of Bollywood, from Denver, Colorado, is starting relatively small, signing up as a judge on an Indian reality television show and as the host of a programme on a food channel.

But she is said to be considering offers once her family is settled.

She was last seen in Aaja Nachle (Come, Dance) in 2007. The film was marketed as her Bollywood comeback but it failed at the box office.

After leaving India for the United States in 1999, she appeared in only a handful of movies.

Sridevi, now 48, last appeared in Judaai (Separation) in 1997. She has lost weight to stand a chance of leading roles in the image-conscious industry and has begun shooting a new film, English Vinglish.

She told the Sunday Mid-day newspaper in an interview that she had enjoyed raising her two children at home and felt "nervous and excited" about returning to the film industry, but that it felt like she had never been away.

Sridevi is married to the film producer Boney Kapoor.

Raveena Tandon, hardly over the hill at 36, made her comeback, after having children, in this year's Bbuddha Hoga Tera Baap (Your Dad's Ancient), starring the evergreen male actor Amitabh Bachchan, who turned 69 this week.

Karishma Kapoor, 37 and now a mother of two, is in line for her comeback in the 3D horror film Dangerous Ishq (Dangerous Love).

She has also performed a song-and-dance sequence for the film Housefull 2, due out next year.

Karishma's sister Kareena - the long-term partner of top Bollywood actor Saif Ali Khan - believes the old rules about actresses no longer apply.

The 31-year-old said she wants to emulate her heroine, US actress Meryl Streep, who has stayed at the top of the business for decades.

"I'd like to do some heavy-duty performance-oriented films," she told the Times of India newspaper in a recent interview.

"I'm a Meryl Streep fan and I think age or marital status can never be a deterrent for an actor. The only thing that one needs is passion." - Sapa-AFP