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Best Actor Heroes of Bollywood

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V Kumar has been writing on Bollywood movies and music for several years, highlighting perspectives that are often missed out or ignored.

Great Acting Stars of Bollywood

Greatest Acting Heroes of Bollywood

Greatest Acting Heroes of Bollywood

Best Leading Actors of Bollywood

Bollywood movies are typically carried through the box office on the shoulders of the leading actors. Since people do not come to the theatres primarily to watch and review great acting skills, acting and stardom are not exactly the same. However, there have been many actors who have attained and retained stardom with their acting skills, thereby contributing to the evolution of Bollywood as a great entertainment industry. These great actors have also put on screen, not only the fictional characters that they had to portray, but also an enormous reservoir of human emotions, interactions and experiences within the existing context of Indian society, which otherwise finds a place only in the best of literature.

Let us look at the greatest dozen - the twelve best actor heroes, who defined Bollywood with their acting and stardom ....


Sanjeev Kumar - Arguably the greatest ever actor in Bollywood

Sanjeev Kumar - Arguably the greatest ever actor in Bollywood

The Actor who could play Any Role

Sanjeev Kumar is considered by many as the greatest actor ever seen in Bollywood. For a Bollywood Hero who was reasonably successful, he never got typified into a style, a fact that might have prevented him for achieving greater stardom. His verstality was legendary, his acting prowess being apparent in the movie NAYA DIN NAYI RAAT (1974) where he played nine roles. He matched Dilip Kumar in SUNGHURSH (1968) and VIDHATA (1982) even in his brief cameos and his roles in KHILONA (1970), KOSHISH (1974), MAUSAM (1976), SWARGA NARAK (1978) and ANGOOR (1982) are among the best acting performances ever seen on Bollywood screen. His most famous role was that of Thakur in SHOLAY (1975), which can be considered one of the famous characters ever played in Bollywood.

A Great Acting Song from KHILONA (1970)

Dilip Kumar

Dilip Kumar - A Legend in Acting

Dilip Kumar - A Legend in Acting

The Epitome of Acting in Bollywood

Dilip Kumar inspired more actors with his acting that any other actor in Bollywood. Often considered the gold standard in terms of depicting emotions and complex characters, he has been emulated by at least two generations of actors till date, and not often with great success. He was one of the three reigning stars of Bollywood of his time and perhaps the best actor of the three. His grear roles form a very long list including MELA (1948), BABUL (1950), DAAG (1952), NAYA DAUR (1957), MADHUMATI (1958), PAIGHAM (1959), RAM AUR SHYAM (1967) and SHAKTI (1982). His best and most famous role was that of DEVDAS (1955), which largely defined his image. He won eight Filmfare Awards as Best Actor.

A Glimpse of Dilip Kumar's Acting in a song (1966)

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The Greatesr Superstar of Bollywood

The Greatesr Superstar of Bollywood

A Great Actor Overtaken by Superstardom

Amitabh Bachchan redefined the meaning of the words 'angry young man' with his acting, with the advent of which, Bollywood and perhaps the Indian society was never the same again. While the world struggled with economic woes of the seventies, Indian masses got their icon and representative in the form of his rebellious characters who rebelled against everything - society, law, establishment, and even the almighty god! His legend began with ZANZEER (1973) and grew with DEEWAR (1975), SHOLAY (1975) and MUQADDAR KA SIKANDAR (1978). Amitabh, the actor was probably somewhat subdued behind this superstar, but broke free in movies like ABHIMAAN (1973), MILI (1975), YARAANA (1981), NAMAKHALAL (1982) and SHARAABI (1984). His acting in BAGHBAAN (2003) set another milestone in acting.

A Musical Mood of the Angry Superstar from SHARAABI (1984)


The Evergreen Hero of Bollywood who gave romance a new meaning

The Evergreen Hero of Bollywood who gave romance a new meaning

A Beloved Hero who was Underrated as an Actor

Dev Anand remains a confusing enigma of Bollywood. This evergreen actor who continued to play leading roles even in his eighties, romancing ladies around a quarter of his age must be given due credit for his acting abilities, which made him one of the most enduring stars of Bollywood history. His acting prowess is most apparent in his movies of fifites and sixties, like BAAZI (1951), TAXI DRIVER (1954), CID (1956), KALA PANI (1958), BAMBAI KA BABU (1960), TERE GHAR KE SAMNE (1963) and TEEN DEVIYAN (1965). However, his roles that establish him as one of the best actors in a leading role are those in GUIDE (1965) and HUM DONO (1961). He remained one of he most saleable stars till the mid seventies, before age and events overtook him.

Dev Anand in a song from TERE GHAR KE SAAMNE (1963)

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One of the first great Actor-Stars of Bollywood

One of the first great Actor-Stars of Bollywood

The First Natural Actor Hero of Bollywood

The list of greatest actor heroes of Bollywood cannot be completed without including the man who made stardom look natural on the screen. Motilal is credited by many as one of the best and one of the earliest great natural actors of Bollywood. Attaining overnight stardom with his first release in SHAHER KA JADOO (1934), Motilal went on the ladders of success with later memorable movies include ACHHOOT (1940), AAGE KADAM (1943), EK THI LADKI (1949) and PARAKH (1961).

Motilal too is said to have inspired a whole generation of actors. He was a famous star of his time and always in news because of his royal ways and hobbies like horse-racing, speeding cars and flying aircraft. The generation of today would not have seen much of him. For those watching his movies, his era may look technically backward compared to Bollywood of today, but rest assured, Motilal will still hold his own.

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A Memorable Musical Glimpse of Motilal from JAAGTE RAHO (1956)


The first superstar of Bollywood, whose acting skills were often underrated

The first superstar of Bollywood, whose acting skills were often underrated

The Actor who took Stardom to New Heights

Rajesh Khanna can be described as a hurricane of acting stardom, the first and probably the biggest of its kind ever seen in the industry. He began as a very attractive, elegant and impressive actor hero, who rode on his extraordinary abilities of subtle facial expressions and gestures that introduced a hitherto unwritten chapter of acting, not only in Bollywood, but probably in the whole world. His great roles in KATI PATANG (1971), ANAND (1971), AMAR PREM (1972), BAWARCHI (1972) and AAPKI KASAM (1974) are among the best acting performances of Bollywood. His superstardom, the peaks of which were probably never seen before or after, perhaps also took a toll on the great actor in him. Everything has a cost ... so has stardom. Yet, his acting in later movies was enough to carry the plot through on most occasions.

Rajesh Khanna at his Best from AMAR PREM (1970)

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One of the three legendary actors of his time

One of the three legendary actors of his time

The Showman who Fantasized himself as an Underdog

Raj Kapoor, the actor was always subordinated to Raj Kapoor, the director, except probably, in the very intial years of his career. It was during these initial years that we see the best of Raj Kapoor, the actor in movies like BARSAAT (1949), AWARA (1952), AAH (1953) and SHREE 420 (1954). With the superlative success of these masterpieces and the Charlie Chaplinusque persona that became the trademark of Raj Kapoor, it was perhaps in movies where he was not the director that his acting skills were best exposed during the later years. Movies like CHHALIA (1960) and TEESRI KASAM (1966) do provide glimpses of the extraordinary actor who was sidelined by his own directorial ambitions. A review of his acting will also not be complete without mentioning JAAGTE RAHO (1956) and PHIR SUBAH HOGI (1957) which provide a very convincing evidence of his acting as an underdog - a role that reached its zenith with MERA NAAM JOKER (1970), an experimental movie whose box office failure marked the end of the actor in him.

A Beautiful song with very Impressive Acting from SHREE 420 (1955)


One of the most versatile Bollywood Actors of all time

One of the most versatile Bollywood Actors of all time

The Most Committed Actor Star of Bollywood

From QAYAMAT SE QAYAMAT TAK (1988), a movie that hardly had a story and little scope for an actor, Aamir Khan has travelled a long distance in establishing himself as one of the acting legends of Bollywood. This journey, over a quarter of a century, has been struck more by stardom, but it goes to his credit that he has never allowed his stardom to overshadow the actor within, a compliment that is difficult to extend to most other stars in the history of Bollywood. He remains committed professionally, and the evidence is all too obvious, from RAKH (1989), DIL HAI KI MAANTA NAHIN (1991), ANDAAZ APNA APNA (1994), RANGEELA (1995), SARFAROSH (1999) and LAGAAN (2001) to RANG DE BASANTI (2006), TAARE ZAMEEN PAR (2007) and 3 IDIOTS (2009). Each of these movies further established his verstality and commitment to acting without compromising stardom or box office success.

A Unique Song with Great Acting from GHULAM (1998)

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The Great Actor who did not become as big a star

The Great Actor who did not become as big a star

The Great Actor who did not become a Star

If there is one actor about whose great acting skills there is always a consensus, it is Balraj Sahni. Old or new, most critics, actors and directors agree on his greatness as an actor, even though he was never that big a star in box office terms. Balraj Sahni acted to perfection the conceptualizations of some of the greatest directors of Bollywood. His role in DO BIGHA ZAMEEN (1953) and KABULIWALA (1961) are undisputedly among the best ever acting performances of Bollywood history. His roles in WAQT (1965), SUNGHURSH (1968), DO RAASTE (1969) and GARAM HAWA (1973) are some of his other great performances. He held his place as an actor in spite of his age and lack of exceptional looks that were the norm in Bollywood of his times.

A Famous Song on Balraaj Saahni from WAQT (1965)


One of the Best Bollywood Actors of all time

One of the Best Bollywood Actors of all time

An Actor of Bollywood, A Star in Acting

The roles and characters played by Naseeruddin Shah can be described as the other face of Bollywood, a face that found its appearance in the seventies in the so called 'Parallel Cinema'. Ironically, it established itself around the same time that Amitabh Bachchan's superstardom has reduced mainstream Bollywood to a one man industry. An actor whose great skills are a milestone in Bollywood, Naseeruddin Shah did join mainstream popular Bollywood movies and made a place for himself there too. He may not have been a superstar on the Box Office, but he is one of the biggest stars on the Acting Canvas of Bollywood. His most memorable roles are in NISHANT (1975), JUNOON (1978), ALBERT PINTO KO GUSSA KYON ATA HAI (1980), JAANE BHI DO YAARON (1983), KATHA (1983), MASOOM (1983), IJAAZAT (1987) and CHAMATKAR (1992), though he remains impressive in almost every character that he has portrayed.

Great Song, Great Actor ....Great Movie - MASOOM (1983)

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One of the Best Exponents of Hystrionics and Romance in Bollywood

One of the Best Exponents of Hystrionics and Romance in Bollywood

A Star powered with a Thousand Watts of Energy

Shahrukh Khan is not a stereotype actor of Bollywood, neither is he a stereotype Star. What makes him very different from most other great actors of Bollywood (and even Hollywood) is that he does not depend on underacting, a trait that was perfected only by Sanjeev Kumar among all great actor stars of Bollywood, before him. What makes Shahrukh different, however, is that unlike Sanjeev Kumar, who did occasionally fall back upon underacting in movies like SHOLAY (1975) and MAUSAM (1976), Shahrukh almost always retains his thousand watts on the screen. His energy, along with great acting skills, makes him one of the greatest romanctic actors of all time. It also helped him carry negative roles in movies like BAAZIGAR (1993) and DARR (1993) in a way that was never seen earlier. His other memorable roles are in KABHI HAAN KABHI NA (1993), DILWALE DULHANIYA LE JAYENGE (1995), KUCH KUCH HOTA HAI (1998), KAL HO NA HO (2003), VEER ZARA (2004) and PAHELI (2005). More could be on their way....

A Typical Shahrukh Masterpiece from CHALTE CHALTE (2003)


The Grandfather of Acting in Bollywood

The Grandfather of Acting in Bollywood

The Star who became a Great Actor

Ashok Kumar became a star even before Bollywood itself could take roots. As a Laboratory Assistant who was accidentally offered a lead role in JEEVAN NAIYYA (1936) because the Hero had eloped with the Director's wife, Ashok Kumar grabbed his destiny with both hands to become a leading star of the time, acting opposite Devika Rani (the Director's wife who had earlier disappeared) in ACHOOT KANYA (1936). His subsequent movies were also hits and with NIRMALA (1938), KANGAN (1939) and JHOOLA (1941), he was virtually at the top. With time, the star evolved into a great actor in movies like KISMET (1943) where he played the first anti-hero and MAHAL (1949) which was a milestone in many ways. He continued to retain his stardom in the fifities with movies like PARINEETA (1953), HOWRAH BRIDGE (1958) and CHALTI KA NAAM GAADI (1958). His later roles, devoid of stardom were even better in terms of acting, with most memorable of them being in ASHIRWAAD (1969) that fetched him the Filmfare Best Actor Award too.

A Touching Song with Ashok Kumar from ASHIRWAAD (1968)



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© 2012 V Kumar


V Kumar (author) on January 03, 2015:

Thanks. I used the words Actor Heroes only because of this reason - the list is restricted to those who were usually in the leading roles. I fully agree with your comments about Om Puri and Pankaj Kapoor. Irrfan Khan should be there in the list when it is updated in view of contemporary performances that have lasted the scrutiny of time. (I wrote this a few years back) Question would be whether we can drop anybody from this list. Any suggestions ?

HK from London on January 02, 2015:

That's a fantastic list. But, I think this is missing few great actors like Om Puri, Pankaj Kapoor and Irrfan Khan. I think Irrfan khan is the best actor who is having a lot of influence on Indian Cinema.

Umar ayyub on January 19, 2014:

Shahrukh khan best actor of the world best romantic and richest actor of the world. i am a biggest fan of king khan i love you srk

abu bakar on January 11, 2014:

king khan best

mukesh agnihotri on February 25, 2013:

no one can match sanjeev kumar who can play any role with perfection.. all khan together can not match his talent

Mahaveer Sanglikar from Pune, India on February 08, 2013:

Interesting information..... Shared.

abbasi on January 30, 2013:

where is salman khan

manju gowda on January 24, 2013:

Sallu bhai kaha (yelli) in kannada

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