Superstars of Hindi Cinema (Male)
1930s - 40s: Ashok Kumar, Surendra and Motilal
Ashok Kumar: One of India's most famous actors, Ashok Kumar was known as the 'ever green' hero of Hindi cinema. As a young assistant to filmmaker Himanshu Rai, he got his break in acting career by accident when he volunteered to substitute for the lead actor, who fell ill before production of the film Jeevan Nayya (1936) started. The same year and for the same reason, the producer offered him to play the lead in his next film, Achut Kanya, both opposite Devika Rani, the First Lady of the Indian cinema. His unique easy-style acting, quite a contrast to theatrical acting common then, was highly acclaimed. Both the films were also hits at the box-office and Ashok Kumar was in demand, not only for movies made by his mentor, Himanshu Rai, but also by other directors - Kangan (1939), Bandhan (1940), Naya Sansar (1941), Jhoola (1941), Najma (1943). Bollywood's first super hit Kismet (1943) that ran for three years in Bombay, gained him national fame for his charismatic performance. Ashok Kumar remained the most sought after star, even in character roles after he was over-age for lead roles, and appeared in 300 movies, most of these hits - Mahal (1949), Samadhi (1950), Afsana (1951), Parineeta (1953), Chalti Ka Naam Gadi (1958), Dhool Ka Phool (1959), Kanoon (1960), Mere Mehboob (1963), Bandini (1963), Jewel Thief (1967), Pakeeza (1971) and Victoria No. 203 (1972). In his private life, Ashok Kumar was a fine painter and an active practitioner of Homeopathy. Popularly known as Dadamoni - jewel of an elder brother - he never celebrated his birthday after his famous brother, Kishore Kumar, died in 1987 on his birthday.
Surendra: Movie makers in Bombay were desperately looking for a singer to match K. L. Saigal, whose melodious voice was making Calcutta's New Theatres far ahead of them at the box-office. Their search ended with the famous producer-director Mehboob Khan discovering a 6-feet tall, handsom singer, Surendra, to play hero in his first musical, Deccan Queen (1936). The melodious rendering of 'Birha ki aag lagi more man main' in the movie, was only a start to establish Surandra as the Saigal of Bombay. Then followed another hit song, 'Tumhi ne mujh ko prem sikhaya', a duet with Bibbo in Manmohan (1936). With both the movies becoming hits at the box-office, Mehboob repeated him in Jagirdar, Gramophone Singer, Alibaba and his classic Aurat, all great musicals, Surendra was now the super singing star. Forties proved far more lucky for him with many hit movies and at least three super hits - Lal Haveli (1944), Bharthari (1944) and Anmol Ghadi (1946), in which he sang the all time greatest duet with Noorjehan, 'Awaaz de kahan hai'. In later years, Surendra played chracter roles in numerous films, including super hits Baiju Bawra, Waqt, Milan and Mughl-E-Azam.
Motilal: If Ashok Kumar was charismatic, Surendra was melodious, Motilal was the most natural actor. He did not act, he just lived his role. Acting for him meant merging his soul with that of the character he played in his easy acting style. This made him a star right from the start of his career in social melodramas of the 30s - Dr. Madhurika, Kulvadhu, Vatan Parast, Do Ghadi Ki Maang, Jagirdar, Hum Tum Aur Woh, Sach Hai etc. Back to back hits, Holi (1940), Sasural (1941), Pardesi (1941), Arman (1942), Taqdeer (1943), and Dost (1944) marked his emergence as a superstar. The biggest runaway hit, Ek Thi Ladki (1949) put him on top of the popularity chart of actors of the era. But his best was yet to come - Mr. Sampath (1952), based on a R. K. Narayan's story, got him the highest acclaim for acting from critics as well as the public. He also excelled in character roles in movies such as, Devdas, Jagte Raho, Ab Dilli Doo Nahin, Paigam, Anari, Parakh etc. In private life he was an aristocrat who moved in the best of circles. His romance with co-star Shobhana Samarth, who was already married and was mother of Nutan and Tanuja, was the biggest love story of Bollywood that has never been filmed so far.
Tribute to the superstars of 1930s and 40s is incomplete unless a glowing mention of two other great stars is made - Prithviraj Kapoor and K. L. Saigal. The former had his finest moments playing Alexander The Great in Sohrab Modi's Sikander (1941) and later as Emperor Akbar in Mughl-E-Azam (1960). Prithviraj Kapoor remained more devoted to drama than films and founded Prithvi Theatres, the training ground for many a great actors, including his famous sons, Raj Kapoor, Shammi Kapoor and Shashi Kapoor. K. L. Saigal was more famous as the greatest ever singer of Hindi cinema than as an actor. He spent best part of his career in Calcutta with New Theatres and moved to Bombay in mid-forties only, where he gave three great musicals - Tansen, Bhakt Surdas and Shahjahan.
1950s - 60s: Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor and Dev Anand
Dilip Kumar: The greatest actor ever to grace the Hindi cinema, he is also famous as the King of Tragedy. The audiences gave him standing ovation in packed cinema halls for his powerful performance and came out wiping tears at the tragic end to their hero's love story in the greatest tragedies made by Bollywood - Jugnu (1947), Shaheed and Mela (1948), Andaaz (1949), Babul and Jogan (1950), Deedar (1951), Udan Khatola and Devdas (1955), Madhumati (1958), Mugha-E-Azam (1960) and Ganga Jamuna (1961). In superhits of the 60s, Azaad, Kohinoor and Ram Aur Shyam, Dilip Kumar showed the lighter side of his reel life which was as rewarding for the viewers as his great tragedies of the 50s. His perfomance was not only applauded by Indian audiences, but it also attracted the attention of foreign film producers, at least two of them offering him important roles - 20th Century Fox in The Rains Came and David Lean in Lawrence of Arabia. Dilip Kumar declined both the offers - "In your own bazaar you enjoy a certain status. What's the point of venturing into fields unknown, where you have no say." Dilip Kumar's real life romance with Madhubala in the 50s was no different from his reel life Tragedies of the period - the couple could not unite at the end. He later married Saira Banu and is leading a happy life. As a man, Dilip Kumar is a very fine human, full of humility and compassion.
Raj Kapoor: Producer, director, actor, editor, entertainer, he was all in one - the greatest showman of Indian cinema. He was working as assistant to Kidar Sharma when the director gave him a break as actor in Neel Kamal (1947) opposite Madhubala. An ambitious youngman as he was at 24, he produced, directed and acted in Aag (1948). His next production Barsaat (1949) was a smash hit, which not only established him as a great producer director, but also made him a superstar overnight. The film also produced the most popular romantic team in Bollywood history. Whenever Raj Kapoor and Nargis came together on screen, sparks flew , their chemistry was electrifying. Same year, Mehboob, in a casting coup, starred Raj Kapoor-Nargis team with Dilip Kumar for the most modern romantic triangle ever, Andaaz (1949). The film was a grea hit and helped all the three stars achieve the highest standards in acting. Raj Kapoor's next production, Awaara (1951) was another mega hit, which was the first Indian film to have gained popular acclaim abroad, especially in Russia, where the movie and songs were dubbed in Russian language. Amongst his other productions, Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai (1960) and Sangam (1964) were also superhits. A great admirer of Charles Chaplin, his own 'tramp' (Awaara, Shri 420, Mera Naam Joker) is modeled somewhat on his mentor, though with a definite individual flair. Raj Kapoor, the recipient of Dada Phalke Award and several other awards for his acting and direction, appeared in 60+ films, many of them great hits.
Dev Anand: Handsome and debonair, called Gregory Peck of Bollywood for his resemblance to and similarity in acting style of the Hollywood superstar. - played the mischievous lover boy chasing the heroin. A graduate of English literature, he came to Bombay to join his elder brother, producer director Chetan Anand. Starting his career as actor in Hum Ek Hein (1946), he soon attained stardom with his first super hit Ziddi (1948). In early years of his film career, he became famous for his romance with Suraiya, the singing rage of the era and his co-star of many movies - Vidya (1948), Jeet (1949). Shayar (1949), Afsar (1950), Nili (1950) and Do Sitare (1951). However, the real fame came when most of his movies turned super hits - Baazi (1951), Jaal (1952), Munimjee (1955), Pocketmar (1955), Paying Guest (1957), Kala Pani (1958), Kala Bazaar (1960), Bombai Ka Babu (1960), Hum Dono (1961), Guide (1965), Jewel Thief (1967), Johnny Mera Naam (1970) and Hare Rama Hare Krishna (1971). The audiences, especially the youth, loved him for his boy next door image - part lover, part clown, part good-doer. As producer director he is known for launching new faces who later become great stars - Zeenat Aman, Tina Munim, Jackey Shroff and many more. Known as the 'ever green' hero, the super star of 50s and 60s, continues to produce and act even now - his latest, Mr. Prime Minister is due for release any time now. Lately his movies have not done well at the box-office, but it does not dicourage him - "I never give myself a chance to get depressed. I think ahead and move on."
In 50s and 60s, when the superstars Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor and Dev Anand ruled the Hindi cinema, three other stars, shining brightly over the bollywood sky, attracted much attention - Rajender Kumar, Sunil Dutt and Shammi Kapoor. Rajender Kumar came to be known as Jubilee Kumar after most of his movies celebrated silver jubilee run in theatres - Mother India, Ghar Sansar, Goonj Uthi Shehnai, Dhool Ka Phool, Chirag Kahan Roshni Kahan, Mere Mehboob, Dil Ek Mandir, Sangam and many more. Sunil Dutt was acclaimed for his powerful performance in social melodramas like Ek Hi Raasta, Mother India, Sadhna, Sujata, Gumrah, Waqt, Khandaan, Milan and Hamraz. Padosan, in which he teamed up with Mehmood and Kishore Kumar to play comedy role, is considered the best ever comedy film of the era. Shammi Kapoor, the top hero of musical comedies, displayed his unique dancing talent in song and dance numbers - Tumsa Nahin Dekha, Dil Deke Dekho. Junglee, Professor, Rajkumar, Kashmir Ki Kali, Janwar, Teesri Manzil, An Evening in Paris, Brahmchari, Andaz, Tumse Achcha Kaun Hei etc.
1970s - 80s: Amitabh Bachchan, Dharmendra and Rajesh Khanna
Amitabh Bachchan: In the year 1973, a film was released - Zanjeer. The film saw a new kind of hero, the angry young man, who took the law in his own hands and fought the villain. The people saw him as their savior. The actor playing the lead role, till then a struggler with a string of flops behind him, is Amitabh Bachchan. With his tall and lean looks, Amitabh Bachchan became the emblamatic of the new kind of action hero - Dewar and Sholay (1975), Trishul, Don and Muqaddar Ka Sikander (1978), Shaan (980), Kala Pathar and Shakti (1982), Coolie (1983). He excels in all types of roles, be it action, drama or comedy - a one man variety entertainment show - Kabhi Kabhie (1976), Amar Akbar Anthony (1977), Mr. Natwarlal (1979), Suhag (1979), Silsila and Lawaris (1981), Namak Halal (1982). The 'Superstar of the Millennium' (BBC poll), selected as the first celebrity from India to be immortalized at Madam Tussaud's Wax Museum, London, recipient of Padma Bhushan and numerous awards, Amitabh Bachchan is still the busiest star with roles specially written for him - Baghban (2003) and Sarkar (2005).
Dharmendra: Another great action hero, the North Indian (Punjabi) macho man, had to struggle hard in the 60s to become one of the top superstars of the 70s and 80s. He got the break by winning the Filmfare Spot-the-talent contest, and signed his first film, Dil Bhi Tera Hum Bhi Tere (1960). Producers saw the potential in his performance and offered him roles, mainly in soft romantic movies - Anpadh (1962), Bandini (1963), Soorat Aur Seerat (1963, Phool Aur Pathar (1966) and Satyakam (1969). The 1970s saw Dharmendra take to action genre like a fish to water, and emerged 'Garam Dharam', the hunk action hero of great hits - Mera Gaon Mera Desh, Jugnu, Kahani Kismat Ki, Yadon Ki Baraat, Raja Jani and Sholay, which also revealed another facet of Dharmendra - his flair for comedy. Dharmendra has been awarded the Filmfare Life Achivement Award for his contribution to Indian cinema.
Rajesh Khanna: The Rajesh Khanna phenomena swept Bollywood off its feet after the release of Aradhna in 1969. The hysteria generated was unlike anything seen before. BBC made a film on him - Bombay Superstar. A textbook prescribed by the Bombay University contained an essay - The Charisma of Rajesh Khanna. Aradhna was a golden jubilee hit, so was his next movie, Do Raaste (1970). Khamoshi (1969) and Safar (1970), came up with sensitive performances straight from the heart. Anand (1970) showed him giving his greatest ever performance as a man stricken with cancer but wanting to live life to the fullest before he dies. His other hit movies include Kati Patang, Amar Prem, Dushman, Haathi Mere Saathi, Apna Desh, Bawarchi, Namak Haram, Daag, Aap Ki Kasam, Prem Nagar, Roti, Amardeep, Thodisi Bewafai, Avtaar and Sauten.
Jeetendra, Sanjeev Kumar, Manoj Kumar, Shashi Kapoor and Rishi Kapoor are the other popular filmstars of the period. Jeetendra started his career with V. Shantaram in Geet Gaya Pathron Ne (1964), but jumped into the spotlight in Farz (1967). He has worked in over 200 movies, many of them great hits - Suhag Raat, Parivar, Khilona, Hamjoli, Caravan, Bidaai, Khushboo, Akhri Dao, Santan, The Burning Train and Aasha. Vigorous dancing in song and dance numbers of his films won him the epithet "jumping jack". Sanjeev Kumar was one of the very few actors who didn't have any competition within the industry. He portayed with ease varied roles, irrespective of the age or the type of character with all the ethos. He worked in 140 films including great hits - Khilona, Manoranjan. Andhi, Sholay, Mausam. Zindagi, Trisul, Nauker, Silsila and Vidhata. Manoj Kumar is more famous as a producer director than an actor. He acted best in his own productions - Shaheed, Upkar, Poorab Aur Pachhim, Roti Kapda Aur Makan, Shor and Kranti. Shashi Kapoor worked in over 150 films, many of which, mainly the multi-starers, were super hits - Waqt, Roti Kapda Aur Makan, Insaniyat, Deewar, Kabhi Kabhie, Trishul, Kala Pathar, Suhag, Shaan, Silsila and Namak Halal. Rishi Kapoor achieved overnight stardom on the release of Bobby, the mega hit of the 70s. Considered as a lucky star, he is cast in most of the multi-starers of the period - Kabhi Kabhie, Amar Akbar Anthony, Naseeb, Coolie etc., proved great hits. He has worked in over hundred films, giving some great solo hits - Rafoo Chakkar, Hum Kisi Se Kam Nahin, Karz, Prem Rog, Sagar, Chandni and Henna.
1990s - onwards: Shahrukh Khan, Salman Khan and Aamir Khan
Shahrukh Khan: One of the biggest Bollywood heart-throbs of the past decade, he is India's most bankable star. His drive for perfection and sincerity to profession won him the maximum awards - 11 awards in 15 years of career so far - Deewana, Darr, Baazigar, Kabhi Han Kabhi Na, Anjaam, Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, Dil To Pagal Hei, Kuch Kuch Hota Hei, Muhabatein, Devdas and Veer Zaara, besides Padmashri. In real life too he plays the role that he played in his hit production, Main Hoon Na - he cares for all those who are close to him. His star power and popularity makes him bigger than the biggest - Badshah Khan, as he is called with respect.
Salman Khan: The actor attained star status with Sooraj Barjaya's Maine Pyar Kiya. Phenominal success of Hum Aapke Hein Kaun established Salman as one of the famous formidable Khan trio. Today he is a sought after hero, working with almost all the top banners. Often known as Bollywood's 'Bad Boy' for his knack of walking into trouble, this macho hunk has a heart made of pure gold. He does good deeds and disappears, just like spiderman. His transformations can be sensitive, vulnerable, funny, agressive and charming, as his roles demand. One thing he does irrespective of the role is getting rid of his shirt to show his muscles. A health freak, he is voted 7th best looking man in the world by People Magazine. All his films have a fantastic opening and many of them prove great hits - Sajan, Andaaz Apna Apna, Karan Arjun, Khamoshi, Kuch Kuch Hota Hei, Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, Tere Naam, Mujh Se Shadi Karoge, Maine Pyar Kyon Kiya and No Entry. With the last three back to back super hits, currently he is at the peak of his career.
Amir Khan: Born in a noted film family (grand uncle- Nasir Hussain, father- Tahir Hussain), he went directly into films from college and made his first hit movie playing a college boy - Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak (1988). He won Filmfare Sensational Debut Award for the film. Known as a perfectionist, as far as possible, he works only in one movie at a time. His other hits include, Dil, Dil Hei Ke Manta Nahin, Jo Jeeta Wahi Sikander, Rangeela, Raja Hindustani, Ghulam, Sarfrosh, Dil Chahta Hei. His first production, Lagan, was not only a big box-office hit in India, but was also nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film (2001). After rave reviews of his latest film Mangal Pandey -the rising, all eyes are on his forthcoming film, Rang De Basanti. Along with the other two Khans, he is still going strong.
The Khans-trio still shining bright, other big stars of the era are - Anil Kapoor, Akshay Kumar, Sunny Deol, Sanjay Dutt and Govinda. In 1989, the runaway hit Tezaab did all the magic for Anil Kapoor, opening for him door to superstardom. Most of his movies that followed, especially with Madhuri Dixit and Sridevi, were major hits -Mr. India, Lamhe, Laadla, Ram Lakhan, Parinda, Kishan Kanhaya, Taal, Ham Aapke Dil Mei Rahte Hein, Mann, Virasat and his latest No Entry. Akshay Kumar came as action hero who did his own stunts and became a star with hit movies Khiladi, Mohra, Dhadkan, Ek Rishta, Ajnabee, Ankhen, Khakee, Aitraaz and Waqt. After the success of Hera Pheri, Awara Pagal Deewana, Mujhse Shadi Karoge and Garam Masala, Akshay Kumar is sought for more comedy roles. Sunny Deol followed the footsteps of his father Dharmendra and became a great action hero with many hits to his credit - Betaab, Ghayal, Darr, Border, Gadar, Indian, The Hero and Champion. Although Sanjay was launched by his father, Sunil Dutt in Rocky (1981), he actually entered Bollywood in a big way with Mahesh Bhatt's big hits, Sadak and Sajan (1991), followed by other hits - Khal Nayak, Daag-the fire, Haseena Man Jayegi, Vaastav, Khoobsoorat, Kante, Munnabhai MBBS and Parineeta. And he has a line of big films to look forward to. Govinda became a star after David Dhawan's Ankhen, followed by many more hits - Khuddar, Raja Babu, Dulara, Coolie No. 1, Hero No. 1, Aunty No. 1, Dulhe Raja, Bade Miyan Chhote Miyan, Pardesi Babu, Anari No. 1, Beti No. 1, Jodi No. 1. He is now more of a politician than an actor - Member Parliament from Bombay.
There has never been a dearth of great actors whose super talent and dedication for the industry has made an indelible mark in the history of Hindi cinema. The emerging new generation of superstars are already in sight - Hritik Roshan, Abhishek Bachchan, John Abraham, Saif Ali, Vivek Oberoi, Zayyad Khan, Fardeen Khan, Arjun Rampal, Aftab Shivdasani and Shahid Kapoor. I wish them luck.