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February 25, 2000


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Men who matter

Ashok Banker presents a list of Bollywood heroes -- in strict alphabetical order -- who made their presence felt in the century gone by

Amitabh Bachchan Aamir Khan: The QSQT cutie grew from a chocolate-faced loverboy into a seriously saleable star in Raja Hindustani and Sarfarosh. His policy of 'a movie a year keeps the flop doctor away’ makes him the most difficult and desired star.

Abhi Bhattacharya: Bengali star of the 1940s, he brought the upright Westernised hero into Hindi films with Anuradha, Aradhana, Amanush and other films.

Ajay Devgan: The son of stunt maestro Veeru Devgan made a death-defying leap from action hero to serious romantic lead, a taali-winning career stunt. Currently on an amazing award-chasing spree with some great performances.

Amitabh Bachchan: The angry young man redefined acting, popular mythology and stardom. His off-screen roles (MP, near-death accident, pop singer, ad model, ABCL) were as dramatic as his onscreen legends. Our greatest star, without any doubt.

Amol Palekar: The epitome of the bhola-bhala, seedha-saadha, middle-class non-hero. Now a successful art film director.

Anil Kapoor: The loverboy charm of Woh Saat Din still hasn’t faded completely, but it took a lot of false relaunches and a truckload of South Indian adaptations to return him to the top list. Helped greatly by his producer brother Boney’s sumptuous production mounting.

Ashok Kumar Ashok Kumar: The Bombay Talkies lab assistant who shot to stardom as the original cigarette-smoking anti-hero in Kismet. The first actor to use 'modern' naturalistic acting in place of the 'jatra-style' used earlier, made acting seem as natural as breathing.

Balraj Sahni: Writer, journalist, theatre director-actor, he brought his neo-realist style to the screen as the rickshaw puller in Do Bigha Zameen. Continued to write as well as act, penning the story and dialogues of Guru Dutt’s Baazi, several novels and an autobiography. A card-carrying Communist to the end.

Chiranjeevi: Telugu megastar who became one of the highest paid actors in the country in the early '90s. Famous for his ‘goonda’ and negative roles, but switched to a good guy in Hindi films.

Dev Anand As producer, he introduced a galaxy of talent -- Guru Dutt, Vijay Anand, Raj Khosla, S D and R D. Burman, Jaidev, Sahir Ludhianvi, Fali Mistry. As a star, he introduced the 'style' school of acting. As director, he makes typically Dev Anand films with nubile newcomers.

Dharmendra: Original macho North Indian 'Punj hero. King of the North territories for 30 years. Changed track from serious Bengali-style socials (Bandini, Anupama, Satyakam) to mainstream Hindi thrillers and comedies (Sholay onwards). The first Punjab da puttar, Sunny aur Bobby da baap.

Dilip Kumar Dilip Kumar: Born Yusuf Khan, was renamed by novelist B C Varma, became a star with Jugnu, superstar with Andaz, Jogan, Deedar, Devdas. Turned to action roles with Aan, Azad, Insaniyat. After an eight-year gap, he returned with Kranti and Shakti with legendary star status. Most famous dialogue: 'Mumbe mumble' (inaudible).

Feroz Khan: The first star Khan, with his trademark cowboy hat, intense dialogue delivery and highly Westernised directorial style. The 'Dharmatma' of stylish and sexy action melodrama, his films are still eagerly awaited by distributors and fans.

Girish Karnad: Rhodes scholar from Oxford, Gnanpith-award winning Kannada playwright, pioneer of the post-Independence theatre movement, first director of FTII (1974-75), great Kannada director-actor. Hindi film fans saw him as the hero of Shyam Benegal’s Nishant, Manthan, Kalyug and Utsav.

Govinda: This tapori from Virar burned up the dance floors and celluloid screens with his street-fresh attitude. He learned acting on the sets, literally blossoming before our eyes to become one of the finest 'all-rounders' and star comedians. Truly the tapori no 1!

Guru Dutt Guru Dutt: Jalaa do yeh duniya, if it doesn’t recall the contribution of this great film maker and actor. One of Hindi cinema’s greatest directors, he created stark, layered, unforgettable black-and-white visions in Sahib Biwi Aur Ghulam, Pyaasa and Kagaz Ke Phool which hinted at his own tragic suicide.

Jairaj: The oldest living Indian actor, even today, at 96, retains his personality, memory and evidence of the multiple fractures and injuries sustained during his career as the first great stunt-action hero. His reign of the silent era culminated with Hatimtai (1956), ranked by Time magazine as one of the century’s best films.

Jeetendra: The ageless, dancing loverboy, whose white patent-leather shoes, perennial boyishness and string of South Indian musical romances were unmatched by any other mainstream Hindi star.

Johnny Walker: A bus conductor who used to entertain his passengers, discovered by Balraj Sahni and a staple of Guru Dutt films. The original Indian stand-up comic and hero’s sidekick, he inspired a whole generation of new stars from Govinda to Johnny Lever, who even imitated his name.

K L Saigal K L Saigal: His legendary performance in Devdas set the standard for musical melodrama, and was inspired by his Sufi peer and other classical Indian forms. A true giant of the industry, his songs remain some of the most popular in Hindi film history.

Kamal Haasan: A towering figure in Tamil, Malayalam and Telugu films, he brought his exceptional talent into Bollywood with the superhit Ek Duje Ke Liye. After a string of tepid masala films, he finally found popular acclaim with his '90s commercial hits. His brilliant scripts were often adapted by other directors like Govind Nihalani.

Kishore Kumar: The first great all-rounder -- actor, singer, director, composer and producer. His rich mellifluous voice was formally untrained, and he imitated jazz-scat, Swiss yodeling and other techniques to create his own unique style. Famous for his screwball offbeat humour, he later shot to fame with Rajesh Khanna’s Aradhana as the first superstar playback singer.

Manoj Kumar: Mr Bharat, as he loved to be known, began as an actor in films like Hariyali Aur Raasta. Turned to directing long, epic patriotic films which combined national sentiments with commercially exploitative elements. Prominent campaigner for the BJP at the height of its communalist heydeys.

Master Vinayak: Legendary Marathi and Hindi actor-director known for his powerful singing and impressive acrobatic acting style. Commissioned great scripts from Marathi literary giants like Mama Warerkar, P K Atre and V S Khandekar. Later played simpleton roles in Brahmachari, Ardhangi and other films.

Master Vithal: The most successful Marathi and Hindi film stunt-star of the silent era. A desi Douglas Fairbanks of his time, he helped define the Hindi film action hero, and also starred in India’s first talkie, Alam Ara.

Mithun Chakraborty: India’s most awarded actor, the amazing movie-a-month sensation churns out a factoryload of films from his Ooty residence, like a second Bollywood. His ability to combine truckdriver-appeal B-movies with impressive National Award-winning performances puts this former alleged Naxalite in a league of his own.

Motilal: His varied roles ranged from the gentleman crook in Mr Sampat, the hero’s urban friend in Devdas, the sophisticate in Taqdeer and Anari, a negative role in Holi, and other dissimilar performances, making him the ‘Indian Lon Chaney,’ after the Hollywood actor known as the ‘man of 1000 faces.’ Inspired Dilip Kumar, and was a cousin of singer Mukesh.

Nana Patekar: The most unlikely filmstar in Bollywood. Shot to instant fame with N Chandra’s Ankush, went on to be a great success as a character actor who also pulled in audiences. Once rumoured to be the highest-paid star, his impressively low-key talent tided him over lean patches, and his real-life simplicity elevated him to legendary status.

Naseeruddin Shah Naseeruddin Shah: The pillar of the parallel cinema movement and perhaps India’s most admired actor. His hesitant, casual delivery and unconventional looks couldn’t keep him from commercial stardom in his second avatar as a successful Bollywood star.

Om Puri: Still remembered for his role as a brutal police officer in Govind Nihalani’s Ardh Satya, this NSD and FTII graduate used his early theatre experience and Ibsenite naturalism to create a unique common-man persona. Found commercial stardom and roles in international films like The Ghost And The Darkness in the '90s.

Prithviraj Kapoor: If he had just fathered the Kapoor clan, he would still be worth honouring. But this son of a police officer who dropped his law studies to act was also one of India’s greatest early stars. His larger-than-life personality, powerful voice and experience in English Shakespearean theatre made him a legend. Produced plays by day while shooting films at night, finally forced to stop when he lost his voice.

Raj Kumar: The 'jaani' star whose unique dialogue delivery and fiery good looks gained him a loyal following. Continued acting almost to the day he died, remembered as the 'prince' of gentlemanly acting.

Raj Kapoor Raj Kapoor: The great showman. Megastar, producer, director and the founder of RK Studios. Learned his craft by working with father Prithviraj, created a Chaplinesque persona in his early films. Later performed more ambitious serious roles, peaking with his mega-flop, Mera Naam Joker. The first Indian star to become popular internationally (especially in Russia). As a major director, explored bold sexual themes.

Rajendra Kumar: First shot to fame because of his resemblance to Dilip Kumar, he created his own musical hero image with a string of hits. Known as the 'jubilee star' for his long-running hits. Started a trend of father-son launches when he directed son Kumar Gaurav in his debut smash hit, Love Story.

Rajesh Khanna Rajesh Khanna: The first Indian megastar, shot to fame with Aradhana and Do Raaste -- both released simultaneously, both superhits. His early image, formed from Gulshan Nanda’s novel characters, gave way to a more flamboyant stylishness which bombed in contrast with Amitabh Bachchan’s serio-tragic acting style in the '80s. Now, better known as an MP, husband of Dimple, father of Twinkle and Rinke, and IT defaulter!

Rajinikanth: Tamil superstar who also appeared in Hindi, Telugu and Kannada films. A bus conductor and fanatic film buff, brought his unique style to acting -- his trademark of flipping a cigarette into his mouth became one of the most imitated filmi gestures.

Rishi Kapoor: The ultimate chocolate hero. The chubby innocence of Mera Naam Joker, adolescent cuteness of Bobby, lovable lover boy of Khel Khel Mein, mischievous casanova of Amar Akbar Anthony, flashy popstar icon of Karz, Rishi Kapoor was the oldest young actor until recently. Now following in the RK tradition by turning director.

Salman Khan: Son of scriptwriter Salim Khan, his early smouldering intensity in Maine Pyaar Kiya was drowned in a string of forgettable flops. Rediscovered his niche as a sexy (muscular) comic loverboy in the '90s to become one of the most successful male stars.

Sanjeev Kumar: The only Gujarati actor to become a Hindi film legend. Brought a refreshing ordinariness to his roles. Astonishing talent showcased in multiple roles (nine in one film!) and some of the most moving performances on celluloid. His unsexy chubbiness and middle-class looks made him the most natural looking filmstar of the industry.

Shah Rukh Khan: The no 1 box office star of the millennium, and the only megastar to come out of television. Burst onto the screen with a remarkable range of roles, including the smash hit Darr, where he played the villain (as originally scripted) who lost the heroine but stole the audience’s heart. With Baazigar, he achieved the peak of negative hero roles. Later known more as a comic, romantic star in some of the century’s biggest hits.

Shammi Kapoor Shammi Kapoor: Younger brother of Raj, son of Prithviraj, went through a number of imitative styles (Errol Flynn, James Dean, Elvis Presley) before establishing his own fantastic song rendition style, peaking with the amazing Junglee. Nobody else could deliver a Hindi song the way he did. Later appeared in a number of bearded, endearingly overweight, paternal roles.

Shashi Kapoor: Youngest Kapoor brother, son of Prithviraj. Debuted in serious roles in Merchant-Ivory and other international productions like the controversial Siddharth, before turning to commercial films like Deewar and Kabhi Kabhi. Turned producer and director, revived Prithvi Theatre alongwith daughter Sanjna, in his father’s memory.

Shatrughan Sinha: The negative hero of Kalicharan and Vishwanath, starred in a series of B-grade action potboilers as well as serious parallel roles. Memorable for his overblown arrogant delivery and Bihari machismo. Later turned talk show host and MP, also known for his entertaining ability to spin jokes.

Sohrab Modi: Urdu-Hindi actor, director, producer who brought Parsi theatre conventions of production design and storytelling to a series of spectacular costume historicals like Pukar, Sheesh Mahal and Jhansi Ki Rani. Also the man who brought Shakespeare to Hindi films.

Sunil Dutt: Former radio announcer (on Radio Ceylon), shot to fame as the daku hero of Mother India, playing the son of his future wife Nargis. Changed to the clean-cut young man image with Sujata and successfully continued playing both types of roles, as well as outright comic parts like Padosan. Father of Sunjay Dutt, and MP who played a heroic role in the 1993 Bombay riots.

Sunil Shetty: The first pahalwan since Dara Singh to make a niche for himself. After a string of lukewarm average hits, he hit big time with his acclaimed performance in the successful Border. Also a local Bombay celebrity known for his fashion boutiques and restaurants.

Sanjay Dutt Sanjay Dutt: Gained notoriety for his imprisonment under TADA for alleged involvement in a gun-running scandal. Struggled against family tragedies -- mother Nargis’s and Richa Sharma’s untimely deaths and up-down career graph -- to make an impact as the intense young rebel of Rocky and Naam, the negative hero of Khalnayak, the crippled loverboy of Saajan and his current muscular action comedy avatar.

Sunny Deol: Son of Dharmendra, he continued the reign of the Punjabi macho man with his debut Betaab and other hits. But after the angry young idealist of Arjun, suffered a lean patch until his career revived with the violent, award-winning Ghayal, setting his image as a Rambo-style action hero as well as a fiery idealist in Damini. One of today’s biggest box office draws.

Uttam Kumar: Bengali superstar who was once considered a one-man Tollywood. Was unable to turn 'national' when his Hindi films like Chotisi Mulaqat and Amanush failed, but remains notable for his impressive work in mainstream Bengali cinema.

V Shantaram: Marathi and Hindi director, ranked with the greatest in India. From his Prabhat Studio, turned out classic films of the 1930s. Married his heroine Sandhya and launched his daughter Rajshree as an actor. Best known for his highly symbolic political dramas like Dr Kotnis Ki Amar Kahani, Do Aankhen Barah Haath and Aadmi.

The greatest heroines

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