The best actors of Hindi Cinema
Bollywood, they say, is a man's world: a place where tales are spun to fit the male(ego); where actresses are seldom elevated beyond the status of a glorified set prop.
Here's our list of 10 top B'wood actors of the decade, who impressed the critics with some stunning portrayals.
Sanjay Dutt [ 1999 - 2000 ]
The archetypal Prodigal Son, Sanjay Dutt began his Bollywood career with a whimper, in 'Rocky' (1981) and became a Category 5 B.O storm within a space of two decades. His career-graph registered a steady rise during the mid eighties. Tragedy struck in 1993, when Sanjay was arrested in connection with the Mumbai blasts and had to spend 16 months in jail as an undertrial. Sanju lost his stardom for a while but made a telling comeback in 1999-2000 with the Mahesh Manjrekar film, 'Vaastav'.
It will not be an exaggeration to say that 'Vaastav', written and directed by Mahesh Manjrekar, redefined the actor in Sanjay Dutt. Known, till then, for his deadpan looks and Dumbo Hunk roles, Sanjay Dutt shrugged every cliche off him to deliver the performance of a lifetime. 'Vaastav' was extremely successful both in India and abroad and has achieved cult status over the years. Sanjay won the Filmfare Award for Best Actor and the Award for Artistic Excellence at IIFA 2000.
Sanjay Dutt also starred in 'Munnabhai MBBS' (2004), and 'Lage Raho Munnabhai' (2006), two landmark movies of the decade.
Says Sanjay Dutt: "As an actor, I've grown considerably. It's taken me years to get comfortable doing a romantic scene and dancing on stage in front of a live audience. I've really opened up a lot. I keep the bad-boy image just to make my fans happy. I'm getting some really good work. And because I'm delivering what they want, more good work is coming my way."
Hrithik Roshan [ 2000 - 2001 ]
No other actor, except Amitabh Bachchan, has captured the imagination of a nation the way Hrithik had with 'Kaho Na Pyaar Hai'. He became a megastar overnight, and gave jitters to even the King Khan. 'Kaho Na Pyaar Hai' showcased Hrithik's Adonis physique and dancing skills to the hilt that it became extremely tough for him to emulate the feat in the movies that followed. After a terrible landslide at the B.O, which saw him feature in seven consecutive flops, Hrithik emerged victorious with the superhero flick, 'Koi Mil Gaya'. It has been a bed of roses, ever since.
KNPH' is a classic debut vehicle for any actor under the sun, provided he acts, dances and fights like Hrithik Roshan. Roshan scored in all three departments and took home all the award statuettes of the year.
Hrithik's notable performances of the decade were in 'Dhoom2', 'Koi Mil Gaya', 'Krish' and 'Jodhaa Akbar' (2009).
Says Hrithik: "Do I look like a sex-symbol or a pin-up boy? It's just that my father presented me like a dream. I am going to reach the top. Now there's going to be no looking back."
Aamir Khan - [ 2001 - 2002 ]
Diminutive but definitive, Aamir Khan brings to the Bollywood screen a will to experiment and a desire to be perfect. After making his debut in 'Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak' (1988), Khan went on to act in a dozen commercial duds before discovering the perfectionist in himself. Post 'Ghulam' (1997) it has been a different Aamir on play. He defied all conventional norms as a producer and decided to make Ashutosh Gowariker's 'Lagaan', a mock period film with a message.
Aamir Khan approaches acting as if he is an 'ambitious' sage on penance. Even the minutest gesticulation is broken up into detailed micro moments and enacted with panache. Such fanatic adherence to theory has helped Khan come out with flying colours in movies such as 'Lagaan', 'Dil Chahta Hai', 'Rang De Basanti', 'Taare Zameen Par', and 'Ghajini'. But it has also ended up in his overworking on the character and leaving absolutely no space for spontaneity, as was evident in the weak portrayal of Mangal Pandey. Aamir's acting is more a dissection than an exploration. The result: He is consistently good and rarely excellent.
In 2000, Aamir also acted in the critically acclaimed 'Dil Chahta Hai'. In this decade, Aamir reinvented himself with every new movie of his. He took a three year break after 'Dil Chahta Hai' and returned with 'Mangal Pandey The Rising' (2005). The film was a dud both critically and commercially. Aamir took revenge by scoring four back-to-back hits with 'Rang De Basanti', 'Fanaa', 'Taare Zameen Par' and 'Ghajini'.
Says Aamir: "I enjoy the love I receive from my fans and my audience. But I think I know what is real for me and what is not. Every film I do means a lot to me. Their failures make a difference to me. I am not comfortable with the idea of my films not releasing to their full potential. You really have to believe in what you're doing and the way you're doing it. And above all, you have to enjoy yourself. That's the way it is with me. I'm not looking for anything in a particular script. When I'm reading a script, I become the audience, and if what I read moves me and excites me and I really love listening to or reading the script, then that is the script I choose to do. It's all instinct."
Shahrukh Khan [ 2002 - 2003 ]
Shahrukh Khan, the "King Khan", began his career on TV with two pop serials, 'Fauji' and 'Circus'. He debuted on the big screen with 'Deewana' (1992). Khan has, so far, won 13 Filmfare Awards, seven of which are in the Best Actor category. Khan's films such as 'Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge' (1995), 'Kuch Kuch Hota Hai' (1998), 'Chak De India' (2007) and 'Om Shanti Om' (2007) feature among Bollywood's biggest hits of all time. In 2008, Newsweek named him one of the 50 most powerful people in the world.
In 'Devdas', Shahrukh did a character that was immortalised earlier by none other than Dilip Kumar. Shahrukh perfectly complemented Sanjay Leela Bhansali's colourful palette and melodrama concentrate with his intense depiction of the lead character. The typical SRK strategy of overindulging in himself paid good dividends here: For once, the narcissism of the actor mixed well with the self loathing of the character. And people instantly forgot the Dilip Kumar portrayal and cozied up to the new one.
SRK's other notable performances of the decade were in 'Veer-Zaara', 'Chak De India' (Kabeer Khan) and 'Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi' (Surinder Sahni/Raj Kapoor).
Says SRK: "I don't sit around complaining about the lack of good roles. I will play Raj 85 times and still make him different. There are only two Khans. Genghis Khan and Shahrukh Khan. I'd die if people didn't recognise me. I would not be able to walk on the road if people didn't mob me. That's what I work for. Sex is not required to sell my film. My name is enough. Awards who ignore me are losers"
Ajay Devgn [ 2003 - 2004 ]
One of the first visuals that comes to the mind when we think of Ajay Devgn is the introduction shot in his debut film 'Phool Aur Kaante', wherein he stands akimbo (a cam speed adjustment gimmick, of course) on two bikes (each leg on each bike, that is) and enters a college campus, 60 kmph! The try was to live up to tag of Veeru Devgan's (the famous action choreographer of the 1970s and 80s) son. Post the super success of PAK, Ajay went on to star in action thrillers such as 'Jigar', 'Vijaypath' and 'Diljale'. He won his first national award for 'Zakhm' (1998) and the second one for 'The Legend of Bhagat Singh' (2002). Devgn is now more loyal to what he calls "responsible cinema" than the action flicks that he was famous for at the beginning of his career.
Devgn is known for internalising his characters so much so that they have a unique brooding glow to them. His portrayal of AP Amit Kumar testifies to this. He does not particularly overstress on any of the character traits and underplays the cop to perfection.
Ajay also impressed the critics with his performances in 'The Legend of Bhagat Singh', 'Company' and 'Khakee'.
Amitabh Bachchan [2004 - 2005 ]
Amitabh Bachchan has now become a tale rather than a name: the story of a dark, lanky young man from Allahabad who went on to become the greatest Bollywood superstar of all times. In 2000, AB was chosen as the host for a new TV game show, 'Kaun Banega Crorepati'. The show became an enormous hit. Amitabh was voted as The Actor of the Millennium in a poll conducted by BBC, which featured such names as Lawrence Olivier and Marlon Brando. In the new millennium, Amitabh stunned his detractors with some superb performances in films such as 'Aks', 'Kabhie Khushi Kabhie Gham', 'Baghban', 'Khakee', 'Black', 'Nishabd', 'Dev', 'Last Lear' and 'Paa'.
Bachchan has played the cop umpteen times on the screen, but DCP Ananth Sreevasthava of 'Khakee' stands out. This was one thoroughly fleshed out character that really demanded Amitabh Bachchan to fulfill itself. Though majority of his fans and critics would rate the 'Black' portrayal as Amitabh's best of the decade, it is the 'Khakee' performance that actually takes the cup. The respectability and authority that Bachchan brings to this patriarchal cop has to be seen to be believed.
This has been one of Amitabh's best decades as an actor; he was seen in characters of various hues, depicting a stunning range of emotions.
Says the Big B: "Frankly I've never really subscribed to these adjectives tagging me as an 'icon', 'superstar', etc. I've always thought of myself as an actor doing his job to the best of his ability. The amount of things I have been through and the remarkable ways in which the body has reacted is just phenomenal. No wonder I became religious, because you don't know why something's happening to you and you don't know how you bounced back."
Abhishek Bachchan [ 2005 - 2006 ]
Having started his career with the average grosser, 'Refugee' (2000), Abhishek braved a dozen mega flops before making a mark on the commercial circuit with 'Dhoom' (2004). The Small B is a hot favourite with most of the critics if not the trade pundits. Post-'Dhoom', it has been a smooth ride for Abhi, both in terms of commercial success and critical acclaim.
Abhishek's performance in Ram Gopal Varma's 'Sarkar' is one for the textbook. He plays an obedient and understanding son to Amitabh Bachchan's title character Subhash Nagre (alias Sarkar). Abhishek's calm, composed yet powerful Shankar Nagre is pitted not only opposite Amitabh's Sarkar but also against KK Menon's Vishnu Nagre, the hot-headed and easily manipulated wastrel. Watch Abhishek as he conveys truckloads of thoughts, plans and emotions through small winks and half-smiles , stares and nods...
Says Abhi: "My dad and mom are too great for anyone to even try to be like them. So why should I even try? I'm not a style icon. I have to thank all the people who work from behind the scenes to create that illusion. Critics have a job to do. They do not criticise you without reason."
Saif Ali Khan [ 2006 - 2007 ]
Saif Ali Khan, when he made his debut in 1992 with 'Parampara', was noticed only for his cascading dark brown hair, the mascara-ed eyelashes and that ear-to-ear grin. After scoring his first major hit in 1994 with 'Main Khiladi Tu Anari', he had to go through several years of decline in the 1990s. 'Dil Chahta Hai' (2001) changed it all. He won the National Film Award for Best Actor for his performance in 'Hum Tum' (2004). He then had his B.O. moment with 'Salaam Namaste' (2005)and 'Love Aaj Kal' (2009). Saif also starred in critically acclaimed movies such as 'Parineeta' (2005) and 'Omkara' (2006).
In one of the boldest career moves in the history of Bollywood, Saif shed his pin-up hunk look and got into that of a repellant political operator, Eshwar "Langda" Tyagi, for 'Omkara'.
'Omkara' was Bharadwaj's take on Shakespeare's 'Othello' and he had enthusiastically cast Saif as Langda, the Iago of 'Omkara'. Saif yellowed his teeth and faked a limp to play the character. "Evil had rarely looked so cool on screen," said director Vishal Bharadwaj, on Saif's portrayal.
Darsheel Safary [ 2007 - 2008 ]
Darsheel Safary (born March 9, 1996), made his acting debut in 'Taare Zameen Par'. Safary was discovered by TZP's script writer and creative director Amol Gupte during late 2006 when he was looking for a male lead for his film on dyslexic kids.
Safary's performance as a struggling dyslexic child in the film was unanimously praised and he won several awards for his performance. Wrote Trade Analyst Taran Adarsh: "Taare Zameen Par' belongs to Master Darsheel Safary. A performance that makes the best of performances pale in comparison. A performance that deserves brownie points. A performance that'll always come first on your mind the moment someone mentions Taare Zameen Par. A performance that's impeccable, flawless and astounding. A performance that moves you and makes you reflect on your growing years. A performance that merits a special award!"
Says Safary: "I didn't do anything special to play Ishaan. I guess it sort of came naturally since I've been taking elocution classes. We sing, act and say dialogues in that class. Also, I've been attending Shiamak uncle's dance classes."
Naseeruddin Shah [ 2008 - 2009 ]
Having debuted on screen in 1975 with Shyam Benegal's 'Nishaant', Naseer became one of the most important actors of the Indian parallel cinema with movies such as 'Sparsh', 'Mirch Masala', 'Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyon Ata Hai', 'Trikal', 'Bhavni Bhavai', 'Junoon', 'Mandi', 'Mohan Joshi Hazir Ho!', 'Paar' and 'Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron'. In this decade, he has been part of many acclaimed movies such as 'Hey Ram', 'Monsoon Wedding', 'The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen', 'Maqbool', 'Krrish', 'Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na' and 'A Wednesday'.
Shah has been appreciated universally for his clean, clinical portrayals. As "The Common Man/Anonymous Caller" in 'A Wednesday', Naseer behaves and emotes so naturally that you might ask "Where is the actor? Where is the acting?"
Says Shah: "I did not want to be slotted. I have rejected 10 times the number of films I have done. I have played the hero running around trees and a villain and a father."