Hindi cinema wouldn't have been the same without these faces. Their inimitable style and quirk has made Bollywood what it is today - a grand melting pot of fine acting, music and storytelling.
KL Saigal's debut film with New Theatres, Mohabbat Ke Aansoo in 1932 was a disaster. It was followed by more blunders until three bhajan's composed by RC Boral for the studio's Puran Bhagat and sung by Saigal did the trick. Audiences kept coming back to theatres again and again to sing with Saigal. Chandidas (1934) and Devdas (1935) skyrocketed him to the pinnacle of superstardom.
Saigal was the antithesis of the rugged, handsome prototype of the film hero of the Silent Era. His popularity was also due to the Bard tradition of the singer-performer. Saigal's phenomenal hold over the audiences continued till his death in 1947 at the age of 42 due to cirrhosis of the liver. If he had any rival during his long reign at the top, it was Bombay Talkies' Ashok Kumar.
Dev was introduced in 1946 by Prabhat Talkies, Poona, in their Hum Ek Hain, directed by P L Santoshi. But his career didn't take off until he had set up his own company Navketan at the turn of the '50s. He also did two films Baazi directed by Guru Dutt and Taxi driver written by a still-college younger brother Vijay Anand and directed by elder brother Chetan Anand.
When Dev Anand made his entry to the industry, he happily cast himself in the mould of a city-smart romantic dandy. He was a star first and a star last. He believed that in Hindi films what mattered the most was the ability to cultivate an acceptable image.
Dilip Kumar, a Devika Rani discovery, had had a tentative beginning. He hit the big time with his fourth film Jugnu (1947) where he played the lead opposite the legendry Noorjehan. The film was a runaway hit and marked the beginning of a glorious career.
His early roles as a doomed lover in a series of tragedies (like Babul, Mela, Andaz, Amar, Daag and Devdas), had branded Dilip as a tragedy king. However, resorting to 'lighter' roles (as in Azad, Kohinoor, Madhumati, Naya Daur and Ram Aur Shyam), he later established his immense range as an actor.
Raj Kapoor was the first star to make a mark for himself as an actor-director with Aag (1947). The film was made under his own banner, RK Films, and it also starred Nargis and Kamini Kaushal. However, it was only a moderate success at the box office. It was his next release, Barsaat, that gave him the success he was aiming for. Interestingly, before Kapoor started helming his own films, he had assisted director Amiya Chakravarty's on Dilip Kumar's debut film Jwar Bhata.
As an actor, Raj Kapoor always projected a dual image. His good looks and the streak of vulnerability in his seductive blue eyes brought intense passion to the big screen. But the phenomenal popularity of his performance as the 'poor man with a big heart' in Awaara (1951) and Shri 420 (1955) pushed him into doing role similar to Anari (1959), which he continued playing right up to Mera Naam Joker (1970).
In spite of a subtle under-current of rivalry, mainly between Raj Kapoor and Dilip Kumar and Anand, the three made a formidable trio at the top of the heap in the '50s.
Shammi Kapoor was the first star to breach the cordon of the big three (Raj Kapoor, Dilip Kumar and Dev Anand), who had dominated most of the '50s almost unchallenged. He was the first to drag the holier-than-thou 'hero' out of the safety net and give him a macho image. He loved with gusto and sang and danced like a possessed man.
His body language, the use of his arms, the tilt of his head and the roguish look in his eyes, lent a touch of erotica to all the famous Shammi Kapoor numbers. With his uncanny sense of music, Kapoor revolutionised the song-and-dance routine in Hindi cinema, leading to the evolution of a new genre of 'musical romance'.
With the emergence of Rajesh Khanna, the era of the directors experienced a rude jolt. Khanna was Bollywood's first superstar in the real sense of the term. The sobriquet might have been part of a well-orchestrated publicity blitz, but Khanna sustained it brilliantly by singing and cooing his way into the hearts of the audiences in a series of films, which exploited his irresistible guy-next door looks and charm.
No Bollywood star had scaled such dizzy heights of stardom in such a short span of time. Two films that hit the screen in 1969 (within a month of each other) - Shakti Smamta's Aradhana (1969) and Raj Khosla's Do Raaste - had sparked unprecedented acts of frenzy.
Then towards the end of the year, some of the theatres showing Khanna's Aradhana (1969), though booked to capacity, would open and close empty, as people would stream in minutes before the hit number Roop Tera Mastana, Pyaar Mera Deewana started and they walk out at the end of the number.
In a short span of two years, Khanna had accomplished the impossible: he had turned the mushy the crinkly-eyed boy-next-door hero into a cult figure. However, the decline was as dramatic as his rise; thanks to his arrogant and unprofessional ways.
Amitabh Bachchan carried forward the legacy of superstardom with a devastating punch! His dominance began in the mid '70s with a series of blockbusters that came in the wake of Zanjeer (1973) and extended into the '80s. During this extraordinary phase, the entire process of filmmaking in Bollywood became subservient to his unique persona.
As the news magazine India Today had put it succinctly, the Bollywood of that period had virtually become a 'One-Man Industry' reigned by Bachchan. It was an intriguing phase in the history of Bollywood when almost all the essential 'ingredients' of popular Hindi cinema had gone out of vogue overnight. Even the role of music, which had always been the bedrock of mainstream Hindi cinema, got restricted considerably as 'action' was the watchword.
Bachchan-starrers like Deewar (1975), Trishul (1978) and Sholay (1975) didn't depend on great music, like his 'mature' romantic films -- Kabhi Kabhie (1976) and Silsila (1981) -- did.
Shah Rukh Khan
Small screen viewers freaked out on the street smart Abhimanyu Roy in the Doordarshan serial Fauji in the early '90s. But nobody thought that the young man from Delhi with an unruly mop of hair would go on to become the biggest and the most enduring star of the '90s.
Arguably, he will be the first and the last to have enjoyed the kind of power he did for such a long spell of time in view of the changing concept of stardom. Shah Rukh didn't believe in the conventional wisdom of confining himself to playing the holier-than-thou hero. He took chances even at a nascent stage in his career.
He dared to play a downright negative character in Baazigar (1993) and pulled it off with flying colours. He did it again with Yash Chopra's Darr (1993) in a role that had then been turned down by an apprehensive Aamir Khan. With Darr, SRK created a lasting niche for himself in the Yash Chopra-Aditya Chopra camp, which resulted in a series of rewarding films.
Shah Rukh was clear about his strategy. "I don't believe in a fixed price," he said. "It depends on the project and the person behind it. When I pitched for the Darr role, I told Yashji, 'I want to do this film with you, pay me only if it does well'." This strategy worked. Yash Chopra didn't direct a single film without Shah Rukh after that.
SRK made a formidable pair with the brilliant Kajol. The chemistry between the two gave a new dimension to onscreen pairing and resulted in every film of theirs turning out to be a blockbuster.