Bollywood has witnessed many milestones over the decades; the sum of which makes Hindi cinema the force that it is today. Here we chronicle the journey of actors who swam against the tide and set new benchmarks with their different approach.
With its roots in the theatre, early Hindi film acting was often theatrical. But in the '30s and '40s, actor Motilal brought in a deceptively casual style of acting that he popularised with films such as Jagirdar (1937) and 300 Days And After (1938) among others. The song Kuchh Aur Zamana Kehta Hai, Kuchh Aur Hai Zidd Mere Dil Ki, from his film, Chhoti Chhoti Baatein (1965) captured his attitude. Balraj Sahni and later Sanjeev Kumar, Om Puri, Naseeruddin Shah and more recently Irrfan Khan and Nawazuddin Siddiqui also belong to this elite club.
In the early talkies, Devika Rani and Durga Khote were amongst the first female actors who took pride in their profession inspired others of their ilk to enter the industry. And then, there was Nadia who became the first female action star after Hunterwali (1935), enthusing countless heroines down the years. In an era of hapless damsels in distress, she would fight villains atop a running train.
Ashok Kumar, who became a hero with great reluctance, eventually became an anti-hero too. In films such as Kismet (1943), Mahal (1949) and Sangram (1993), he played a grey character with unalloyed pleasure, stretching the boundaries of what was considered acceptable for the future generation of heroes.
The style icon
The first westernised star, Dev Anand wore a dhoti only once in his entire career, and regretted it. He told his co-star Sadhana, "never again." He was most comfortable in his urbane avatar. The epitome of flamboyance, he paved the way for megastars such as Shammi Kapoor and Rajesh Khanna.
The angry young man
Rajesh Khanna was busy rubbing noses with perky Mumtaz onscreen, when a brooding Amitabh Bachchan broke Khanna's romantic reverie by breaking noses onscreen. The socio-economic mood of the 1970s proved conducive for Bachchan's angry young man image. That's when Bollywood's action era was effectively unleashed.
Unlike villains before him, Shatrughan Sinha played a bad man with unparalleled bombast. After knocking down a henchman, he would stop to see if his wristwatch was still ticking. His stronghold over the frontbenchers was very firm. Along with fellow villain Vinod Khanna, Sinha transitioned to leading man status. These villains had brought in a whip, sorry whiff of change.
Aman of substance
Zeenat Aman didn't just bring in the westernised heroine and made skin show 'in'. Her choice of roles was also remarkable-- the drugged-out flower child in Hare Rama Hare Krishna (1971), the happy hooker in Manoranjan (1974), the gold-digger in Roti Kapda Aur Makaan (1974) - and added multiple dimensions to the Hindi film heroine.
In the same era, Jaya Bhaduri's brief career (she married within two years of the release of Guddi, 1971) helped create a space for non-glamorous actresses, whose stardom was powered entirely by their histrionic capabilities. Shabana took the baton from Jaya and raced ahead with Ankur, Nishant, Mandi and refused to be a casualty of the heroine prototype or the hero-powered system.
Bad Is Good
Shah Rukh put a revisionist spin on the concept of the leading man with Baazigar and Darr and carried grey into black. His midnight-dark interpretations of evil were gambles which paid off. It's hard to think of an actor who has not played the blackguard since.
Two Too Many
In the 1990s Aamir Khan started doing two films at a time when stars like Govinda were doing 20! Aamir may have emulated Dilip Kumar's strategy but, unlike his senior, he was able to inspire many followers. Consider Hrithik Roshan's career: in 13 years he has had just 18 releases!
Sneered for being a serial kisser, Emraan Hashmi bussed his way to success. His success shines like a beacon for newcomers asserting that genres, like erotica and horror, once considered infra dig, can pave the way to stardom.
Finally, there is Ranbir Kapoor who has taken on several cobweb-dispelling roles from his career's inception (Wake Up Sid, Rocket Singh, Rockstar, Barfi). Unlike his predecessors, he didn't wait to acquire stardom before jumping out-of-the-box. Moreover, post stardom too, Ranbir continues to shun low-hanging fruit. Like all the great pathbreakers he is a brave man.