In Bollywood, there have been actors who’ve been titled as Superstars in every era. Their charisma, peculiarity, attitude, looks, idiosyncrasy, eccentricity and popularity among masses aided their rise to Superstardom, not necessarily their acting talent alone. Having said that, it certainly does not mean that their acting skills were not good. And then, there have been actors, known purely for their acting prowess. The debate on the difference between a “Superstar” and a “Brilliant Actor” is one, which will never stop.
For almost three decades now Bollywood has been dominated by the “Khans”- Salman, Aamir and Shah Rukh. All are ‘Superstars’ in their own ways. But are they actors par-excellence? Well, some say yes, while others differ.
Here’s a list of some theatre actors who have never been called “Superstars”, but when it comes to their acting skills, the ‘Khans’ appear a bit dreary.
1. Naseeruddin Shah
The name needs no introduction in Indian Cinema. An accomplished actor in every sense, Nasseruddin Shah is a National School of Drama (NSD) and Film and Television Institute of India (FTTI) alumnus. His versatility stems from his performances in various main stream movies, parallel cinema, stage plays and television serials, during a career spanning more than four decades. He made his debut in Shyam Benegal’s ‘Nishant’ in 1975 and went on to deliver stellar performances in hits like ‘Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron’, ‘Karma’ and many more. He has received 3 National Awards apart from many Filmfare trophies, and has been honored with ‘Padma Shri’ and ‘Padma Vibhushan’ awards too.
2. Nana Patekar
An actor with an inimitable style of acting and dialogue delivery, Nana Patekar is the only actor ever to win the Filmfare award for Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor and Best Villain categories. His father encouraged him to watch plays which developed his interest in acting. Nana was part of the theatre group Rangayan, with Vijaya Mehta, and did many plays in Marathi. A three time National Award winner, Nana got his first National Award for his powerful performance in the 1989 blockbuster ‘Parinda’. A perfectionist to the core, he underwent commando training for his directorial venture ‘Prahaar’. He received Padma Shri in 2013 for his dedication in the field of Films and Arts.
3. Anupam Kher
A recipient of two National Awards and eight Filmfare awards, Anupam Kher is an acclaimed actor, both in India and abroad. An NSD alumnus, he has done all kinds of roles be it negative, comedy, tragedy or serious. He got his first big break in the movie ‘Saaransh’, where he brilliantly played the role of a retired middle class old man who has lost his son. Anupam was only 28 years old when he gave this stellar performance. He has also done international projects like ‘Bend It Like Beckham’ and ‘Bride and Prejudice’. Recipient of ‘Padma Shri’ and ‘Padma Bhushan’ awards, he has also held the posts of Chairman of Central Board of Film Certification and National School of Drama.
4. Pankaj Kapur
One of the finest theatre actors in India, Pankaj Kapur is often called an acting institution in himself. A NSD graduate, he has a repertoire of work which has left the viewers spellbound. He has dabbled in all forms of entertainment media – stage, television and films. He played the role of Mahatma Gandhi’s secretary in Richard Attenborough’s “Gandhi” in 1982 and later dubbed for Ben Kingsley (who portrayed Mahatma Gandhi) in the Hindi version of the film. In 1986, his portrayal of the comic detective “Karamchand” in the popular television serial by the same name, made him a household name. He has won 3 National Awards in his career, which talks a lot about his talents.
5. Manoj Bajpayee
A power house of talent, Manoj Bajpayee is known for playing off beat and unconventional roles with aplomb. Rejected four times by NSD, he joined Barry John’s school of acting and did various theatre projects early in his career. He did a minor but noticeable role in Shekhar Kapur’s ‘Bandit Queen’ in 1994. But it was his role of a gangster Bhiku Mhatre in ‘Satya’ in 1998, that proved to be a breakthrough. Manoj Bajpai, perhaps, opened the doors for other method actors to be accepted in lead roles in Bollywood. He has won several awards including two National Awards for his performances.
6. Irrfan Khan
A versatile and natural actor, who has captivated the audience with his superlative performances, Irrfan Khan has had his share of struggles in life. After Graduating from the NSD in 1987, he dabbled in theatre and television for many years. His first Bollywood lead role was in the movie Rog, where his performance was praised by the critics, however it was his stellar performance in ‘Paan Singh Tomar’ that got him a National Film Award and gave him the recognition he deserved. He has since received many different awards and has acted in several International projects as well. In 2011 he received the Padma Shri for his contribution in the field of arts.
7. Nawazuddin Siddiqui
A graduate in Chemistry, Nawazuddin Sidiqqui worked as a watchman and a Chemist, before he went to National School of Drama in 1996. He made his Bollywood debut with a small role in Aamir Khan starrer “Sarfarosh” in 1999. He had to go through a tough grind over the years, doing petty roles and cameos in various movies, before earning fame in Anurag Kashyap’s gangster epic “Gangs of Wasseypur”. A multi-talented actor, there is no role that he is not capable of portraying with surprising ease.
8. Pankaj Tripathi
A relatively new comer in Bollywood, Pankaj Tripathi is a natural with his unique style of acting. He used to play the role of a girl in his village’s natak, for which he got appreciation from the villagers. This encouraged him further to pursue acting. He did theatre in his college and later graduated from the National School of Drama in 2004. His first break in Bollywood was an uncredited role in the movie ‘Run’.
After eight years of doing small roles in movies, opportunity finally knocked on his doors with ‘Gangs of Wasseypur’. His performance earned him the much needed credibility as an actor. Since then he has been part of many hit movies. He has won several awards including a National Film Awards – Special Mention, for his performance in ‘Newton’.
9. Satish Kaushik
Satish Kaushik started his career as an assistant director to Shekhar Kapoor in the film Masoom (1983). He also performed as an actor in this film. He acted, wrote dialogue and assistant directed the cult classic satire Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron in the same year, reuniting with several of his college alumni at both FTII and NSD. He is well known for his role as “Calendar” in the hit film Mr. India, alongside Anil Kapoor and Sridevi. He also was noted for his character of “Pappu Pager” in the comedy Deewana Mastana (1997), directed by his friend David Dhawan. He has given tremendous performances in Chote Miyan Bade Miyan, Kyonki Main Jhoot Nahi Bolta, Haseena Maan Jaayegi, Gharwali Baharwali. As a theatre actor, his most noted role was that of “Willy Loman” in the Hindi-language play, Salesman Ramlal, an adaptation of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. He wrote dialogues for Kundan Shah’s comedy classic Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron (1983). His film Teree Sang, starring Ruslaan Mumtaz and Sheena Shahabadi, explores issues of teen pregnancy. He has received, Filmfare Best Comedian Award in 1990 for Ram Lakhan and in 1997 for Saajan Chale Sasural. The actor is trying to adapt himself to cinema of this generation and has given amazing performances in movies Lakshmi and Udta Punjab. His performance in Mental Hai Kya and Turram Khan is much awaited.
10. Boman Irani
A theatre actor for more than 17 years, Boman Irani moved to film acting in the year 2000 at the age of 41. Early in his career he worked as a waiter at the Taj Mahal Palace and then as boxing photographer. However his true calling as an actor came after his memorable performance in Munna Bhai M.B.B.S. He later did Lage Raho Munna Bhai, Khosla Ka Ghosla, 3 Idiots where his performance earned him several awards, including Filmfare and IIFA awards. His ability to seamlessly fit into any role makes him stand out amongst the rest.
I can’t end the list without mentioning Om Puri. This brilliant actor could play any role with equal aplomb and intensity. A NSD and FTII alumnus, Naseeruddin Shah was his fellow student in these institutes. Apart from Bollywood, Om Puri acted in many British and Hollywood films too. Winner of two National Awards for Best Actor and a Padma Shri recipient, Om Puri was made an honorary Officer of the Order of The British Empire in 2004. On January 6, 2017, Om Puri died at the age of 66, after suffering a heart attack at his residence in Mumbai. His contributions to Indian and world cinema would always be remembered.