Some industries are driven by stars or actors. Bollywood, however, is a fraternity which is driven by both… Though mostly by stars.
Despite the ‘nepotism’ talk being quite outdated and controversial, it is still nonetheless interesting. If one examines the history, Hindi cinema has always been driven familial or friendly connections.
Though many may disagree, such a tight-knit link has managed to generate footfalls within the film sector, resulting in more strength and content.
Even today, there are very few ‘outsiders’ who manage to break through and make a success story out of their careers.
But superstars like Priyanka Chopra Jonas, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Shah Rukh Khan, Deepika Padukone and Ranveer Singh have been game-changers.
Such names have really led the path, encouraging and inspiring fresh talents to work in an industry which exudes art, talent and exuberance.
Filme Shilmy explores 50 best actors of the decade (in no particular order), which will be measured by film choices, performances and premise, rather than just judging the glamour quotient.
With a heavy heart this decade, we bid farewell to a superstar who was in the industry since the age of 13. Being the first Indian actress to push for an equal salary and screen-space as her male co-stars, Sridevi ji was an icon and inspiration in every way.
The 54-year-old had only recently completed 50 years in the movie industry. Her women-centric films redefined commercial Indian cinema, making her a role model for both her acting peers and fans. She broke gender and ageist stereotypes by undertaking lead roles at an age where many other female actors would be forced into retirement.
The actress will be remembered for her numerous performances in films like Mr India, Lamhe, Chaalbaaz Chandni, English Vinglish and Mom. We miss Sridevi ji dearly!
Since her humble beginnings, Deepika has always done roles which are never bound by societal conventions. But not just through work, she has displayed courage by opening up on depression and championing to raise awareness of mental health in India.
Padukone has essayed various, strong shades of femininity – be it an impulsive party girl (Cocktail), a courageous empress (Padmaavat), a visually impaired skater (Lafangey Parindey) and now, an acid attack survivor (Chhapaak). Overcoming all hurdles, she has most deservedly emerged as a superstar.
In addition, she has also been the nation’s most popular personalities and Time named her one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2018. Furthermore, she has even made an impactful Hollywood debut in xXx: Return of Xander Cage, proudly representing the country on a global stage.
Through his career spanning over thirty years in Hindi films, Khan has established himself as one of the most popular and influential actors of Indian cinema through bringing unconventional movies on the commercial space. He has a large global following, especially in Southern Asia and Greater China and has been described by Newsweek as “the biggest movie star”.
This decade has exhibited Aamir in a variety of roles such as a mentally disturbed police officer in Talaash, an Alien in PK or a real-life Haryana wrestler, who encourages his daughters to fight back patriarchy in Dangal. Many of his characters carry social relevance/themes.
Moreover, over the last 10 years, his productions have delivered masterpieces – ranging from Peepli Live to Secret Superstar, most recently. With Khan playing a Sardar in Lal Singh Chaddha an adaption of Forrest Gump, it will be interesting to see what challenges this will pose to him as a performer.
Kareena Kapoor Khan
The 39-year-old is exhibited as outspoken and assertive and is recognised for her contributions to the film industry through her fashion style and film roles. As such, she has explored various film genres and has many awards to her credit, in addition to being Bollywood’s most popular and highest-paid actresses.
After her acting debut in Refugee, Kapoor established herself in Hindi cinema with roles in the historical drama Aśoka, and the blockbuster melodrama Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham. This initial success was followed by a series of commercial failures and repetitive roles, which garnered her negative reviews. She broke the stereotype when she played a sex worker in Chameli.
This decade was eventful for Kareena as we saw her tie-the-knot and become a mother. With this changing phase in her life, that maturity is also reflected in her performances too… Regardless of whether it’s playing an Anglo-Indian hairdresser in Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu, a superstar dealing with a declining career in Heroine or an ambitious businesswoman in Ki & Ka.
This handsome dancing maestro is not only award-winning but is also one of the highest-paid actors in India, who has also appeared in Forbes India‘s Celebrity 100 list. After emerging as an overnight superstar in 2000’s Kaho Na… Pyaar Hai, in that very same year, he excellently portrayed grey characters in Fiza and Mission Kashmir.
Since then, Roshan has strived to undertake miscellaneous roles… Be it a mentally challenged man in Koi… Mil Gaya, a double role superhero in Krrish, a charismatic thief in Dhoom 2 or even the Mughal emperor in Jodhaa Akbar.
During and post-2010, Hrithik has endeavoured to play diverse characters. Whether it’s a quadriplegic appealing for euthanasia in Guzaarish, a vengeance-seeking gangster in Agneepath or a math wizard striving to help underprivileged kids in Super 30, his roles have always been that of an underdog fighting the odds in society.
Rani is an award-winning and one of the most popular and highest-paid Hindi film actresses in the 2000s. After her supporting role in Bengali movie Biyer Phool, the 41-year-old made her Bollywood debut in Raja Ki Aayegi Baarat, where she plays a rape survivor.
Within a career which spans over 20 years, we have also seen her enact some commercial/mainstream roles in movies like Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, Saathiya, Hum Tum and Bunty Aur Babli. However, a key role which stands out from her filmography is Black, in which she plays a mute woman who is also hearing impaired. Many of these characters are empowering in their own way.
If one examines Mukerji’s career closely, then she has always has done roles which carry social importance. This is manifested in her most recent works like No One Killed Jessica, Mardaani and Hichki. In fact, through Mardaani, she has broken the glass ceiling regarding the representation of Indian female cops.
Saif Ali Khan
Having initially done casanova and comical roles in movies like Yeh Dillagi, Main Khiladi Tu Anari and Kya Kehna, to name a few. At first, he faced failures and setbacks, especially during the 90s. However, in the 2000s, rose to prominence with roles in two ensemble comedy-dramas: Dil Chahta Hai and Kal Ho Naa Ho. Post this, Hum Tum proved to be Khan’s first success as the sole male lead.
Besides these commercial outings, Khan also experimented by playing grey characters in off-beat movies like Ek Hasina Thi, Being Cyrus and Omkara. His career-defining decision of doing a Netflix series like Sacred Games broke the ice for other ‘commercial’ Bollywood actors, encouraging them to venture into the digital space. Plus, the popular show marked his first endeavour as a cop… A role which we never saw before.
Saif also essayed a Naga Sadhu, seeking vengeance in Navdeep Singh’s Laal Kaptaan, a role which not many Bollywood actors have explored and that too in the western style of a film, which was definitely daring. In the future, we are sure that the ‘Nawaab’ is set to push the envelope further.
Radhika Apte’s journey as an actor has been a huge challenge. For 14-years she struggled and faced consecutive rejection. But today, she triumphed all setbacks and stands strong as a multilingual actor. She has that rarity of being an Indian actress who is equally successful across the independent, commercial and international sectors.
Apte starred in box office successes like Pad Man, Andhadhun and Kabali, impressed in indie films Parched, Phobia and Bombairiya. Moreover, she made a global mark with The Wedding Guest and The Ashram. In addition, she won the Jury Award at the Tribeca Film Festival for her bravura performance in Madly.
She also has a cult following on Netflix, headlining the originals Ghoul, Lust Stories and Sacred Games. Equally, at home in both London and Mumbai, Radhika is a vivacious new-age artist whose acumen on the entertainment industry is sought after and rightly so!
Vicky is one of the finest discoveries by Anurag Kashyap in this decade. Born to the action director Sham Kaushal, the crime drama Gangs of Wasseypur and went on to play minor roles in two of Kashyap’s productions – Bombay Velvet and Zubaan.
His first leading role was in the independent drama Masaan, which earned him the IIFA and Screen Awards for Best Male Debut, following which he starred as an unhinged cop in Kashyap’s psychological thriller Raman Raghav 2.0 and since then, his career has propelled.
Kaushal brings an element of realism and rawness to the screen, which is why his performances seem so convincing. Whether it’s patriotic/action movies like Raazi and Uri, or romantic/dramas like Sanju, Lust Stories, Lover Per Square Foot and Manmarziyaan, Kaushal can excel in every role of any shade.
Vidya Balan is a name that is sufficient to lure people to the cinema. An unparalleled grace, a vibrant personality and a charisma which brightens the celluloid, Balan is one of the key pioneers in paving the way for women-empowering films in Bollywood.
Since her debut in Parineeta, she has always chosen projects which are conventional and transcends the status quo. Initially, when doing commercial rom-coms like Heyy Babyy and Kismat Konnection, there was always a noticeable spark in her performances – even in a supporting role like Guru.
Doing more impactful films like Ishqiya, The Dirty Picture, Kahaani, Tumhari Sulu and Mission Mangal, she has broken the glass ceiling of bringing entertaining female-centric content to the commercial space. A true legend she is!
Undoubtedly, Arjun Mathur is a great actor who has left an impact in movies like Barah Anah, My Friend Pinto and I Am as well as mini-series such as Bring on the Night. He deserves credit for portraying roles which push the envelope in our society.
After years of working in the industry, we’ve seen him get the limelight he rightfully deserves after his performance in the multi-directed Amazon Prime series Made In Heaven. In a show-stealing role, he plays a gay wedding planner living in India at a time where homosexuality was illegal. Arjun gets the right tone of Karan’s character.
He portrays a layered and somewhat lonely character with such gusto, authenticity and maturity. It is progressive to see a homosexual role portrayed in an ordinary and non-stereotypical fashion. Plus, after his brilliant depiction, he could easily emerge as the leading actors on the digital space.
Kalki Koechlin is a powerhouse talent who has never shown away from playing out-of-the-box and realistic characters. She is a recipient of accolades like a National Film Award, a Filmfare and two Screen Awards.
Koechlin always fascinates us with her unconventional roles… Be it sex-worker in Dev D, a British Masseuse in That Girl in Yellow Boots or a young woman with cerebral palsy in Margarita with a Straw. Even in popular mainstream outings like Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara and Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, she ensures that her acting prowess is remembered and appreciated by the audience.
The year 2019, in particular, is quite special for Koechlin as she has faced incessant success following Gully Boy and Amazon Prime’s Made In Heaven. Following a meaty character in Sacred Games season 2 as a cult leader, we are certain that her career is heading for an upward trajectory… Especially in her new role as a mother!
Avinash Tiwary is an experienced and talented actor who is rearing to make big waves in the Indian entertainment industry. For eight years, he worked in theatre before he worked in Anurag Kashyap’s TV series Yudh, in which he played the antagonist to Amitabh Bachchan.
Subsequently, he made his Bollywood debut with Milind Dhaimade’s directorial debut, Tu Hai Mera Sunday co-starring Barun Sobti and Shahana Goswami. Premiering at BFI London Film Festival, the movie and his performance received critical acclaim… Marking a new entry in his acting career.
Although the major project Laila Majnu did not do as well as expected – in terms of the widespread viewership and numbers, his performance in the Imtiaz Ali production got widespread acclaim. Since then, he has pushed the envelope by working on Netflix movies like Ghost Stories, Bulbul, as well as the thriller The Girl On The Train.
Richa Chadha is bold, beautiful, fearless and embraces unconventionality. Since her confident debut in Dibakar Bannerjee’s Oye Lucky Lucky Oye, she has gone on to essay more such bellicose characters especially in movies like Gangs of Wasseypur and Ram Leela.
Even her depiction in Fukrey as a tough-talking female don Bholi Punjaban strongly proves her calibre as an actor. However, Masaan, in which she plays the main lead a small-town-girl who shake off the stigma towards pre-marital sex – marks a milestone in her career created a niche for herself in the Hindi film industry.
Chadha’s excellence is not just limited to Hindi cinema. Even in international projects like Love Sonia or digital shows such as Inside Edge display her formidable acting prowess. It’s also interesting how there is a hint of compassion and generosity in many of her characters.
Ali began in Bollywood with films 3 idiots, Always Kabhi Kabhi, Fukrey, Bobby Jasoos and Khamoshiyan. Recently his Hindi movies Milan Talkies and Prasthanam did not live up to box-office expectations but above that, Fazal seems to have finally found his identity as an artist.
Since his brief appearance in Fast and Furious 7, the actor gained widespread appreciation and acknowledgement after playing ‘Abdul’ in Stephen Frears’ Victoria & Abdul… In fact, this film has helped him to gain international appeal and so proudly representing India.
Now, he is set to make more waves in the international film circuit with Kenneth Branagh’s Death On The Nile, which features a stellar cast, boasting of names (other than Branagh himself) like Tom Bateman, Letitia Wright, Annette Bening, Armie Hammer and more. Plus, he also wowed us with his gritty performance in the Amazon Prime Original series Mirzapur. His success story is iconic!
Who knew that working as an assistant casting director at Yash Raj Films would one day result in gaining the lead role in a feature movie? Well, that’s Bhumi Pednekar’s story. Recently, she was also featured by Forbes India in their 30 Under 30 list.
Making her debut opposite Ayushman Khurrana as the plump Sandhya in Dum Laga Ke Haisha, Bhumi broke all stereotypes of what a mainstream Hindi film actress should look like to carry a ‘hit film’. Since then, she has appeared in several films which consist of social stigmas. For instance, Toilet: Ek Prem Katha tackles open defecation, Shubh Mangal Saavdhan on erectile dysfunction and Bala on premature balding.
Interestingly her performance in Netflix’s Lust Stories exhibits her as a maid who has an affair with her employer… This also tackles a ‘taboo’ relationship. By playing a real-life elderly sharpshooter in Saand Ki Aankh, who is thrice her age, proves that Pednekar can mould into any role with ease and grace. She is a fabulous discovery!
Vineet Kumar Singh
Apparently, Vineet wanted to join the National School of Drama, he could not pursue the same due to parental pressure and social norms. Coming to Mumbai, he participated in a talent hunt which opened up several doors for him and was taken under the wing of Mahesh Manjrekar.
However, after a few series of performances in his early career including Lalbaug Parel, he got noticed for his role in films like Bombay Talkies and Gangs of Wasseypur. His role in Ugly and in Daas Dev won him appreciation and established him as a critically acclaimed actor.
Getting his first venture as the main lead in Mukkabaaz, he truly packs a punch by essaying a boxer. Plus by doing a Netflix series and sports-oriented movies like Gold and Saand Ki Aankh, the actor is steadily carving his own space in the industry.
Gaining fame and recognition at a young age can be overwhelming. But Zaira never allowed popularity to impact her ego. Following her stellar performance in the Aamir Khan production, the Dangal actress has become a household name.
Wasim’s second film as an actress, Secret Superstar, has received outstanding reviews worldwide and brought the 19-year-old to the forefront in Bollywood. Subsequently, her performance as Aisha Chaudhary, a motivational speaker with pulmonary fibrosis in The Sky Is Pink deserves a standing ovation.
Unfortunately, due to personal reasons, Zaira has decided to leave the industry. In spite of that, no one can deny that she is among the finest discoveries of this decade, who will always be appreciated.
Kay Kay Menon
A multi-lingual actor whose acting career began with theatre. Despite an initial focus in the advertising industry, Menon’s pursuit of acting has been the most amazing decision and Menon has enacted every role with authenticity and realism.
Whether it’s essaying an adulterous husband in Life… In a Metro, a CBI Officer investigating an honour killing in Rahasya, the commanding officer in The Ghazi Attack or the murderous opportunist in Haider, Menon has undertaken each character with flair and oomph.
In addition, he has explored an array of cinema such as short films, TV shows and web series in which his performances are incredible too. Kay Kay is an actor who is beyond any trophy or accolade.
Kangana’s fiery and no-nonsense demeanour is what really makes her stand out from the rest. he recipient of several awards, including three National Film Awards and four Filmfare Awards, she has featured five times in Forbes India‘s Celebrity 100 list.
Initially, she was known for depicting ‘gloomy’ and emotionally intense roles in movies like her debut Gangster, Woh Lamhe and Fashion. However, with the Tanu Weds Manu franchise and Queen, she has since gained strength in choosing formidable roles which contribute towards the women-empowerment revolution in Hindi cinema.
This decade, especially the latter half has been game-changing as she made her directorial debut (and starred) in the titular role of Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi. Furthermore, we’ve also seen her in the black comedy Judgementall Hai Kya. We are also excited to see her in Panga where she plays a national level Kabaddi player.
The gifted handsome hunk from Haryana has witnessed a steady but impressive journey in the Indian film industry. After completing his postgraduate degree in human resource management in Melbourne, Australia, and on his return to India began modelling and acting in theatre productions.
He made his Hindi film debut with Monsoon Wedding. However, little recognition came his way and he went on appeared in a spate of critically and commercially unsuccessful projects including D and Karma Aur Holi. The turning point of his career was with the commercial successes like commercially successful Once Upon a Time in Mumbaai and was subsequently noted for his performance in Saheb, Biwi Aur Gangster.
During the latter half of this decade, we witnessed some magnificent performances from Hooda. In Highway, he portrayed an abductor with a dark past, whilst in Sarbjit he plays the real-life character (of the same name) who was sentenced to death in Pakistan and spent 22 years in prison for alleged terrorism and spying. Randeep is an actor who deserves more credit then he receives.
Konkona Sen Sharma
The recipient of two National Film Awards and four Filmfare Awards. Konkona appears primarily in Indian arthouse and independent films and her achievements in the style have established her as one of the leading actresses of contemporary parallel cinema.
Having said that, she has essayed a variety of roles in mainstream movies. Whether it’s playing the sister of a prostitute in Laaga Chunari Mein Daag, an entertainment journalist in Page 3 or a witch in Ek Thi Daayan. Even in standalone movies like Mr and Mrs Iyer and Lipstick Under My Burkha her performances pack a punch.
The latter half of this decade has been quite special as she also ventured into feature film direction with the multi-lingual drama A Death In The Gunj, which remarkably displays her versatility as a filmmaker and actor. Sen Sharma is truly a talented gem.
The Bangalore born Gulshan has a kick-ass appeal. His eye for unconventional, dark/grey roles is unparalleled to any other actor in this industry and a key actor in this decade.
Since his unorthodox debut as a gangster in That Girl In Yellow Boots, we have seen him explore several taboo-breaking roles like a drug dealer in Dum Maro Dum, a sex-addict in Hunterrr as well as a double role in Mard Ko Dard Nahin Hota where he plays a one-legged Karate exponent and a cartoon villain.
But his filmography is not just limited to cinema as he also plays a pivotal in Eros Now’s web series Smoke. Moreover, his depiction of an eccentric, principled lawyer in Kuldip Patwal also deserves more appreciation.
Pankaj is among those actors who have worked in the industry for quite some time but have only recently got their dues for their calibre. He has worked in more than 40 films and 60 television shows.
This decade, through Gangs Of Wasseypur, marked his breakthrough and we have since received a critical appraisal for multiple films, including Fukrey, Masaan, Nil Battey Sannata, Bareilly Ki Barfi, Newton, Fukrey Returns and Stree.
For Newton, Tripathi earned several awards including a National Film Award – Special Mention. Furthermore, with some notable performance in successful web series like Sacred Games, Criminal Justice and Mirzapur, he proves that acting is beyond a medium of cinema.
From achieving a BA Hons degree in history to working in the industry, Huma is an organic actor, whose authenticity in performances reflect her theatrical experience. Her debut as the supportive wife of a criminal in Gangs Of Wasseypur distinguished her from other actors.
Many of Qureshi’s performances are earthy, charismatic and realistic. Whether it’s playing a witch in Ek Thi Daayan, a begum’s attendant in Dedh Ishqiya or a sex-worker in Badlapur, her filmography is enriched with exhibiting some effective depictions of characters. Her talent is not just limited to Hindi cinema.
Gurinder Chadha’s Viceroy’s House marked her launch as an international actor in which she plays Muslim interpreter to the last Viceroy of India, who falls in love with a Hindu. Then in Deepa Mehta Netflix series Leila, she plays Shalini, who tries to find her missing daughter in a totalitarian regime in the near future. It will be interesting to see her break more glass ceilings in the future.
Overall, Hindi cinema has provided the platform to some fantastic actors and to pick a handful of 50 names to bookmark the decade is a tough job.
Therefore, we certainly hope our choices in this article and forthcoming write-ups will be emblematic of Bollywood’s finest works yet.
Given the recent emergence of digital platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, there is an impetus of talent and strong content.
Thus, one looks forward to seeing what the future holds not only for cinema but also the works that some of these actors deliver.
Some honourable mentions include Rasika Dugal, Sanya Malhotra, Radhika Madan, Vijay Raaz, Vijay Varma, Aditi Rao Hydari, Kriti Sanon, Aparshakti Khurrana, Varun Dhawan, Shah Rukh Khan, Janhvi Kapoor, Ishaan Khatter, Kirti Kulhari, Naseeruddin Shah, Kajol, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and Abhimanyu Dassani.