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The All Time Greatest of Bollywood

Updated on March 12, 2017
Greatest Ever Personalities of Hindi Cinema
Greatest Ever Personalities of Hindi Cinema

The Greatest Personalities of Bollywood

As Bollywood moves closer to a century of its existence, it is time to look at the men and women who carved its destiny by their sheer talent, genius, hard work and creativity. From an industry, where working was hardly considered admirable, Bollywood today has become the centre of glamour, art and popularity in India.

In two parts, we take a look at a dozen most influential personalities in the history of hundred years of Bollywood's existence, their contributions which inspired many generations of stars and artistes and salute them for being the torch bearers of Hindi Cinema. This does not mean that these were the only great contributions or that others who are not in this list were not important. It is only that these dozen men and women influenced Bollywood more than many other greats, who of course, made Bollywood what it is today.

KUNDAN LAL SAIGAL (1904-1947) Actor - Singer

Kundan Lal Saigal - The man who inspired Lata, Rafi, Mukesh and Kishore Kumar
Kundan Lal Saigal - The man who inspired Lata, Rafi, Mukesh and Kishore Kumar

The First Superstar of Bollywood

As an actor and singer, Saigal's influence can be gauged from the fact that Lata Mangeshkar broke the radio that she had just bought with all her savings when she heard the news of Saigal's death and never bought a radio again. Rafi, Mukesh and Kishore - all began by imitating him. He was the first superstar of Bollywood, dictating the success of movies even though employed on a salaried basis.

Saigal, who began his acting career by doing the role of Sita in his childhood days, reached Bollywood by a stroke of destiny, through a friend that pushed him to Calcutta, where Hindi Film Industry was centred in those days. He became famous with bhajans he sang in Puran Bhagat (1933) and became an icon with Devdas (1935) as an actor-singer. Even after playback was introduced in Bollywood, he used to sing in front of camera - as in Babul Mora... from Street Singer (1938) . His singing was a greater factor in his stardom. His classical perfection is still admirable and his unique voice is still charmful. He remained the biggest name in Bollywood till his death in 1947.

A great song by K L Saigal (Movie-STREET SINGER, 1938)

SURAIYYA (1929-2004) Actor - Singer

Suraiyya - The first female star of Bollywood, who preceded both Madhubala and Lata Mangeshkar
Suraiyya - The first female star of Bollywood, who preceded both Madhubala and Lata Mangeshkar

The First Female Superstar of Bollywood

Even though her reign at the top was short lived, Suraiyya remains the first female heartthrob of Bollywood. Her singing talents were her greatest advantage during those days - giving her an adge over great actors like Nargis and Kamini Kaushal, while her looks and acting put her ahead of singing stars like Noor Jehan, Shamshad Begum and Lata Mangeshkar. Even though not trained in Hindustani classical, she could sing songs based on raagas to perfection. Her rendering of songs in Mirza Ghalib (1954) made Nehru, the Indian PM, commend her for "bringing Ghalib back to life".

Suraiyya, referred to as the 'Mallika - e - tarrannum', began as a child artiste in 1937. She began singing for movies at the age of 13 years in Sharda (1942) and became a star in 1946 with Anmol Ghadi. Two of her movies with Saigal, Omar Khayyam and Parwana were also released the same year. Her seven films with Dev Anand between 1948 and 1951 were very successful, but the credit was given to Suraiyya who was a bigger star those days. Dev Anand, who once saved her after their boat capsized during shooting of film Vidya (1948) fell in love with her and proposed her with marriage, but that could not happen due to her grandmother's opposition. She decided to remain a spinster all her life, making her life a tale of tragic love story.

Suraiyya (actor-singer) in the movie MIRZA GHALIB (1954)

RAJ KAPOOR (1924 - 1988) Actor - Director - Producer

Raj Kapoor - His was always ahead of his time and showed the way for future. Also lead in showcasing Bollywood to the Box Office.
Raj Kapoor - His was always ahead of his time and showed the way for future. Also lead in showcasing Bollywood to the Box Office.

The Greatest Showman of Bollywood

Raj Kapoor is considered the greatest showman of Bollywood. His greatest asset was his excellent understanding of mass preferences and taste, which he often catered to perfection, in the process, creating many box office blockbusters. However, that does not in any way, undermine his directive genius and great acting skills, with which he created some of the greatest milestome movies of Hindi cinema like Awara (1951), Shri 420 ( 1955) and Jaagte Raho (1956). His movies in the fifties bacame popular in many countries outside India.

Raj Kapoor also perfected the art of depicting his female leads in the most glamorous way, far ahead of his time, even evoking accusations of exploitation and catering to the instincts. However, his depictions remain classical masterpieces with movies like Jis Desh Me Ganga Behti Hai(1960), Bobby (1973) and Ram Teri Ganga Maili (1985). In Mera Naam Joker (1970), he attempted an abstract autobiographical masterpiece that did not suceed at the box office. Thereafter, his later movies were more oriented towards commercial success.

This song became a rage in many countries (Shri 420, 1955)

GURU DUTT (1925 - 1964) Actor - Director - Producer

Guru Dutt - A Creative genius who was also a Director and Actor. His movies are eternal masterpieces.
Guru Dutt - A Creative genius who was also a Director and Actor. His movies are eternal masterpieces.

The Maverick Genius who took Bollywood to the Seventh Sky

If there is one man in the history of Bollywood, who changed the character of the industry, it is Guru Dutt. Born as Vasanth Kumar Shivashankar Padukone and having faced a difficult childhood, Guru Dutt made his way into Bollywood with a small role in Chand (1944) and became assistant director in 1946. He developed a frienship with Dev Anand during early days where both promised to help each other. It was Dev who offered his first movie as Director for Baazi (1951), starring Dev Anand, which became a rage and established Guru Dutt.

After a string of lighthearted masterpieces that showcase his mastery, it was a string of eternal classics like Pyasa (1957), Kagaz Ke Phool (1959) and Saheb, Bibi aur Ghulam (1961), which reserved his place among the all time greatest directors of the world (Time, 2002; Sight & Sound, 2002). These movies blend art, techniques, creativity, story-telling, picturisation and music with a deep underlying philosophy and depictions of human feelings and emotions in a way that remains unparalleled till date, making Guru Dutt, arguably, the greatest all time director of Bollywood. His untimely death at the age of 39 years, deprived the world of a maverick genius, but his achievements in his short life also became an evidence of his greatness.

A milestone song illustrating of directive genius of Guru Dutt - Kagaz Ke Phool (1959)

DEV ANAND (1923 - 2011) Actor - Director - Producer - Writer

Dev Anand - The man who introduced, elaborated and mastered the art of romance in Bollywood
Dev Anand - The man who introduced, elaborated and mastered the art of romance in Bollywood

The Evergreen Romantic Star of Bollywood

The extent of influence Dev Anand had on Bollywood is reflected from his 65 years long career as actor, director and producer in addition to writing scripts for 11 of his movies. He may not have been an acting genius in the category of Dillip Kumar or a Directing genius like Raj Kapoor, but his acting and direction had sufficient originality to have enriched the Bollywood. With 104 movies, he is only second to Rajesh Khanna (106) in the number of lead roles, and 82 of these were commercial hits.

Dev Anand began his career with Prabhat Films in Pune, where he was selected because of his looks and confidence, with Hum Ek Hain (1946). His movies with Suraiyya were hits and their love story remains a tragic tale of Bollywood. His first great success came in Ziddi (1948) with co-star Kamini Kaushal. His succeses span from Baazi (1951) to Hum Naujawan (1985), though he kept making movies and acting in them till his death. His best moment came in form of GUIDE (1965), which remains one of the best movies made in Bollywood till date. Another aspect of Dev Anand's great influence in Bollywood was in giving break to new names that later became the who's who of Bollywood, inclduing the likes of Guru Dutt, Kishore Kumar, Raj Khosla, Waheeda Rahman, S.D. Burman, Jaidev, Sahir Ludhianvi, Majrooh Sultanpuri, Yash Johar, Shekhar Kapur, Zeenat Aman, Tina Mumin, Zarina Wahab, Jackie Shroff and Tabu.

A scintillating Dev Anand song from movie SOLVAA SAAL (1955)

DILIP KUMAR (b - 1922) Actor

Dillip Kumar - The real Devdas of Bollywood - the man who glamorised tragedy
Dillip Kumar - The real Devdas of Bollywood - the man who glamorised tragedy

The Tragedy King of Bollywood

Just like K L Saigal can be credited for having inspired greats like Lata, Rafi, Mukesh and Kishore, many great actors of Bollywood have looked at Dilip Kumar for inspiration and imitation, a fact that many like Amitabh Bachchan acknowledge, while others do not. Among the trio of Raj Kapoor, Dilip Kumar and Dev Anand, Dilip Kumar was probably the best as far as acting skills were concerned. Even the 8 filmfare awards (the most - along with Shahrukh Khan) do not do justice to that telent. His acting style was a school in itself, and practically changed the whole concept of acting in Bollywood. Unlike other great actors like Balraj Sahni and Sanjeev Kumar, Dilip Kumar was also a star who could ensure commercial success of any film.

Dilip Kumar, born as Muhammad Yusuf Khan got into Bollywood by a sheer stroke of destiny, when he was spotted in Pune in a Military Canteen by Devika Rani and her husband, who were visiting the place. She offered him a lead role in Jwar Bhata (1944) as Dilip Kumar. His career really took off with Jugnu (1947) and after Mela (1948), he never looked back. His best performances came in Andaz (1949), Devdas (1955), Naya Daur (1957), Madhumati (1958), Mughal-e-Azam (1960) and Ram aur Shyam (1967).

Dillip Kumar in a great tragic song in movie FOOTPATH (1953)

SACHIN DEV BURMAN (1906 - 1975) Music Composer - Singer

Sachin Dev Burman - The man who left his royal heritage to help a new musical dawn in Bollywood
Sachin Dev Burman - The man who left his royal heritage to help a new musical dawn in Bollywood

The Greatest Musical Master of Bollywood

This son of Prince of Tripura and Princess of Manipur, left his royal heritage for a career in music and the rest was destiny. He brought to Bollywood the bridge between folk and classical music, enriching it from both perspectives. His songs include some of the best ever heard in Bollywood and his music remains ageless. He also sang many masterpieces winning the National Award for "Safal hogi teri Aradhana ..." for the movie Aradhana in 1970. His masterpieces include Baazi (1951), Jaal (1952), Devdas (1955), Pyasa (1955), Sujata (1959), Bambai ka Babu (1960), Tere Ghar ke Saamne (1963), Bandini (1963), Guide (1965), Aradhana (1969), Sharmilee (1969), Abhiman (1973) and Mili (1975).

S D Burman learnt his craft from famous musician K C Dey, followed by training from Kahifa Badal Khan, Sarangi player, and Ustad Allauddin Khan. He used to sing for radio in Calcutta and later, began his career in Bengali films in 1936, where his association continued till the end. His first movies as Music Composer in Bollywood were Shikari and Aath Din in 1946, starring Ashok Kumar. His first success came in Do Bhai (1947), but it was his music for Dev Anand's Navketan and Guru Dutt Films that escalated him to the top. Burman's strength was semi-classical like Thumris and his grip on folk music of Bengal and Eastern India. His son and assistant, R D Burman, carried on his legacy and became one of the greatest music composers himself.

One of the best S D Burman songs - from GUIDE (1965)

LATA MANGESHKAR (b- 1929) Singer

Lata mangeshkar - The girl who literally changed the sound of music in Bollywood
Lata mangeshkar - The girl who literally changed the sound of music in Bollywood

The Nightingale of Bollywood

On her first day in school, this five year old daughter of Pt. Deenanath Mangeshkar had to be physically stopped by the teachers from making other children sing with her. No one could have realised then that the girl will make the whole nation sing with her for the next several decades. Trained initially by her father who was a classical singer and theater artiste, and later on by Ustad Amanat Ali Khan, Amanat Ali Devaswale and Pt Tulsidas Sharma, Lata Mangeshkar had humble beginnings in Bollywood with singing a bhajan for the movie Badi Maa (1945). Music director Shashadhar Mukherjee rejected her voice as 'too thin' in 1948, when Ghulam Haider recommended her to him, angering Haider who finally gave him a break in Majboor (1948).

In forties, female singing was invaribaly with a nasal tone and the styles were similar. Lata broke all those stereotypes with her song "Ayega ayega ...." in Mahal (1949), the movie that became a turning point not only in her career, but also in Bollywood music. Barsat (1949), Awara (1951) and Nagin (1954) made her among the best singers of those days. Later, with Madhumati (1959) and a string of other movies, she reached the top. Lata's voice is still unparallelled in Bollywood, and combined with her classical skills, it created an outcome others can only fantasize about. For six decades she has regaled her fans, a phenomenon that will continue for many more decades.

A Milestone Song by Lata from MAHAL (1949)

MOHAMMAD RAFI (1924 - 1980) Singer

Mohammad Rafi - Not just the master of classical music, he brought improvisation and acting into Bollywood music
Mohammad Rafi - Not just the master of classical music, he brought improvisation and acting into Bollywood music

The Singer Who could Act with his Voice

Rafi, who polled 70% votes in a poll conducted by Stardust in 2001 to choose the 'Singer of the Millennium' has been one of the greatest influence not only on Bollywood music, but also on the movies. He was one playback singer who could do more to acting than the actor who lipsynced his voice. Whether it was classical, like Meri Surat Teri Ankhein (1963) or comedy like "Sar jo tera chakraye ..." from Pyasa (1957) or innovative "Chahe koi mujhe junglee ...." from Junglee (1961), Rafi could bring it to life with the verstality of his singing. He ruled the world of Bollywood singing from 1950 to 1970 before being taken over by Kishore Kumar, for whom too he had sang in movies like Raagini, Baaghi, Shehzaada and Shararat.

Rafi was trained in classical music by Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Ustad Abdul Wahid Khan, Pandit Jiwan Lal Mattoo and Firoze Nizami. His musical journey began from Lahore, where he ran a Salon, and used to sing for Radio and musical events. His first song in Bollywood was for the movie Gaon Ki Gori (1945). Though he had given many hits including those in Mela (1948) and Dulari (1949), his ascendance to the top came with Baiju Bawra (1952) with Naushad, which not only changed his career, but also brought classical music to the forefront and heralded a great golden era of Bollywood music. Two generations of singers in India have imitated him with little success.

A Rafi song from BAIJU BAWRA (1952) - the movie that heralded the golden age of Bollywood Music

MEENA KUMARI (1932 - 1972) Actor

Meena Kumari - The actor who made acting a real life experience and elevated Bollywood to the next plane
Meena Kumari - The actor who made acting a real life experience and elevated Bollywood to the next plane

The Passion of Bollywood

Great acting skills are not uncommon, but rarely one comes across an actor who lives in a role and can make you live it too. Meen Kumari was one of the few who could do that, and better than anybody else Bollywood has seen. Sublimation is said to be the best form of psychological defence, and she perfected that art, converting her personal expeiences and feelings into creativity that brought life on the screen in a way never experienced before or after. Her role in Saheb, Bibi aur Ghulam (1962) remains unparalleled in terms of expressing passion and emotions. Her roles in Dil ek Mandir (1960) and Pakeezah (1971) also fall in the same category. It is only an irony that she is not referred to as the best female actor of Bollywood.

Born as Mahjbeen Bano, she almost missed her destiny when out of financial helplessness, her father left her at an orphange just after her birth. Thankfully for all, he brought ber back after a few hours. At the age of seven, she was pushed into acting against her wishes, as Baby Meena, which remained her idenity for the rest of her life, making her the sole bread-earner of her family. Her real break came with Baiju Bawra (1952) and she always remained a star thereafter, becoming the first Filmfare Awardee and later, the first to receive all nominations in a category (1962). Both her career and life were badly inflicted by her marital problems as she drowned her longing for love in alcohol, but before her death at the age of forty, she gave us another masterpiece in the form of Pakeezah (1972).

A song from SAHEB, BIBI AUR GHULAM (1962) - One of the greatest acting performance of Bollywood by Meena Kumari

KISHORE KUMAR (1929 - 1987) Singer - Actor - Music Composer

Kishore Kumar - The allrounder genius who introduced yodelling and inspired a full generation of singers
Kishore Kumar - The allrounder genius who introduced yodelling and inspired a full generation of singers

The Incredible Genius who could do everything

Being one of the top singers in Bollywood would be enough for most artistes, even the great ones. Kishore Kumar, could also do acting, music composition, direction, production, screenwriting and scriptwriting. This incredible allround talent was never formally trained in classical music, yet rose to a level where he could sing any raaga with an ease you can't find even in the best of the best. Songs like "Yeh jeewan hai.." from Piya ka Ghar (1971) and "O Manjhi Re...." from Khushboo (1975) just show that. He learnt yodelling by listening to Tex Morton and Jimmie Rodgers and succesfully introduced it in Bollywood. At least, half of the later singers that followed him, were inspired by him and imitated him. His acting in comic roles in movies like Padosan (1968) is the best ever witnessed in Bollywood.

Born as Abhas Kumar Ganguly, Kishore Kumar was drawn to Bollywood because of his elder brother, Ashok Kumar's assocaition with it. His first acting role was in Shikari (1946) and first song in Ziddi (1948). His talent was spotted by S D Burman, who patronized him for two decades, giving him learning tips and patronising him for Dev Anand movies. Finally, it was in late sixties that his talent begin to express itself. His song, "Mere Sapno ki Raani..." in Aradhana (1969) was the turning point of his career, and his association with R D Burman for Rajesh Khanna movies changed the whole complexion of Bollywood industry. His peak was in seventies, though he remained at the top of Bollywood music till his death in 1987.

A unique Kishore Kumar classic from movie KATI PATANG (1970)

AMITABH BACHCHAN (b - 1942) Actor

Amitabh Bachchan - The man who perfected the anger of ordinary Indian and made it a part of Bollywood
Amitabh Bachchan - The man who perfected the anger of ordinary Indian and made it a part of Bollywood

The Angry Young Man of Bollywood

Amitabh Bachchan gave Indians what they were feeling in the seventies - an expression of their angst - not against the villains of the movies, but against themselves, their society, their government, even their parents and finally their destiny. It is difficult to say what would have happended had he not landed with Zanjeer (1973), but once he did, Bollywood was never the same again. His greatest portrayal of the Angry Young Man is in Mili (1973) a social movie devoid of any violence, showing the depth of his acting skills. As the biggest superstar of the seventies and virtually a cult figure, his roles did become somewhat stereotyped, but commercially whatever he touched, used to become gold in those days. His great acting was expressed better in his comic roles like Yaraana (1980) and Namakhalal (1982).

Amitabh Bachchan will be at the centre of the Bollywood history from seventy onwards, whenever that gets written coherently. His roles did not just inspire and affect a generation of actors, he is probably the only actor whose roles inspired a full generation of Indians. His success as an artiste is best reflected in the all pervading anti-establishment that has now become a part and parcel of the nation's psyche. His rebellions on screen broke the shackles of values and inspired young Indians to break every rule, not always for the better.

The song that epitomized Amitabh Bacchan's magic in seventies - from the movie MUQADDAR KA SIKANDAR (1978)

The MOST INFLUENTIAL PERSONALITY OF BOLLYWOOD's HUNDRED YEARS ?

Who do you think is the most influential perosnality during the hundred years of Bollywood ?

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© 2012 V Kumar

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