We know Old Hollywood — now it’s time to talk Old Bollywood.
Madhubala’s name is pretty much synonymous with Bollywood. Born in 1933, she is regarded as one of the most beautiful, talented, and influential personalities of Indian cinema. She’s known as the “Marilyn Monroe of Bollywood” (because we always need a Western comparison to understand the magnitude of the success of South Asians 😩).
Regarded as the “Meryl Streep of India” and the first true female superstar of Indian cinema, Sridevi’s career spanned five decades. Born in 1963, she was known for her portrayals of strong lively women and her large expressive eyes, and she was highly regarded for her acting range.
Amitabh Bachchan is known as one of the greatest and most influential Bollywood actors — no list like this is complete without him. Born in 1942 and affectionately known as “Big B,” Bachchan is a reigning icon of Classic Bollywood (the 1970s-1980s). He is particularly famous for his “angry young man” persona because of his portrayals of the wronged hero against a corrupt system in the ’70s.
Raj Kapoor was quite a heartthrob during his time 😍. Born in1924, he’s known as the greatest showman in the history of Bollywood and the “Charlie Chaplin” of India due to his quirky acting style. He was nominated twice for the Palme d’Or grand prize at the Cannes Film Festival in the ’50s, received three National Film Awards, and won India’s highest award in cinema in 1987! Phew!
Vyjayanthimala is one of the most iconic actresses in the golden era. Born in 1936, she is celebrated for being the first South Indian to become a Bollywood star. She broke barriers and was a key figure in introducing classical dance to the industry. She was also the first person to ever refuse a Filmfare Award. Lots of firsts here so kudos to her!
Known for her grace and warm screen presence, Nargis, born in 1929, was one of the biggest names in the industry. Many of her iconic films saw her paired with Raj Kapoor (over 16 films; their chemistry was incredible!). Plus, songs from these films are some of the most popular classic songs in Bollywood today.
Rekha, born in 1954, is lauded for breaking away from traditional roles and playing strong, independent, and tempestuous female characters — ones that can hold their own against the male lead.
Sharmila Tagore is acclaimed as a key influence during the Bengali Renaissance and has worked in both Hindi and Bengali cinema. Oh yeah, she’s up there. Born in 1944, her ’60s aesthetic is iconic — as is her trademark eyeliner and dimple.
Like Sridevi, Rajesh Khanna is referred to as the first true male superstar of Indian cinema and the first romantic hero in Bollywood! Born in 1942, his films were known for their superhit songs, many of which are now classics. (This song is where the above screenshot of Sharmila Tagore comes from!) The extraordinarily large fan following he amassed has been noted by his fellow actors for being unusual and the first of its kind in the industry.
A legend at this point, Dilip Kumar is known as “The Tragedy King” and “the ultimate method actor.” Born in 1922, he has been credited for pioneering a method acting technique that predated Hollywood method actors. He holds the Guinness World Record for most awards won by an Indian actor 😱! And at almost 100 years old(!!!) as of 2021, Kumar is one of the last surviving stars of the Golden Age 🥺.
Known for her unconventional roles — which were considered pathbreaking — and her understated yet impactful acting style, Nutan was one of the few said to share equal footing with her male counterpart onscreen. Born in 1936, she’s noted for not fitting the conventional ideas of beauty. She was thin and gangly at a time when the industry preferred plump and petite (but um, have you seen her? She was beautiful).
Hema Malini, born in 1948, is known as “Dream Girl” in Bollywood (fitting too — just look at her!). Her “Dream Girl” persona became so famous that she even starred in a film of the same name in 1977! She also played the female lead in iconic film Sholay (1975), known as one of India’s top 10 best films of all time, in which she starred alongside her future husband, Dharmendra!
Known as Bollywood’s first “He-Man” and action king, Dharmendra’s rugged look made him voted among the top 10 most handsome men in Bollywood in the ’70s. Born in 1935, he is best known for iconic film Sholay (1975), truly a defining film of the era, in which he starred alongside Amitabh Bachchan, and as mentioned above, his future wife, Hema Malini!
Coined the Tragedy Queen, Meena Kumari has been called “a historically incomparable” actress in Indian cinema. Born in 1933, she was also a poet and fashion trendsetter in the ’50s. In other words, she was a BOSS. In an industry dominated by men, Kumari was noted to be powerful.
The oldest star in this post, Prithviraj Kapoor, born in 1906, is special because he began his career during the silent era of Hindi cinema! He starred in India’s very first sound film in 1931 (Alam Ara)! Thus, he’s known as a pioneer of Indian theater and film. And he really is one in every sense of the word because guess what? He’s Raj Kapoor’s father and the patriarch of the cinematic Kapoor family!
Born in 1947, Mumtaz is famous for her style and versatility throughout the late ’60s to ’70s. She was also a prominent sex symbol, and many of her looks in the ’70s became iconic. Just look at that hair!
Why, say hello to the “Elvis Presley” of India! That’s right, Shammi Kapoor was dubbed that due to his ability to entertain the masses and his “playboy” and “dancing hero” image in his films. Born in 1931, he is part of the Kapoor fam and is Raj Kapoor’s second youngest brother!
Devika Rani, born in 1908, is considered the very first lady of Indian cinema! She was socially unconventional, highly educated, and — unusual for the time — involved in every aspect of filmmaking, from acting to directing. Her film Karma (1933) was the earliest Indian film to feature a kissing scene (scandalous!). It lasted four minutes, a record for the duration of a kissing scene that remains unbroken in Indian cinema even today! LOL.
There are plenty more golden-age Bollywood stars I know I missed! Let me know your fave in the comments 🙂