Over the years, some stars have followed the conventional path while others have taken brave new routes. Here are some who dared to think differently.
Star N Style
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 urban avatar. The epitome of mannerisms and flamboyance, he paved the way for megastars such as Shammi Kapoor and Rajesh Khanna.
Angry Man Noses Out Romantic Heroes
Rajesh Khanna was busy rubbing noses with Mumtaz onscreen, when a brooding Amitabh Bachchan broke his romantic reverie by breaking noses onscreen. The socio-economic mood of the 1970s proved conducive for Bachchan's angry young man image, and 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 so firm that Manmohan Desai had to include a reformation scene for the actor in Bhai Ho Toh Aisa (1972). Along with fellow villain Vinod Khanna, Shotgun transitioned to leading man status. These villains had brought in a whip, sorry whiff of change.
A man of Substance Amongst Men
Zeenat Aman didn't just bring in the westernised heroine and made skin 'in', what is more remarkable is her choice of roles - the drugged-out flower child in Hare Rama Hare Krishna (1971), the happy hooker in Manoranjan, the gold-digger in Roti Kapda Aur Makaan (both 1974) - that added multiple dimensions to the Hindi film heroine.
Her Gudd(i) Deed
In the same era, Jaya Bhaduri's brief career (she married within two years of the release of Guddi, 1971) helped establish a place for non-glamorous actresses, whose stardom was powered entirely by their histrionic capabilities. Shabana Azmi took the baton from Jaya and raced ahead with Ankur (1974), Nishant (1975), Mandi (1983) 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, Darr (both 1993) and carried gray into black. His midnight-dark interpretations of evil were gambles that 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! and Rocket Singh: Salesman Of The Year in 2009, Rockstar in 2011, Barfi! in 2012). 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 path breakers, he is a brave man.
- Dinesh Raheja is the editor of Bollywood News Service