FEATURES/100 Years of Indian Cinema | Apr 27, 2013 | 289495 views

25 Greatest Acting Performances of Indian Cinema

A pick of the most memorable acting performances
25 Greatest Acting Performances of Indian Cinema
Image: Indikino Edutainment
Balraj Sahni in Garam Hawa

{ Hindi }

Balraj Sahni
in Garam Hawa (Scorching Winds), 1974
Films about partition are usually angry in their tone. Garam Hawa is downbeat and elegiac. Sahni is the head of a Muslim family that is coming apart after the Partition of India. He fills his character with dignity, grief and is never maudlin. Sahni was a natural actor and that’s what helps his character.

Utpal Dutt
in Bhuvan Shome, 1969
An ageing and strict government employee takes a vacation in the wilderness. He comes back a changed man. He is kinder, gentler and more connected with himself than before. Dutt conducts a masterclass in acting where he goes from being a martinet to being confused and clumsy and finally, a liberated soul.

Amitabh Bachchan
in Deewar, 1975
Bachchan’s breakthrough was Zanjeer, but the Vijay of that film was angry and sullen; his acting largely focussed around only one emotion: Anger. In Deewar, he assembles the entire orchestra of rage. Deewar’s Vijay was defiant, cool, cocky, unreasonable and full of pathos.

Amjad Khan
in Sholay, 1975
The rasping voice, the arrogant swagger, the evil laugh, that malevolent eye—Amjad Khan’s bravura performance of a dacoit from the badlands of Chambal has few parallels in Indian cinema. Khan put the venom back in villainy in a performance that hasn’t ever been matched.

Sanjeev Kumar
in Angoor, 1982
Normally great acting performances are associated with tragedy, or the character exhibiting a panoply of emotions. It is not often that a comic role gets this status. The one exception is Sanjeev Kumar’s double role in Angoor (based on Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors) where he makes you joyful with effortless acting and amazing comic timing.

Dilip Kumar
in Devdas, 1955
Drunkard, loser and a coward. Who wants to see a character like that? It was left to Dilip Kumar and his intensity to make you feel for the pathetic fellow. Devdas was an extreme performance; on the deep end of the tragedy ocean. Only an expert of the emotion, which Dilip Kumar is, could have taken the viewer there.

Naseeruddin Shah
in Sparsh (Touch), 1980
The film explores a complex relationship between a visually impaired principal (Naseeruddin Shah) of a school for such children and a teacher (Shabana Azmi). Azmi is terrific but it is Shah whose controlled performance has the right mix of rage, loneliness and, at the same time, extreme vulnerability.

in Bandini, 1963
Nutan’s masterful performance of a jilted young woman who murders her lover’s wife in Bimal Roy’s classic is arguably the best acting by a lead actress in Indian cinema. Nutan’s genius lay in portraying a whole range of emotions without resorting to over-the-top histrionics. The pièce de résistance is the scene in which her face conveys conflicting sentiments as she is about to commit the murder.


Smita Patil
in Mirch Masala, 1987
Patil was a great actress. Many of her great performances are laser-like in focus on a few things. So Arth for instance was about vulnerability and desire. Jait Re Jait was about resilience and belief. Mirch Masala covers the entire oeuvre of her acting chops. From the low key of the early frames to the full blast upper registers in the closing stages of the film: The transformation is awesome.

in Umrao Jaan, 1981
This is a journey back in time to the Lucknow of 1840 and your guide to the journey is Rekha’s matchless Umrao Jaan. Played with supreme poise, Rekha constructs a character that is unforgettable and heartbreaking. One wonders if the role can be ever be attempted by anyone again.

Post Your Comment
Email Address
Required, will not be published
All comments are moderated
Comments (148)
Sandeep Jayachandran Aug 11, 2016
Megastar mammootty is the most talented actor in India.....don't compare anyone with him because he is a legend
Merwin Jun 18, 2016
ROFL.. this is not indian cinema this is bollywood cinema.
Nikhil Suresh May 28, 2016
No offence, but Mohanlal and Kamal Haasan alone trump every other Indian actor.
Vijay Gadkar May 28, 2016
these could have also been considered. Amol Palekar in Aakrit, Kanhaiyalal in Ganga Jamuna.
Anurag Singh May 15, 2016
Where is the performance of Nargis Dutt which gave India only 1 nomination in Oscars for Best Actress in a Leading Role?
Kausthub Apr 30, 2016
Well, you really missed out the best actors like Kamal Hassan, Mohanlal, ANR, NTR, Vikram - you just missed the greatest South India actors.
Response to Kausthub:
Ajith Edassery May 17, 2016
Kamal and Mohanlal are very much there. Vikram? :)
Chinmai` Apr 28, 2016
What about Chiranjeevi..if you are putting Rajinikanth in the list by forgetting Chiranjeevi.. I can see the partiality in this..very bad list from Forbes once again.. at least where is NTR.. India's number one actor as per CNN IBN survey.
Narendra Agali Jan 6, 2016
What about NTR, ANR (Pillars of the Telugu industry)?. I do not agree with the list. Thank you.
Sreenivas Jan 3, 2016
This list is wrong. Missing many of BEST actors like SVR and Sr. NTR in telugu, Kamal, Mammutty, Dr Raj Kumar, Raj Kapoor many.
Almost Incredulous Dec 23, 2015
Wow what a list. Where do we start?

OK Balraj Sahni and Smita Patil in - that's good. But if you are going to include Amitabh and Amjad Khan in the list, then why not Guru Dutt or Ashok Kumar?

I do applaud you for not including that huckster Raj Kapoor.

And if Rekha and Nutan are in the list, why not Nargis, Meena Kumari, Suchitra Sen or Madhu Bala?

And what's the deal with just one selection from each of the "regional" film industries? You mean to say you can compare a JV Somayajulu and Balraj Sahni. And you mean you have seen and comprehend and understand all these languages and sub-cultures so well as to judge performances across 100 years. Such hubris.

The whole idea IMHO is preposterous but then I guess that's what sells copy.
Hash Dec 12, 2015
Why are you people always neglecting the south Indian film industry. There are loads of movies with great performance had came out from the south and even noted in outside the country yet no reorganization from india. How can you put such a list without considering performance of actors like mammootty, mohanlal, kamal hassan, etc. These actors have bagged 9 national awards for their great performances together.
Arun Dec 9, 2015
Mohan lal one of the best actor ever
He is 5 th position
Kurella Naresh Dec 2, 2015
kamal haasan is the best hero in india
Naresh .k Dec 2, 2015
Nithish Nov 1, 2015
where is NTR, mammootty, mohanlal, kamal, vikram. this list totally avoided legends from south.
Sudhir Oct 31, 2015
there is no wonder Balraj sahni tops the list. Sanjeev kumar should come next.. both were extraordinRY TALENTS..ANR was far better than Dilip kumar as devdas. So neither dilip/amitabh's performances should come in to the list.rather i would go for naseeruddin shah in masoom and one of the Uttamkumar 's performances.
if they count on south indian cinema, there are actors like SVR/NTR/Sivaji/DR rajkumar who would top the list at least with one of their performances if iam not wrong. SV ranga rao once rated as top 5 actors allover the world - all of these south stars were extraordinary, but they were more dramatic in their approach in most of their films as to cater the liking of south audiences...
mohanlal/mammootty are exceptional actors in current generation..
Taj Oct 20, 2015
Mujeeb Aug 18, 2015
Many Greatest Acting Performances are missing. Mostly Mammoottys 1.Oru vadakanveera Ghadha, 2.Amaram, 3.Dr.Ambedkhar, 4.Thaniyavarthanam, 5.Ponthanmada, 6.Vidheyan,....etc. & some Kamalhasan Performance also missing
Sudhakar .k Aug 3, 2015
how come telugu missed from this??? The great NTR should be the top of this list
Sunipchakraborty Jul 30, 2015
I think srk for chak de and aamir for lagan should be included.with out them I suppose no list can be completed
Mantvirat Jul 19, 2015
Dr: rajkumar
Riyasmancharoden Jul 4, 2015
Mohanlal is best actor in the film industry (iruvar.Tamil)
Ak May 9, 2015
Where are these Best Actors in India left out.
1. Ranga Rao
2. Sivaji Ganesan
3. Mohanlal
4. NageswaraRao
5. Om puri
6. Kamal hassan
7. Anupam Kher
Response to Ak:
Ajith Edassery May 17, 2016
Check again. Kamal Hassan, Mohanlal, Sivaji are all there. Om Puri is missing :/ And Anupam Kher? LOL
Rajesh Rajagopal Apr 22, 2015
Maybe ur knowledge of kannada cinema is limited . Dr rajkumar in bangaaradha manushya is a right choice . He gave a world class performance . But some other mind blowing performances that shud have been a part of this list are b r panthulu in school master , vishnuvardhan in muthina haara , anantnag in beladingala baale , chaaruhaasan in tabarana kathe & shankarnag in ondhaanondhu kaaladhalli . Anantnag is a fine actor , on par with the best in india , but unfortunately , he has not got the recognition he deserved !!
Kousik Mar 26, 2015
First of all you need to watch generations & wide variations of movies both culturally & language wise. Then only it is possible to comment. I have watched some.
First comes The greatest of world cinema Uttam Kumar. but why?
if you thoroughly watch his movies, u can notice that he played characters of a farmer or poor village boy wearing dhoti, middle class unemployed with pant shirt, rich businessman with blazer & suite. Now actors wear dresses according to their characters. but all the dresses merge with the character all the time? not possible. why not? character & dress is okay, but if the actor can not merge with both of them then there is problem likewise oil & water.
here comes the exception...Uttam Kumar...he merged with dress, character, his own body & time...thats where you find no flaws...
when character looks perfect characterically it is called natural acting, else acting..
Balraj Sahni, Dr. ANR, Sivaji Ganesan, Dilip kumar are in the same league with Uttam Kumar.
Response to Kousik:
Nikhil May 28, 2016
You mentioned natural acting (I too love it); I recommend you check out an actor called Mohanlal.
Souvik Majumdar Feb 14, 2015
Manoj Bajpayee should in The Gangs of Wasseypur I (2012)
Yakshith Jan 19, 2015
all time best actor Dr rajkumar. just see his movies and identify any fault in his movies if u found one means i ll stop to see any movies in the world. complete performance in acting and as well as singing beauty. every thing
Response to Yakshith:
Kadurappa May 31, 2016
ya bro he is the best actor in the world according to me
Ubs Dec 22, 2014
TOP INDIAN ACTORS(NOT IN PARTICULAR ORDER)-ANR(Telugu), NTR(Telugu),Sivaji ganeshan,MGR(Tamil),Mamotty, Mohanlal,Dilip kumar,Amitabh Bachan,Shah Rukh Khan, Naseeruddin Shah. Om puri and Kamal Hassan, Vikram from Tamil........If I need to pick the best among them....It would be ANR or Kamal.
Zsivaz Dec 13, 2014
A silly list. The person who made the list seems to have just put the actors who are regarded as great actors - purely for the sake of it.

Take Sivaji Ganesan - arguably the greatest actor of them all. They have included Parasakthi - which is an awesome performance. But I could think of several of his performances which I consider far better.
Deiva Magan
Kappotoliya Thamizan
Vasantha Maligai
Veerapandiya Kattaboman

These were all far better performances

Kamal Haasan in Mahandi was brilliant but I still think he was better in Guna and Nayagan.

Mohanlal's best performance is Iruvar- no contest!
Response to Zsivaz:
Nikhil May 28, 2016
I loved him in Iruvar, but he was equally good in movies like Kireedam, Bharatham, Thoovanathumbikal, Spadikam, Devasuram and Vanaprastham.
Praveen Nov 24, 2014
ntr is legend. where is he? false report. ntr is the no 1 actor in india
Ramana Nov 2, 2014
Where is NTRal and SV Ranga Rao. You must know SV Ranga Rao and Sivaji Ganeshan. Only these two actors got International MoviAwards from India all time.
Asim Khan Oct 17, 2014
Dr rajkumar realy best actor in bollywood
Ram Oct 13, 2014
All best actors first preference bollywood actors & north r close too....I don't know pouranika movies in telugu,tamil actors not greater than social commersial movies actors..?????????? It's n't equal to hollywood 40years before???? wt a great committee to prefre???no graphics, no visual effect but actors how to acting best output that films's easy... Once u see pouranika movies in telugu..
Niranjan Oct 6, 2014
Dr Rajkumar is te easily best actor of all time,b'coz he is the only complete actor to perform all the charecters & categories of movies had in Indian cinema.
Deepak Oct 1, 2014
This list is bull. It doesn't mean anything.
Prasanna Kumar Sep 22, 2014
Dr. Rajkumar (annavru) is the best indian actor for ever.
Response to Prasanna Kumar:
Deepak Oct 1, 2014
Dr. Raj is the best. This list doesn't mean squat if there's no Dr. Raj in it.
Srinivas Sep 17, 2014
Performance of NTR in Dana Veera Sura Karna and ANR in Devdas and many amazing performances of S V Ranga Rao - no wonder india is a country of countries and there arent many experts who know it all about all languages and juxtapose /judge accurately
Rishi Sep 3, 2014
You have omitted Anupam Kher in "Saaransh"... Om Puri in "Ardh Satya"..Thilakan (Malayalam) in "Kattikuthira"
Eswarakumar Jul 28, 2014
Sr NTR no 1 actor in the world for ever. he acted over 750 characters in 362 movies. never before
Amarnath Jun 30, 2014
Dr rajkumar no 1 actor indian film history
Harshit Babbar Jun 14, 2014
shahrukh performance in "dil se" should have been in this list
Harshit Babbar Jun 14, 2014
shahrukh performance in "dil se" should have been in this list
Rani Jun 12, 2014
ANAND AND AMAR PREM how can these movies be not in the best acting list !!
RAJESH KHANNA did an incredibly impeccable performance that could not have been done by any actor !!
The list is simply incomplete without the great KAKAJI !!!
Response to Rani:
Ashok Pahwa Jun 20, 2014
Response to Rani:
Varshini Jul 18, 2015
I am also a fan of Kaka. But Rani, Kaka was only a stage actor who imitated Dev Anand's tilting head and added a wink to it. Whether it be Aradhana, Anand, Bawarchi or Amar Prem it was the same smile and same controlled theatre voice. He hasn't transformed himself for any character and never got into any character (as can be seen in his playing healthy cancer patient in Anand who jumps up when Lalita Pawar comes to pray her final prayer for bed ridden people) and with each passing year his acting skills only came down. By the time he reached Wafa he was not even maintaining eye contact. So Kaka cannot be included among the actors who had talent.
Mohankumar.m May 3, 2014
it is not fully right,you guys forgot "the brandalam of indian cinema chevaliar sivaji ganesan"no one can able to match his performance,
Synsyd Mar 16, 2014
Laughable. Ganga Jamuna, Devadas, Madhumati, Sagina, Shikast are some of the greatest acting incidents. Deewar should not be in the list. Meena Kumari has done many wonderful movies.
Bobby Feb 24, 2014
Amazing that you missed the two best female performances ever in Hindi cinema: Meena Kumari in Sahib Bibi Ghulam and MADHUBALA in Mughal-e-Azam
Jishnu Feb 19, 2014
did u forget mohanlal in kireedam??
Response to Jishnu:
Varshini Jul 18, 2015
It was superb acting. Mohanlal never over acted. He just got into the skin of the character and did it and went his way.
Response to Jishnu:
Nikhil May 28, 2016
I agree. You don't get natural performances like those everywhere.
Paramasivan S Feb 8, 2014
I strongly believe that Anbe Shivam of Kamalahasan is the classical Indian Cinema with outstanding and powerful performance from Kamalahasan. Anbe Shivam, Nayakan, Thevar Magan, Mahanadhi,Pushpak, Hey Ram, Sadma, Guna, Appu Raja are some of the brilliant movies of Kamalahasan which redefined Indian Cinema and are game changer for experiments.
Shivaranjan Ks Feb 6, 2014
Dr.rajkumar kannada actor must be in top 5....list....
Abhinand Jan 19, 2014
where is mohanlal
Jamshad Dec 22, 2013
Amitabh may be no 1 indian super star. agree, but in performance point of view, DEEWAR is shame in this list, but the problem is that Forbes cant complete their list with out Amitabh.
Jamshad Dec 22, 2013
not only in mathilugal but also in lot of films mammotty play great perfomance.mammotty must be among first 5 in this list,you people still show your northen partiality, I 100 % AGREE WITH YOUR LIST ,but some of the good perfomances are at bottom
Response to Jamshad:
Varshini Jul 18, 2015
Mathilugal is nothing when compared to Mamooty's performance in Amaram as the affectionate and illiterate father. He was the right choice for playing Baba Ambedkar too.
Response to Varshini:
Nikhil May 28, 2016
Mammootty in Amaram was wonderful.
Naren Dec 9, 2013
Surprisingly..GURU DUTT's performance in PYAASA and KAAGAJ KE PHOOL is ignored.
Somasundaram Dec 5, 2013
Left out persons -Nagesh - Tamil Comedian for his beautiful timings- Servar Sundaram , Enga Veettu pillai where he always delivers the dialogue mis spelling the words; T.S.Balaiah for his different roles- villain, character roles and Comedian (Kathalikka Neramillai
Abin Sep 25, 2013
When this article is intended to be as the 25 Greatest acting Performances in India !! it should be Generic.

Rather Categorizing in names and regions is not the right way !!
Arun Smith Sep 21, 2013
sorry this about hindi film not indian cinema,come to south which achieved more than bollyhood film,in terms of acting .we legends kamal Hassan with 3 national awards,mohanlal with 4 national awards,mammooty with 3 national ,they achieved all this through there performance and this's just one sentence about this legends and about south films
Response to Arun Smith:
Bhaskar Dec 16, 2013
I would like to make a small correction here. All 4 of Mohanlal's National awards are not for performances. One he won as the producer of the best movie in the same year that he got the best actor (for the same movie) award. Then he won a special jury mention for his acting in the same year that Mammootty won the best actor award. Only two times he one the best actor award. And then there is an award for the best movie which he received as the producer and not for any talent. The fourth one special jury mention is for his talent, but again it is not an award. Only three actors have one 3 best actor awards. In chronological order, Kamal Hasan mammootty and Amitabh Bachan. None has got 4 or more.
Response to Bhaskar:
Debasis Sep 25, 2014
Dude...u forgot Mithun Chakraborthy.....
Narayan Sep 19, 2013
i saw someone saying hindi cinema = indian cinema.... for your information 4 states that is in the south contribute to 70% income from films.... Lol.... so who was saying indian cinema is bollywood...its pure misconception...
secondly this list is hopeless....
Prodosh Manikya Sen Sep 12, 2013
"Motilal" might have been overlooked !
Arindam Ghatak Sep 4, 2013
Madhabi Mukherjee in Charulata, Robi Ghosh in Aranyer Din Ratri, Sharada in Swayamvaram, Kali Banerjee in Ritwik Ghatak's Ajantrik, Tulsi Chakraborti in Ray's Parash Pathar, Soumitra Chatterjee in Ray's Sonar kella, Utpal Dutt in Golmaal, Meena Kumari in Pakeezah and Saheb, Bibi aur Ghulam, Jennifer Kendall in 36 Chowringhee Lane, Shabana in Arth, Naseeruddin Shah in Paar, Anita Kanwar in Om Dar Ba Dar, Om Puri in Sadgati... etc etc etc...
Bijoy Roy Sep 4, 2013
As per my opinion shabana azmi , raj kapoor , Rajesh Khanna should be enlisted...
Livin Aug 25, 2013
LOL....This article seem to be about Hindi Cinema, not Indian cinema.
worst list...
the best acting performances are,
1, p j antony (nirmalyam)
2, mammootty (mathilukal)
3, mohanlal ( vanaprastham)
4, kamal Hassan ( moonam pirai)
5, rajkapoor ( mera naam jocker)
Response to Livin:
T D Harish Feb 2, 2014
Raaj kapoor? In mera naam joker? That was a sick performance. I would vouch for devanand in Guide
Neeladri Dhar Aug 8, 2013
Not agreed with Ananya Chatterjee in Bengali domain. Should be listed Sabitri Chattopadhyaye, and Uttamkumar should be listed top in Bengali domain.
Anil Aug 8, 2013
good combination n mixing actors from all regions n picking the best. I wish om puri, shabana azzmi n raj kapoor in the list too but overall good list
Vinod Jul 30, 2013
Where is dharmendra in satyakaam.
Yahaa filmfare se 25 saal k 25 actor liye or ho forbes list tayaar. Dharam ki filmo ki agar adjust gross nikali jaye to no. 1 h. Or koi b indian actor unke aas pass b nahi tikta. Aaj b primtime me filmi channels per sabse jayaada unki filme dikhayi jati h. O nasir bhai in a wefnesday
Prasanna Jul 18, 2013
LoL. A few mentions are worthy, but on the whole this is clearly a hindi cinema list, not an Indian cinema list. Obviously the writer watches and understands only hindi, and for sure is film buff. Mohanlal, Sivaji Ganesan, Kamalhassan, a list without them is no list.
Only happy to see Sahni saab in the list.
Sikander Jul 16, 2013
The Best acting performances are always from south indian cinemas in front of acting capability of mammooty mohan lal and kamal hassan amithab bachan is nothing with out considering south indian movies indian cinema is nothing. 95 % of bollywood movies r utter waste and the rest r remaking from south.
Response to Sikander:
Swatz Aug 17, 2013
u said it pal...u r absolutely right..bollywood is getting undeserved attention.....
Sanjay S Nair Jun 29, 2013
kamal hassan's moonam pirai and nayagan..P J Antony's nirmalyam.. shabna azmi , sharada , and many others yet to come to the rows
Shaik Abdul Jaleel Jun 11, 2013
The Indian Show Man Raj Kapoor has to be added to the list. His excellent performance in "Mera Naam Joker" is a master piece.
Shahina Jun 2, 2013
thankz 4 adding mammotty and mohanlal,but there were good actors like naseer,jayan, madhu and sharadha
Mikawin Jun 1, 2013
A great list and one of the rare ones that covers a "broadish" spectrum of the Indian film industry.
Bujahari May 24, 2013
A good compilation of great performances each one mentioned has definitely touched our hearts
Sudhir May 19, 2013
whats wrong with Nargis Dutt's performance in Mother india? SV Rangarao's performance in Nartanasala was unmatched by any indian actor till date.Waheeda Rehman's sensible performance in Guide , Meena kumari's performances in Saheb bibi aur ghulam and Pakeejha should also be considered . Savitri's great performance in "Chivaraku migildei" was only a glimpse of her abundant acting skills - I think no actress can match her skills in acting in india - if you don't agree with it, Ask legendry kamal hassan.NTR's Dana Veer Sura Karn is also worth mentioned.
Sudhir May 19, 2013
I congratulate the author for this meaningful list. good thing about the author was he tried to cover more languages. Only Rajinikanth is seems to be misfit in this list. I watched tamil version of Golmal, but I liked Amolpalekar's acting in original film when compared to that of Rajni's.
few mistakes i want to rectify from the synopsys. kannada thespian Rajkumar is not the only actor to excel in all types of roles :
comedy,sentimental,historical and mythological. Infact NTR (Nandamuri taraka Ramarao ) who enjoyed highest success rate in his times, beleived to born for doing mythological films - he was a versatile actor who have done an incredible range of characters- Mthological, Historical, folklore, Social, Socio-fantasy, Action, Romantic, Sentiment,comedy.. His dialogue delivery can be matched with only with either sivaji Ganesan or SV Ranarao.
I have a great respect in rajkumar - as he is the only superstar in india to have won national award for his SINGING talent..
Sivaji Ganesan was the first actor in india to have won an international award. SV rangarao ( for his role kichaka in Nartansala) is second indian to win international award. If you want to see the "fluency" in acting, watch any movie of SV Rangarao.. He was at ease, in any kinda of roles he played- Most People Say
Response to Sudhir:
T D Harish Feb 2, 2014
Don't compare Amol Palekar with Rajnikant. Amol looks like someone who just underwent sex change. But I'd have been happy with some other movie of Rajnikant listed instead of Thillu Mullu. His performances in Mullum Malarum and netrikkam are far better.
Response to Sudhir:
Pavan Sep 20, 2015
Even Dr.Rajkumar has won an international award "Kentucky colonel (Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels) honorary title by the governor of Kentucky, U.S in 1985". Please have a look and talk. and he has the highest success rate in Indian Films. Please don't compare actors.
Mrigank May 17, 2013
Why not somitra chatterjee in apoorsansar
Manish Kumar May 17, 2013
Interesting list and a lot of effort seems to have gone behind this. Mostly, all lists are debatable and contentious, but this list seemed to have been gleaned out carefully and with a lot of thought. Some unforgettable performances pop up to our delectable surprise -- though I'm baffled that you left out Meena Kumari's Pakeezah and included Naseeruddin Shah's Sparsh!
Murthy May 16, 2013
This article seem to be about Hindi Cinema, not Indian cinema.
Ishwar Wadhwa May 15, 2013
without rajesh khanna in anand the list iis incomplete
Response to Ishwar Wadhwa:
Varshini Jul 18, 2015
Ishwar, Kaka looked handsome in Anand but he got the character wrong. A cancer patient won't walk so briskly that too when his months are numbered.
When Lalita Powar comes to offer her final prayers he is supposed to be bedridden. But he jumps up and walks briskly to pick up the ring and show it to Suman. His looks were charming but acting was faulty.
Shaik Abdul Jaleel May 15, 2013
Raj Kapoor is one of the Greatest Actor of Indian Cinema. His Role in 'Mera Naam Jocker' is excellent and memorable. His contribution to Bollywood is remarkable.
Hemalata. May 14, 2013
Somayajulu is one pictere wonder. A.Nageswaqrarao for Devdas or Batasari would have been very apt.I think the researcher does not know about a film called Tappu Talanga by Balachnder in which Rajani is great
Somasekhar M May 11, 2013
Please refer alltime telugu classic movie of NTR,ANR
Somasekhar M May 11, 2013
Indian cinema is not complete with out N T RAMARAO
Ikrishs May 9, 2013
Small correction .Thengai srinivasan died on 1988.
Fidel May 7, 2013
you cant just mock at the man with the greatest dynamism...our superstar rajinikanth...
he s the greatest actor of all..
Arindam May 6, 2013
I don't want to debate this list. But you should have paid more attention to Bengali films. Because before Pather Panchali, the world didn't know about Indiima. You have included only 5 aBengali actors and youmany from Bollywood. The list is not complete.
Hari May 6, 2013
To Shishir Prasad, N.S. Ramnath, Sohini Mitter - Indian cinemas all time great actors are 4 they are Amithab Bachan,Kamal Hassan , Mammooty and mohanlal reason is very simple they all are super stars and super actors no actors in india can claim this ironic combination and these 4 actors carring 12 national award for best acting . nasurudin sha ompuri are super actors but not super stars Chiranjeevi rajanikanth or sharukh are super stars but nor super actors . I hope i am making sense
Response to Hari:
Keerthivasan Nov 10, 2013
Hari who told that rajini is only super star, you have not watched his serious or comedy movies, he can carry any role with ease unlike kamalhasan who always is cinematic and camera-conscious. Dont be a kamalhasan mania, be sensible always while writing. Kamalhasan always confused common public by his over reaction, but rajini when given good roles, can involve with ease.
Response to Keerthivasan:
Priya Dec 31, 2015
Oh wow, Rajini carry any role with ease because he has never tried different roles except for {mulum malarum, 6il irundhu aruvathu varai and few films) You comparing kamal with rajni (Kamal is a hardworker lives only for cinema) If you are confused by watching his films which means you aren't up to a level to understand. Rajni is a mass hero not an actor. He knows to put dramatic fights which is unrealistic in normal life.
Response to Keerthivasan:
Priya Dec 31, 2015
Oh wow, Rajini carry any role with ease because he has never tried different roles except for {mulum malarum, 6il irundhu aruvathu varai and few films) You comparing kamal with rajni (Kamal is a hardworker lives only for cinema) If you are confused by watching his films which means you aren't up to a level to understand. Rajni is a mass hero not an actor. He knows to put dramatic fights which is unrealistic in normal life.
N. May 3, 2013
This is a list to appease regional prejudices, and not acting. Of course without Dilip Kumar, a second rate actor, this list will be trashed. Not having Ashok kumar in Ashirwad, Madhubala in Mughl-e- azam, Gurudutt in Kagaz ke phool, Meena kumari in Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam, waheeda rehman in Pyassa, sunil Dutt in "Mujhe jine do, and actors like Nargis, Sohrab Modi, Motilal, and a host of others will make the list more than 25. So enjoy your delusions. It is a story, that renders opportunity for memorable acting.
Response to N.:
Hari May 6, 2013
The Best acting performances are always from south indian cinemas in front of acting capability of mammooty mohan lal and kamal hassan amithab bachan is nothing with out considering south indian movies indian cinema is nothing. 95 % of bollywood movies r utter waste and the rest r remaking from south.
Anita May 3, 2013
I would like to add a few. Ashok kumar in Ashirwad, Madhubala in Mughl-e- azam, Gurudutt in Kagaz ke phool, Meena kumari in Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam, waheeda rehman in Pyassa, sunil Dutt in "Mujhe jine do.....Om Puri in Akrosh........ And I would rate Balraj Sahni and Nutan as the most brilliant performers. Sanjeev kumar aws another brilliant actor who did not get the acknowledgement due to him.
Anita May 3, 2013
I would like to add a few. Ashok kumar in Ashirwad, Madhubala in Mughl-e- azam, Gurudutt in Kagaz ke phool, Meena kumari in Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam, waheeda rehman in Pyassa, sunil Dutt in "Mujhe jine do.....Om Puri in Akrosh........ And I would rate Balraj Sahni and Nutan as the most brilliant performers. Sanjeev kumar was another brilliant actor who did not get the acknowledgement due to him.
Satish May 3, 2013
One of the worst article in forbes india.
This shows author knows nothing about Indian Cinema.
Response to Satish:
Hari May 6, 2013
the author very well known about cinema thats y the khans and most of the business wise acting peoples belongs to bollywood are not in the list the only one problem in this list was instead of om puri amithab bachan is there and also rajanikanth cos they r not good actors but just stars
Response to Satish:
N May 6, 2013
Yes, and more. About acting, I'd refrain about the ones included in the list who are not 'actors' by any stretch of imagination let alone 'top' actors. The term Actor itself is misleading. People in this electronic medium tend to leave decency, literary manners, and start expressing their personal problems disguised as expletives. I believe, what the Human Experiences, in Sahir's words, Tajurbaat-e-Havaadis, and a myriad other sensations in the course of his exposure to nature, and intricacies of love, lust, laughter and loyalty, can Only be a subject of Art, whether through medium of cinema, song, fresco, poetry, prose, photography, drama, dance mudra, narration or any other. What this complex creature, the Human, does as a Reaction, is his Behavior, which cannot be a Subject of Art. 'Acting' as is commonly understood and admired seems to be a depiction of what one is not, a superimposition upon oneself, accompanied by highly melodramatic verbalizing. It may be regarded as reactive behavior but is certainly not a form of Art.
Waheeda Rehman's portrayal as Gulabo, the shades of observable emotions traversing her being is quite unparalleled in the history of cinema, let alone Indian Cinema. Guru Dutt's Pyaasa is now ranked as one of the top ten romantic movies of all time. The roles Nargis played, each one of them, are a brilliant depiction of her abilities to bring forth emotions of love, lust, laughter, heartbreak, perseverance in facing hardship, and disappointment. 'Actors' as Motilal, Sohrab Modi, Balraj Sahni, Nutan, and Sunil Dutt are true Artists in the depiction of Human Experience.
Lim S May 3, 2013
Mathilukal (malayalam film)

Mathilukal (English: Walls; Malayalam: മതിലുകള്‍) is a 1989 Indian feature film written, directed and produced by Adoor Gopalakrishnan based on the autobiographical novel of the same name by Vaikom Muhammad Basheer. The film focusses on the prison life of Vaikom Muhammad Basheer and the love between him and Narayani, a female inmate of the prison, who remains unseen throughout the film. Mammootty plays the role of Vaikom Muhammad Basheer while K. P. A. C. Lalitha gives voice to Narayani. The film was well received upon screening at the Venice Film Festival, and won four awards at the National Film Awards in 1990.

About casting Mammootty, Adoor says: "To play someone when he is living is no mean challenge, and the Malayalam star rose up to it".[1]
Confined to the narrow space of a prison cell, Bashir falls in love with a woman in the neighbouring prison compound. They are separated by a high wall so that they never see each other and have to devise ingenious ways for communicating. Narayani, Bashir's love is presented as a female voice and never appears in person in the film.
Rajkumar Chopra Apr 30, 2013
The choices given by you is not so appealing. Nobody can even think that the role of Meena Kumari in Sahib Biwi Aur Ghulam, Nargis in MotherIndia, Rajesh Khanna in Annand, Sushil Kumar in Dosti(1964), Waheeda Rehman in Khamoshi,Sanjeev Kumar in Naya Din Nayi Rat(nine roles played by him) and Jayant in Sunghursh is not in your list. You can delete Amitabh from Deewar and Sanjeev Kumar from Angoor and you can also add Sanjeev kumar in Koshish and V Shantaram In Do Ankhen Barah Hath and Rajkapoor in Jagte Raho
Response to Rajkumar Chopra:
N May 6, 2013
Raj Kapoor in Gopinath.
Response to N:
Rajkumar Chopra May 7, 2013
Dear N, Thanks for confirming my list. I had seen response by you to other guys and u had correctly mentioned the greats like gurudutt, ashok kumar and others. Actually., we cant judge these rankings only merely by the success of films. Even the role of om puri in ardhasatya was very good bye
Response to Rajkumar Chopra:
N May 8, 2013
I should have stayed away from commenting on this article :) simply because my exposure to films from the South was only, Nishan and Chandralekha. It was good entertainment then.:) I have seen very few films after 1972. My contention is that it is the Story depicting the human struggle to delve into his being and interacting with the forces of environment can only be a subject of Art, whether through the medium of cinema, song, fresco, poetry, prose, photography, drama, dance mudra, narration or any other. This is where the Artistry comes into play, and separates the great from the ordinay. Not what he does, how he reacts, behaves in ways to cope with life. His behavior can be depicted in films but it is not Art.

Nobody will credit Leela Naidu, and Balraj Sahni in Anuradha. Actually, the memorable performances are so many that a list of 25 will not do justice. Pyaasa started at number 169, then 100, and then top 10. If I remember correctly, Nazir Hussain started the style of, holding breath, stiffening upper body, tilting, shaking and turning head, releasing the dialog, for all types of situations. People liked it.
Lalit G Apr 29, 2013
Khamoshi would have been better than Angoor for Sanjeev Kumar. Rajesh Khanna in Anand is missed, and Dilip Kumar in Dosti (or even Naya Daur) would be better than Devdas - better to give it to Guru Dutt for Pyaasa on a similar theme of inebriation and pathos. Anupam Kher's tour de force in Saaransh and Om Puri in Ardh Satya (or Aakrosh or Paar - anything with Om Puri, really) also deserve mentioning. Also, the great Shabana Azmi in Arth. Kamal Haasan in Salangai Oli (Saagara Sangamam in Telugu) is certainly better than Mahanadi, and is probably the best male performance by an actor in any Indian movie according to me. All the others actors and movies cited are excellent and deserving of recognition. Expand it to 50 and you can fit in quite a few more gems like Meena Kumari in Pakeeza, Raj Kapoor in Teesri Kasam, Dev Anand (yes! sue me for mentioning Dev in the same breath) in Guide, Jaya Bhaduri in Guddi, Nargs in Mother India, and Shah Rukh in Darr/Baazigar. Please remove Rajinikant if you wish to be taken seriously, and Laxmi in Sirai is better than Revathi in Mouna Raagam, but only by a whisker. Thanks for the list!
Response to Lalit G:
Lalit G Apr 29, 2013
A quick correction. It is Koshish from 1972 starring Sanjeev Kumar (and Jaya Bhaduri) and not Khamoshi (with Waheeda Rehman, who should also be included as a great actress, incidentally) that I had in mind in my first sentence. On the subject of Gulzar and Sanjeev Kumar, the movie Aandhi with a standout performance by the great Suchitra Sen too deserves mention. Another glaring omission I hasten to add would be the colossus V Shantaram in "Do Aankhen Baarah Haath".
Response to Lalit G:
Keerthivasan Apr 12, 2014
Lalit G, why they have to remove our super star rajini, they have to remove kamalahasan first, in salangai oli, he is dancing standing over the wall, and doing foolish buffoon type of roles in every film. He is very difficult man for the normal living people, who cannot understand the logic behind his acting. He is acting to satisfy his well-wishers and so called friends and relatives. Rajini on the other hand, is acting to satisfy common man, sometimes he may make some logical mistake, and he accepted it and changed it. He is very casual and realistic actor, unlike kamalahasan, who is camera-conscious and selfish actor, acting only to get awards. Everybody will know that true award is getting appreciation from the common man. Do not consider kamalahsan as actor.
Ravi Apr 28, 2013
I had a great regard for forbes list as I thought they do thorough homework before coming up with any top list, but only before reading this article. Sorry to say this but true. Firstly, when we say Indian cinema, irrespective of population, all languages should be given equal importance. That is missing in this article. If the author does not agree with this, then the title should be changed to hindi cinema with some added things from other languages.
Secondly, the selected performances list itself draws many arguments from all corners of the country.

Telugu devdas by ANR is the pinnacle and well recognized by international critics also. Even dilip kumar himself mentioned that he could not replicate the performance of ANR. Savitri is no less. One of the best natural actress in Indian cinema.
Thillu mullu itself is a remake. And till now, nowhere it is mentioned about great acting in this movie in history apart from the commercial name it got. Nobody would have felt so till now. I am not sure of other languages so dont want to comment.
I urge the authors should take serious consideration of the comments and work towards that in future
Vskumar Apr 28, 2013
I am familiar with Telugu film industry. There are great number of actors like NTR, ANR, SVR, Nagaiah, Savithri, Vanisri who acted as they lived in the films. None of these actor/actresses films were mentioned. The author selection of 25 films may be good but tagging with greatest action performances of Indian cinema is injustice/shallow understanding.
Ravindranathan.p.v. Apr 28, 2013
While picking the best in Malayalam films , the omission of Jagathi Sreekumar is Surprising . Here is an actor who has done almost a thousand roles with such amazing talent. Each role he did was distinctly different from each other . His timings and conversation is outstanding. Malayalam film would have been very poor without Jagathi Sreekumar !
Arjun Apr 28, 2013
I havnt seen too many masterclass/classic films in various languages to comment on what should or should not make it, but i feel Swathi Mutyum by Kamal Hassan surely deserves to be here. The logic is simple, Anger, laughter, love, happiness etc. - these are emotions we understand and feel regularly, thus we can emote them on screen; but innocence or the lack of knowing the ways of the world, is something we cant understand and thus cant emote naturally on screen. The performance by Kamal Hassan as an autistic person who transforms to marry a widower is simply spell bounding and the best acting i have seen. Another performance would be again Kamal Hassan in Sagar Sangamam (same actor -director duo of Kamal
S. Srinivasan Apr 27, 2013
Any selection of great performances is a very subjective list and I don't want to find fault with it. But I would certainly like to add my own choices to this great list of yours (forgive the southern bias): 1) Sheela and Madhu in Chemmeen (Malayalam) 2) Thilakan in Sandesam (Malayalam) 3) Mohanlal in Varavelpu 4) Kamal Hassan in Nayakan (Tamil) 5) Bhamidipati Sabitha in Sapthapathi (Telugu) 6) Charu Hassan in Tabarane Kathe (Kannada) Sarita in Achamillai, Achamillai. An honorary mention could be made of Shamli in Anjali. And I would add Sivaji Ganesan in Mudhal Mariyadhai too because he deviated from his established "Madrasi acting" and portrayed a powerfully subtle performance, showing that he could choose to act in any which way he wanted.
All said, you should be lauded for coming up with a fairly comprehensive list.
Shivaji Singh Apr 27, 2013
Disappointed with the list . How could you miss Shah Rukh Khan performance in Swades , Chak De India and My Name Is Khan
Response to Shivaji Singh:
Michael Apr 29, 2013
Response to Michael:
Shivaji Singh Apr 29, 2013
What's there to do ha ha ha ?
Response to Shivaji Singh:
Dinesh Apr 29, 2013
You are not serious right.. Please dont demean the greats mentioned here.
Response to Shivaji Singh:
Michael Apr 30, 2013
Dude... We are talking abt actors here... not over-actors
Response to Shivaji Singh:
Hari May 6, 2013
u must be a die hard sharukh fan . sharukh is just a star not at all an actor and there r plent acting great performance that even sharukh cant think about it in other languages
Intacto Apr 27, 2013
Ill informed piece..not researched at all for other languages apart from Hindi.
for eg. in telugu ANR in devdas > dilip kumar in devdas. and also no SV Ranga rao in the list makes the list of the greatest actor from india for sure.
Khalid Mohamed Apr 27, 2013
Well, of course, every selection is bound to be extremely subjective and arguable...but this one appalled me...Balraj Sahni, of course, spot-on...but any Hindi film language performance cannot be be approached without Madhubala in Mughal-e-Azam, Meena Kumari in Sahib Biwi aur Ghulam...and...never mind!
Response to Khalid Mohamed:
Sohini Apr 27, 2013
Point taken, Khalid. And thank you for the comment.
Response to Sohini:
Khalid Mohamed Apr 27, 2013
Thanks Sohini...a debate...even a diemetric difference of always healthy...
Harsh Apr 27, 2013
Well, well, well. It is such a debatable list. I am sure if all film critics were to assemble a list, their lists would vary remarkably. For me, some roles in Indian cinema are truly immortal:

- Amitabh Bachchan in Eklavya
- Amitabh in Black
- Amitabh in Agneepath
- Saif in Omkara
- Jackie Shroff in Parinda
- Dev Anand in Guide
- Om Puri in Aakrosh
and many more...
Response to Harsh:
Sohini Apr 27, 2013
You say "Indian cinema", yet mention only Bollywood, Sir? :-)
Must say, Amitabh Bachchan in Ekalavya is a very interesting choice. Wonder what the Big B himself would have to say about that.
Response to Sohini:
Harsh Apr 27, 2013
Sohini, do you disagree with me on amitabh in eklavya? I think amitabh's performance is world class in eklavya. And yes, for me indian cinema is primairily bollywood :)
Shashimysooru Apr 27, 2013
Please do not generalize things by using the word "Indian". "Indian Cinema" has to include all languages in which movies are produced and one should take all the best performances in those language movies before generalizing and saying "25 Greatest Acting Performances of Indian Cinema". Just because you have said, "A pick of the most memorable acting performances", you can't put rubbish performances as "the best". Frankly speaking, most of the 25 Greatest Acting Performances of Indian Cinema" are average performances. Among the 25 you have chosen, the first 10 are from the so-called "Bollywood", and interestingly. the greatest actors Hindi cinema has even seen. like Naseeruddin Shah, Om Puri and many others are not are not listed here. This article shows that it is not free from the popular conception of "Best Performance" and "Indian". A reader like me really don't expect such article from a renowned media house like Forbes!
Response to Shashimysooru:
Ramnath Apr 27, 2013
Thanks a lot for the comment Shashi. You will find Bengali, Malayalam, Marathi, Tamil and Telugu films in pages 2
Response to Ramnath:
Shashimysooru Apr 27, 2013
Yes, Ramanath. I have read them. But, why top 10 performances are only from Hindi? Why not from other languages? This kind of "generalization" is affecting the growth of our India. Why INDIA=HINDI? Is it because, it is the most widely spoken language in India? Or is it because, the govt. of India is imposing Hindi on all language-speakers? I am sorry that by an oversight I have mentioned Naseeruddin's name thinking that you have dropped out his name. Thankfully, you have mentioned about his performance. As a whole, it is a "debatable" list, indeed!
Response to Shashimysooru:
Sohini Apr 27, 2013
Hi Shashi, understand your ire at Bollywood becoming synonymous with Indian cinema. But would like to point out two things here:
1. This is NOT any ranking. This is just a listing. Hence, we are in no way saying that performance no. 1 is better than performance no. 25. And we happened to have arranged it such because Hindi cinema is predominant in this country. Like it or hate... you just can't do away with it.
2. On your point about this list being "debatable" -- Well, from the wide variety of cinema that exists in India and the huge number of films we have produced in the last 100 years, it is almost impossible to come out with any absolute list. And what is good and what is bad is quite a relative thing.
So, please share with us those performances which you thought were great and worth mentioning.
Response to Sohini:
Shashimysooru Apr 28, 2013
Dear Sohini, I understand your points. I am not asking for an absolute list. In a country like India, we can't make anything of that sort in anything. But, my point is that you could have made a balance. I have not pointed out to do away with Hindi. My point is to treat all Indian languages equally. For your kind information, in terms of movies produced, highest-grossers, South Indian movies stand tall. And, Ghajini and Wanted which brought back action into Bollywood are also remakes of South Indian movies. The biggest budget movies are also from South. The question is not particularly about North-South, it is about equality and on what criterion your valued judgment is based on. I suggest you to set some criteria to make such lists. That will help you and it also helps readers to understand your views. For example, period-wise, language-wise, etc. Pan-Indian is always problematic. Evaluating or grading performances of old, middle and new generation actors will also do a kind of justice. No contemporary or new generation actors appear in this list. Vidya Balan in The Dirty Picture and Kahaani stands out in any list. These are all examples. Lastly, "generalization" is dangerous so, please don't follow that policy!
Response to Shashimysooru:
Ravi May 15, 2013
Gajini was a shameless copy of Memento by Christopher Nolan.
Response to Shashimysooru:
Ravi May 15, 2013
Also,except Endhiran,no South Indian movie features in highest grossing list
Response to Ravi:
Nikhil Mar 1, 2016
Ravi sir, what South Indian movies have you seen? Have you even heard of the names Mohanlal and Mammootty??
Next Article in 100 Years of Indian Cinema
Like this article? Subscribe to Forbes India
Just give us your mobile number and we will get in touch with you
Most Popular
Insta-Subscribe to
Forbes India Magazine
For hassle free instant subscription, just give your number and email id and our customer care agent will get in touch with you
click here to Subscribe Online