Greatest actor in the history of Indian cinema?

Naseeruddin Shah (left), probably the greatest Indian actor to have dabbed the greasepaint, shares the stage with Benjamin Geelani during Antigone, directed by Satyadev Dubey, as part of Bengaluru Habba at the Chowdiah Memorial Hall in Bangalore on Monday.

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

Also read: Gandhi didn’t get the Nobel. He got the Oscar.

Naseer: Why Indian cinema is not taken seriously

Ben Kingsley on being pompous and pretentious

Also read: ‘Bollywood: India’s most moronic cultural export’

‘Bollywood’s a scam. Farah Khan is a big, fat con’

Adoor: Do only Bollywood beauties possess glamour?

Mammootty: Is Hindi cinema Indian cinema?

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67 Responses to “Greatest actor in the history of Indian cinema?”

  1. Madhu Rao Says:

    Greatest actor in the history of Indian cinema?


  2. mysore peshva Says:

    greatest? not so sure.

    classiest? by far.

    (except for role in “tridev”!)

  3. Faldo Says:

    No doubt he is a great actor but the word greatest should be used with caution.

  4. dodo Says:

    Probably not ( a die-hard admirer of Naseerunddin here, who watched all the Motley productions). He is one of the best no-doubt.

    Jamil Khan ( a member of Nasser’s group Motley itself) gives him a tough competition. Kulbhushan Kharbanda, Farrookh Shaikh, Raghuveer Yadav are also there. Ajitesh, Shambhoo Mitra in bangla are also in the reckoning.

  5. Janasamanya Says:

    I think it may not be entirely correct to call any one actor as greatest. One of the greats is more appropriate term. You just cannot compare artists of any form, actors, singers, painters. Each can excel in his own way. It is like comparing Ravivarma and Da Vinci; Rafi and Kishore and so on…..

  6. Soumya Says:

    Educated man,village boor, God, demon, policeman,thief,….. for the sheer variety in the type of roles and the convincing portrayals, my vote for the greatest Indian to have dabbed the greasepaint will go to our own Dr.Rajkumar.

  7. Gaby Says:

    Only the stupid will use the word greatest in any context.

  8. Simple Says:

    There is no scientfically precise instrument to measure greatness of actors.

    Naseer is a great actor. But then. There are so many other greats too.

  9. Madhuri Says:

    I agree with Soumya. It can be none other than our Dr. Rajkumar, who literally could act in any role.

  10. kavitha Says:

    I second Soumaya

  11. Anna Says:

    Agreed he comes near Devatha Manusya in Sarfarosh but who to beat Babhruvaahana.

    AAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHH Jaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaarini…………….

    Can anyone beat that?

  12. Dojkumar Says:

    Rajkumar? Bwahahahaha…you guys really make my day.

  13. Madhu Rao Says:

    Love Dr. Raj, but I second Gaby.

  14. punita Says:

    Linguistic jingoism at its best portraying the local icon as the greatest.

  15. shanks Says:

    Mr. Shah is ONE of the greatest actors India has produced, including some name mentioned above and our own Dr. Raj.

    Unfortunately he is not a STAR but an ACTOR

  16. Alok Says:

    Naseeruddin Shah’s brilliance gets magnified by the midgets dominating the field today.

    He is a great actor no doubt, but in a field like acting, in India esp, “greatest” is an epithet not to be loosely tossed about.

  17. Rama Says:

    Jaggesh is greater than Dr.Rajkumar and Nassirudhin Shah put together!

  18. Rama Says:

    Overacting era (Rajkumar, Nasir, MGR, NTR) is long over!

  19. Sandesh Says:

    Rajkumar for sure…. for the sheer variety in roles..
    Second soumya

    others thinking this as linguistic jingoism.. pls continue to do so….

  20. Gaby Says:

    Thinking of Rajkumar as the greatest actor isnt just linguistic jingoism. It is blindness of the jana marulo jaatre marrulo variety.

    Why cant Kannadigas and Kannadathis think of the versatile Aswath, Balakrishna, MV Rajamma, Jayanthi etc when talking of actors. We are not talking of stars that only the ‘ Sadashivanagara Palegara’ should get mentoned.

    I still manitain that the epithet greatest isnt used in any context by sensible people.

  21. Sandesh Says:

    not picking up anything.. but if anyone is overacting (i guess you call it hamming or going over the top ) they are
    a) kamal hassan (anything he has done since last ten years)
    b) shahrukh khan
    c) amitabh bachchan (although i love his acting)

    look at anant nag.. such a natural actor.. pity that our media don’t give him enough space as he deserves… to me, anant nag for his natural acting is far better than naseeruddin shah

    any way, the “great, greater, greatest” are all one’s opinions.. no objective metrics can be devised to measure them :)

  22. dodo Says:

    Judging by sheer variety in role will be dangerous here, because then very few ( I think none) will even come near Naseer. Just a few examples:

    1. Mandi: Tungrus. Naseer is mentally immature errand boy of the mausi in a brothel.

    2. Paar: A laborer from bihar migrating to Kolkata

    3. Masum: A father torn between his real family and an illicit child

    4. Bombay Boys: wowww, the comical villain

    5. Ardhsatya: Disillusioned police officer

    6. Katha: A harworking clerk with humble aspirations

    Just a very few examples. And if we are to include the characters from his plays ( I first thought , churumuri’s claim is for the stage actors), then it becomes almost matchless.

  23. Anna Says:

    Well actor , artist and star. Then we have to take SRK who wants to be a porn star . Atlast he is the most earning. Let us measure like majority.

    It’s sure churumuri is just giving some hot soup to fight for in december chali and you are not taking in that spirit.

    For me from Bollywood to Hollywood given the space , time and the characters nobody can beat the charisma of Rajanna – be it singing , voice or body language.
    I know there will be people to demean him waiting at the one incident but it will still be political.

    He will always be a icon. Raktaaksha of Sati Shakthi , Hiranya of Prahlaada , Kaamanabillu, Babhruvaahana … when do I stop….
    And he held the industry at it’s very beginning never let to fall the theatre art too.
    And that makes him great assuring the subsequent ones also never lost the continuum.

    I think Gaby wants more comments on this section. just by looking at the way the Lady tries to bring about a surreal disorder for maniac versions of comments.

  24. Narayana Says:

    How about Devegowda.. OOPS he has not acted in movies but he acts in real life.. Proababaly HDK can be voted the best actor in Indian cinema as he is somewhat associated with movies

  25. Gaby Says:

    Anna – as in Pavlova or or as in big brother I do not know.

    Even you have used only`’great’ to describe your favourite star. All I ask is why you do not mention the Pampavati of Sati shakti and Chitrangada of Babruvahana- cinema everywhere in the world is either a collective effort or the director’s child. Only in India do we give all the credit to the male lead actor.

    I will also add as a qualified psychiatrist that your last sentence makes absolutely no sense.

  26. dharma Says:

    Great or greatest makes no difference. Was he able to buy a flat in Bombay??

  27. sudhir Says:

    Nasir is indeed one of the most versatile actors in Indian cinema. But comparing him to Rajanna is like an apples to oranges comparison

  28. Madhuri Says:

    Well said, Anna. Gaby’s comments are totally uncalled for (Sadashivanagara Palegara) . This shows how prejudiced and sick minded she is. If you don’t like Dr. Raj, keep quiet. don’t write nasty comments.

  29. chanakya Says:

    One among the best, we can say. The greatest actor of the century is none other than HD Devegowda. WHAT an ACTOR…!

  30. Anna Says:

    Qualified psychiatrist! Well seen a lot of NRI docs unable to solve even minute jagala. They keep on reading alien books of west and try to see a world of problems so that they solve them…. Huchchare Santhe also americanized. Is there any ayurvedic psychiatry – for Indians??

    I agree to the greatest part of your comment but feel a bitterness . Hence writing things below.

    Pampavati- yes I agree was a great performance.

    “Only in India do we give all the credit to the male lead actor.”
    You want to see those stark naked ones performing fell*tio for considering art. That is the start for any actor of the west. Show me one without it. I will give a link on internet for your verification.

    I rephrase your sentence
    “Only in India do we give credit to artist”.
    They need not throw their clothes away or perform a circus to entertain but can be normal like any one of us – still being artist. Be thankful to those majority of Indian audience.
    Kalpana was great if you think I am utterly chauvinistic. Can any male actor beat her? It’s just that churumuri never writes anything about her. Journalism itself is also chauvinistic on this.

    Collective effort – yes. Director’s child – yes if it were Yograj Bhatt recently.

    But still maintain Rajanna was a phenomenon considering the totality. He was one solid foundation , some built castles and some skyscrapers over that , some created waves on it’s shadow alone.

  31. Doddi Buddi Says:


    Nice one! But Yeddi has also developed into a fine actor!


    The Lord of Sadashivanagar was quite good in the roles he played; others you mention were quite good too. But it is in our culture to give credit to the leading man.

  32. Doddi Buddi Says:

    Actually I would place Kamalahasan as the best actor in Indian cinema leading actors list.

  33. KolikeRanga Says:

    “I will give a link on internet for your verification”

    Really? That’s your evidence? I’m sure during your browsing hours for “those” links, you would have bumped at “links” about how some of our own stars made their careers.
    Considering your sweeping statements about every actor and every cinema outside Bollywood, it makes me wonder if your choice of movies is as questionable as your internet browsing habit.

    Anyway, the word “greatest” should be used with a lot of caution. The world is just too big for anyone to make that judgement.

  34. Vitlan Potli Says:


    kamalahasan- first some one ought to tell this knuckle head hi-fashion doesnt mean running around in hi-waist crotch squeezing pants. He is the orginal “I wannabe a porn star” -one of the more conceited actors around who thinks that the audience are not smart enough for him. recently was forced at a get-together to watch his remake of ‘wednesday’ felt like killing myself in despair. calling him the best actor in the leading category is overkill.

  35. Madhu Rao | Says:

    Across the pond this guy is the greatest actor these days. Naseer and Dr.Raj are no match for this actor — he can cry a river on cue. fan the masses into hysteria with just rhetoric, sparr with almost anyone and talk about us ,

    like here..

  36. Anna Says:

    Doddi Buddi
    “Actually I would place Kamalahasan as the best actor in Indian cinema leading actors list.”

    Howdu saar 5-6 maduve madkondu ( adu bere bere bhaashyevaranuu ) great annisikolluvavaru nijavagalu great.
    Adannu hogallakke nimmanthavru bere.

  37. Anna Says:

    Bollywood or even Kollywood cannot be taken into account.They are as alien as Hollywood. Just that they are a lot behind scenes.
    SRK proclaiming “I want to be a pornstar ” just for selling a book and that too for a businessman like Arindham Chaudhary in these days when MBA is for having fun at college with chicks itself shows this. It seems he wins national awards shows the credibility of those awards.
    I did hear he teaches Insha Allah and Gayathri mantra for his kids and that was most read news that day. Halka Badi maga.

  38. Hiker Says:


    “Howdu saar 5-6 maduve madkondu ( adu bere bere bhaashyevaranuu ) great annisikolluvavaru nijavagalu great.
    Adannu hogallakke nimmanthavru bere”

    LoL! What has number of marriages got to do with his acting talent?!

    PS:I also don’t agree that KH is the greatest actor.

  39. Anna Says:

    “LoL! What has number of marriages got to do with his acting talent?!”

    For ages I too never wanted to believe but seeing Kamal and Aamir and other unmentionable (Chee, Thoo) characters floating around media, affairs seems the greatest relationship for their success. Try once, probably you also may go on top :)

  40. Faldo Says:

    @DB – I am surprised that you did not have more to say about the Lord of Padmanabhanagar :)

    While we are on this topic, it would be far more interesting to know which politician(s) would make great actors.

  41. Gaby Says:

    Sorry if I hurt any sentiments- was just a plea with kannada movie rasikas to spare a thought for the Aswaths and MV Rajammas and Jayanthis and not get too carried away by their admiration for selected stars. My personal favorite for versatility is Aswath.

  42. Vitlan Potli Says:

    ayyo anna,

    why for are you working urself into a knot? The discussion was about some nonsense like greatest make believe and that is exactly that “make believe” one has to be nuts to take them seriously regardless of whether it is Brando or Dr Raj. Lets not look for saints where there arent any. Bertrand Russell married five times does that diminish the quality of work that he has produced?

  43. Anna Says:

    Vitlan Potli
    “not look for saints where there arent any”

    One small vithandavaada.
    If the definition of a saint changes everyone can be a saint alve?

    Ok for others fighting with entropy disorder here is my small research

    Agreeing to live with indecisiveness and incompleteness in janana-marana cycle is globalization; still
    Keelarimeye Abhimaanakke addi maadabahuda?
    I don’t think Kuvempu’s ideology of vishwa maanava included this Keelarime.

    I was looking out for proper words and found this

    —As a playwright he belongs perhaps to the last generation of urban Indian writers who encountered the “great” and “little” traditions of myth, poetry, history, legend, and folklore at first hand in their earliest childhood, and whose adult authorial selves were shaped profoundly by this cultural legacy mediated by colonialism—

    The last generation of urban Indian writers!!
    What a pity? So next generation will be American or inevitably Americanized!!!!!!!!!!

  44. bhupesh Says:

    Along with Nasser,Om Puri and Pankaj Kapur are in my top three.Pankaj Kapoor of course is the least famous.But if one has seen his performance in ‘Ek Doctor ki Maut’, ‘Maqbool’ and the TV comedy,’office office’ is surely going to be big fan.

  45. Sandesh Says:

    >>was just a plea with kannada movie rasikas to spare a thought for the Aswaths and MV Rajammas and Jayanthis and not get too carried away by their admiration for selected stars.

    There is no need to denigrate someone else by going personal to appreciate others. Thus, your comment on Rajkumar as ‘lord of sadashivanagara’ was entirely uncalled for.

    Of course, Ashwat avra acting talents bagge eradu matilla :)…. my personal fav for character artist.

  46. Anonymous Guy Says:


    So next generation will be American or inevitably Americanized.

    So? At least this generation is not ‘mediated by colonialism’ and has far more confidence in its abilities. They dont have to thrive just because they are a select handful who were favored by luck, an Oxford degree and some token recognition from the West.

  47. Anshuman Patel Says:

    ‘Greatest’? It’s easy to tool aound with such tags if one were to talk about say Usain Bolt or Michael Phelps and so on in the field of sports and games.

    How do you quantitatively define it in art forms? It’s always going to be subjective and not a conclusive one. Hence it’s best not to use such words in these fields loosely.

    How many movies and plays of how many actors in how many languages one would have to see to reach this ‘greatest’ conclusion? Theoretically speaking one would have to see ALL that there is – all languages, all actors, all movies. So it starts sounding somewhat ridiculous and perhaps shows up our limitations and may be parochialism no?

    Naseer without doubt is a fine exponent of his art – viewing of just a few films Katha, Sparsh, Manthan and Jaane bhi do..would possibly convince even a die-hard cynic of his acting chops. But still ‘Greatest’? What’s that and how?

  48. Doddi Buddi Says:


    You are needlessly putting ant in your dhothi…!


    True but Thespian Devegowda is kind of a spent force. Yeddy has truely made great strides in romance (Shobha), histrionics (tears on camera), and jokes (inane statements).

  49. RaviKirana Says:

    Good to see a commoner emulate a pudari, falter like one and back pedal too ! Ah the gift of gab(y)..

    Thinking of Rajkumar as the greatest actor isnt just linguistic jingoism. It is blindness of the jana marulo jaatre marrulo variety.

    We are not talking of stars that only the ‘ Sadashivanagara Palegara’ should get mentoned.

    Make a bold statement ; when the heat gets too much to bear, back pedal and offer a limp explanation of how your statement was misconstrued ; add a oggarane of “rasika” into the mix as well.

    From the above statements it is quite evident that the pisschyatarist amma does not deem Dr.Raj as a good actor but just a star. I and a few others beg to differ.

    Ashwath and all others you mention are good no doubt. No questions asked. Fortunately we do not have to dislike Dr.Raj to like any of them..

  50. Gaby Says:

    Ravikirana- I can only say you are really pissed off- it isnt whether I like your idol or not- honestly I dont- his depictions of the gender situation in his movies of 80s and later were retrogressive where he was involved in the production- but that is neither here nor there. My thoughts from my first post was the draw attention to the jana marulo et al realtion between the idol and his fans.

  51. Faldo Says:

    @DB You may have a point though you risk offending the feelings of certain die hard fans of the thespian DG like our dantangya :)

  52. Madhuri Says:


    Ashwath and all others you mention are good no doubt. No questions asked. Fortunately we do not have to dislike Dr.Raj to like any of them.

    Exactly the point which seems to be difficult to be understood (or pretend to understand) by the psychiatrist. We all like Ashwath, Jayanthi, Kalpana, Balakrishna, Narasimharaju. But we don’t use adjectives like ‘palegars’ ‘lords’ or ‘stars’. For heavens sake, Dr. Raj has never behaved like lord. If Gaby’s personal favourite is Ashwath, let be. But why demean others?

  53. Anna Says:

    Merry Christmas.
    Yesu nammelara paapa hoththukondu shanthi karunisali.

  54. dr ramesh Says:

    why this talk, enjoy dr raj-ashwath jugalbandi in kulagowrava,gandhinagara,mayura, shravana bantu,daari tappida maga,shruti seridaaga, anuraaga aralithu……… list goes on.
    they shared a very healthy rapport which benefited kannada film industry.
    anant nag avaranna mareyuvudakke saadhya naa?

  55. RaviKirana Says:

    Exactly ! As a matter of fact I think Ashwath is a better actor than Dr.Raj. But Rajkumar is who he is for a reason. He was a great actor, a man of the masses, humble humanitarian et al. He is up there among the greats of India and that’s not just idolatory speech ; you will not find me dead admiring any of Dr.Raj’s suputras..

    I can assure you I’m not pissed. :-) . I just called a spade a spade when I saw one. You shot yourself in the foot with the ‘Palegara’ statement and tried to backtrack, albeit unsuccessfully, and I was not going to let you do that. Simple as that.

    Sans the palegara statement, I’m sure no sane Kannadiga/Kannadithi are out to deny the wealth of talent that Ashwath and others brought to the Kannada cinema and enriched it..

  56. misterbrine Says:

    my top 5

    1. Ambareesh
    2. Vishnuvardhan
    2.5 Chiranjeevi
    3. Rajnikanth
    4. mamooty
    5. Suman

  57. kaangeya Says:

    Naseer is a great actor. Greatest? It’s too early to tell. My vote will always be for Sivaji Ganesan, who mastered his craft and perfected his act every time he doned the ‘paint. As will Dr.Raj and Dr.Vishnu fans vote for their favourite actors.
    While it is hard to decide who is greatest it is easier to decide who should be nominated for that honor. It is easier still to conclude who should not be counted among the greates ever.

    Kamal Hassan? Ham extraordinare? You can’t be serious. Kamalahasan has the knack of converting every role into a set template – and his true successor is the noxious King Khan – King Porn more like it. The only thing KH is good at is comedy, everything else is fake.

  58. rajesh kochi Says:

    why u guys fighting for mohanlal is the most flexibble actor as for bollywood no one knows acting dont please compare bollywood to southindian films read what the great artistes as u say say about mohanlal
    see different people taking about mohanlal
    he is the on of the best acors in india
    ccording to CNN-IBN, Mohanlal is the Most Popular Keralite of the Century.

    For Time magazine, Lal is India’s answer to Marlon Brando.

    For Prakash Raj he is one of the finest natural actors India can ever come across

    For Amitabh Bachan, he is the finest actor in the country.

    For Priyadarshan, he is the best actor India has ever produced.

    For Kamal Haasan, he is the most flexible actor in India.

    For RGV, he is the Robert De Niro of Indian screen.

    For Sunil Shetty,he is the God of Cinema.

    For Shaji N Karun,he is the most immensely talented actor.

    Manirathnam and Dr.Rajkumar are two frontline fans of this great actor..

    Once during the shooting of Vanaprastham a French Technician said: “He is the man born in the wrong side of the world; if he was from the other country he would have already had an Oscar”

    Rajni Kanth: I’m sometimes jealous seeing the easiness of his acting. Just can’t dream of doing some characters lal had done

    Amitabh Bachchan: Lal’s style of performance enlightened me about the new phase of acting

    Sivaji Ganesan: I feel sorry that he was not born to me. His acting is really interesting

    Mammootty: A fantastic, marvelous and unpredictable actor

    Aishwarya Rai: Lal’s acting is a gift of God

    Shahrukh Khan: Mohanlal is quite simply an amazing actor for me

    Mani Ratnam: Hereafter, I will never work with a man of whom I am a fan. I often forgot to say ‘Cut’ in Iruvar

    Kamal Haasan: Lal’s substlety in dancing without mastering it astonishes even an eminent dancer

    M. T. Vasudevan Nair: Mohanlal is a privilege not only to Malayalam but also to the World Cinema

    Adoor Gopalakrishnan: Mohanlal owns rare acting style and his paculiarity of acting and versatality putting him in a different league of artists

    Shilpa Shetty: If Mohanlal is there then I’m ready to do a Malayalam film

    Jagathy Sreekumar : I’m always comfortable while acting with Mohanlal because he is the best actor I know. So i also try to raise up to him

    K. Lohithadas: I feel that the upcoming generation can watch performance of Mohanlal and learn a lot. It can be called a textbook of acting

    Shaji N Karun: We haven’t exploited Mohanlal’s talent yet

    Hariharan (Director): His gift is that he underplays emotions

    Priyadarshan: Lal never prepares for any role or scene. He is not bothered how he looks or what he does. Once the camera is on, he is a transformed person. As lal does only one film at a time, he knows everything about the film, nothing more

    He is the first actor to be honored with the prestigious Lieutenant Colonel Post from Indian Army.

    Recipient of “Padma Shri” & “Bharat” Awards.

    He is the common man, he is the superman and sometimes he is everything in between and beyond.The more you try to describe him, the more he becomes indescribable!

  59. aravind Says:

    i am a mohan lal fan ……………………………………………………………………….
    he is the finest actor in india ever produced

  60. San Says:

    Mohanlal…he is a phenomenon. An actor par excellence.

  61. satheesh Says:

    MAMMOOTTY is the best actor in indian film

  62. Santosh Says:

    Kamal Hassan the best of all time…


    Who else can match the inborn talents of this magnificent perfectionist,,, Solute to U sir….Other “ACTORS” cannot be compared to his shadows… They r SHIT. We have to be gifted to get such a MASTER PIECE.

    50 YEARS in the FILM INDUSTRY … no one us touched this mammoth FEAT.

  63. dr ramesh Says:

    Dr.rajkumar and anantnag ,best actors india has produced. Watch sandhya raga and beladingala bale, can bet it will be difficult to suppress gasp of admiration.

  64. Nalini Says:

    I second Dr. Ramesh. Dr. Rajkumar is the best.

  65. Raj Says:

    Mohanlal for no doubt.. mohallal to cinema is like tendulkar to cricket..

  66. Raja Says:

    sivaji ganesan = great actor => hamming = acting

  67. Shiva Says:

    Mr. Raja you should not speak about Sivaji after seeing just 1 or 2 films of his. He is way better than other method actors in India. It’s not that he cannot do natural acting. People always wanted a “different” kind of acting from him.

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