Why Amitabh ‘Big B’ Bachchan, ‘India’s Tom Cruise’ Akshay Kumar and the 3 Khans – Shah Rukh, Aamir and Salman – are still Bollywood’s unbeatable 5

Five Bollywood actors have dominated India’s pop culture consciousness for decades – Amitabh Bachchan, Shah Rukh Khan, Aamir Khan, Salman Khan, and of course, Akshay Kumar.
Professionally, they procure title and tailor-made roles and franchise films, and head massive productions. Personally, it’s a life of private jets, sea-view mansions, a fleet of imported cars … Everything about their lives is king-size.
Read about these five men who continue to rule the roost in Mumbai’s tinsel town.
Amitabh ‘Big B’ Bachchan
Now 77 years old, there is arguably no Indian alive more famous than Amitabh Bachchan. Bachchan (whose name in Sanskrit translates to “immeasurable splendour” or, prophetically, “everlasting light”) survives, outlives and outshines all celebrity. Every weekend, crowds gather outside his home in Mumbai for a sighting of the living legend – and his equally famous family of actors – wife Jaya, son and Abhishek Bachchan and daughter-in-law Aishwarya Rai Bachchan.
Bachchan catapulted to stardom with the box office success of the action drama Zanjeer (Chains) in 1973, and went on to do a series of movies that established his status as India’s “angry young man”. (Until Zanjeer, he had appeared in smaller roles in several films.)
Since then, his career has remained unmatched – no other actor has held the audience captive the way he has. All his contemporaries are in various stages of retirement, and men decades younger do not possess his work ethic, finesse or stamina (he stars in two or more films annually without fail).
Though he has won a handful of lifetime achievement awards, Big B (a tabloid moniker) marches on with a tireless spirit. Neither Covid-19 nor quarantine can stop this emperor of Indian cinema.
The Khans
Aamir Khan, 55, Salman Khan, 54, and Shah Rukh Khan, 54, (not related to each other) are powerhouse talents that run mini empires of their own.
Each is heavily involved in film production (since outside producers cannot afford them), and receive the largest pay cheques from various branches of advertising, global tours, stage shows and celebrity appearances. When one of them has a film about to release, other stars move their own release dates (the Khans also do this with each other’s films).
Aamir, Salman and Shah Rukh have monopolised the top tier of the pyramid for so long, no upstart has been able to usurp their hard-earned position. Each started their career in the early 90s, and their stardom and rabid fan following is hard won and seemingly unshakeable.
In Asia, perhaps the most well-known is Aamir Khan – he has one of the largest fan bases in China and Japan, unlike any other Indian actor. Billions have seen 3 Idiots, PK and Dangal. Here he is, flanked by his co-stars in his biggest global hit, 3 Idiots.
Salman Khan, popular known as “bhai” (brother/friend), has a cult following and is deified in ways that defy logic. The least favoured among serious film critics, with personal scandals trailing his every move, Khan’s films are frothy and fun.
His films are the bane of reviewers, stuffed as they are with slapstick comedy, mindless action and cheesy lines. But Salman rules with immunity and impunity – thanks to his loyal followers, even his worst films are critic-proof and make millions of dollars at the box office.
Shah Rukh Khan, aka King Khan, is perhaps the most adventurous of the trio – he has been known to make modern, hi-tech films while trying to rewrite the boy-meets-girl narrative that is the Bollywood stereotype.
There are gigantic leaps of faith and investment, too. Fan, Zero and Ra-One were all high concept, offbeat and expensive productions. The ticket sales don’t always keep up with his vision, but at least he tries. In the meantime, India waits for King Khan to announce his next film, while he teases his 22.2 million social media followers with cryptic messages.
Akshay Kumar – India’s ‘Tom Cruise
Once ridiculed for his outrageous action films and popular among the MTV generation for his energetic song-and-dance routines, Akshay Kumar was never seen as a serious actor. Post marriage and fatherhood, however, the star (born Rajiv H…
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