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In Bollywood, there have been actors who’ve been titled as Superstars in every era. Their charisma, peculiarity, attitude, looks, idiosyncrasy, eccentricity and popularity among masses aided their rise to Superstardom, not necessarily their acting talent alone. Having said that, it certainly does not mean that their acting skills were not good. And then, there have been actors, known purely for their acting prowess. The debate on the difference between a “Superstar” and a “Brilliant Actor” is one, which will never stop.

For almost three decades now Bollywood has been dominated by the “Khans”- Salman, Aamir and Shah Rukh. All are ‘Superstars’ in their own ways. But are they actors par-excellence? Well, some say yes, while others differ.

Here’s a list of some theatre actors who have never been called “Superstars”, but when it comes to their acting skills, the ‘Khans’ appear a bit dreary.

1. Naseeruddin Shah

The name needs no introduction in Indian Cinema. An accomplished actor in every sense, Nasseruddin Shah is a National School of Drama (NSD) and Film and Television Institute of India (FTTI) alumnus. His versatility stems from his performances in various main stream movies, parallel cinema, stage plays and television serials, during a career spanning more than four decades. He made his debut in Shyam Benegal’s ‘Nishant’ in 1975 and went on to deliver stellar performances in hits like ‘Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron’, ‘Karma’ and many more. He has received 3 National Awards apart from many Filmfare trophies, and has been honored with ‘Padma Shri’ and ‘Padma Vibhushan’ awards too.

Naseeruddin Shah in A Wednesday
Asia Pacific Screen Awards

2. Nana Patekar

An actor with an inimitable style of acting and dialogue delivery, Nana Patekar is the only actor ever to win the Filmfare award for Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor and Best Villain categories. His father encouraged him to watch plays which developed his interest in acting. Nana was part of the theatre group Rangayan, with Vijaya Mehta, and did many plays in Marathi. A three time National Award winner, Nana got his first National Award for his powerful performance in the 1989 blockbuster ‘Parinda’. A perfectionist to the core, he underwent commando training for his directorial venture ‘Prahaar’. He received Padma Shri in 2013 for his dedication in the field of Films and Arts.

Best Theater Actors Nana Patekar

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3. Anupam Kher

A recipient of two National Awards and eight Filmfare awards, Anupam Kher is an acclaimed actor, both in India and abroad. An NSD alumnus, he has done all kinds of roles be it negative, comedy, tragedy or serious. He got his first big break in the movie ‘Saaransh’, where he brilliantly played the role of a retired middle class old man who has lost his son. Anupam was only 28 years old when he gave this stellar performance. He has also done international projects like ‘Bend It Like Beckham’ and ‘Bride and Prejudice’. Recipient of ‘Padma Shri’ and ‘Padma Bhushan’ awards, he has also held the posts of Chairman of Central Board of Film Certification and National School of Drama.

Best Theater Actors in Bollywood Anupam Kher
DNA India

4. Pankaj Kapur

One of the finest theatre actors in India, Pankaj Kapur is often called an acting institution in himself. A NSD graduate, he has a repertoire of work which has left the viewers spellbound. He has dabbled in all forms of entertainment media – stage, television and films. He played the role of Mahatma Gandhi’s secretary in Richard Attenborough’s “Gandhi” in 1982 and later dubbed for Ben Kingsley (who portrayed Mahatma Gandhi) in the Hindi version of the film. In 1986, his portrayal of the comic detective “Karamchand” in the popular television serial by the same name, made him a household name. He has won 3 National Awards in his career, which talks a lot about his talents.

Theater Actors in Bollywood Pankaj Kapur

5. Manoj Bajpayee

A power house of talent, Manoj Bajpayee is known for playing off beat and unconventional roles with aplomb. Rejected four times by NSD, he joined Barry John’s school of acting and did various theatre projects early in his career. He did a minor but noticeable role in Shekhar Kapur’s ‘Bandit Queen’ in 1994. But it was his role of a gangster Bhiku Mhatre in ‘Satya’ in 1998, that proved to be a breakthrough. Manoj Bajpai, perhaps, opened the doors for other method actors to be accepted in lead roles in Bollywood. He has won several awards including two National Awards for his performances.

Manoj Bajpai - Best Theater Actors

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6. Irrfan Khan

A versatile and natural actor, who has captivated the audience with his superlative performances, Irrfan Khan has had his share of struggles in life. After Graduating from the NSD in 1987, he dabbled in theatre and television for many years. His first Bollywood lead role was in the movie Rog, where his performance was praised by the critics, however it was his stellar performance in ‘Paan Singh Tomar’ that got him a National Film Award and gave him the recognition he deserved. He has since received many different awards and has acted in several International projects as well. In 2011 he received the Padma Shri for his contribution in the field of arts.

Irrfan Khan - Theater Actors Bollywood

7. Nawazuddin Siddiqui

A graduate in Chemistry, Nawazuddin Sidiqqui worked as a watchman and a Chemist, before he went to National School of Drama in 1996. He made his Bollywood debut with a small role in Aamir Khan starrer “Sarfarosh” in 1999. He had to go through a tough grind over the years, doing petty roles and cameos in various movies, before earning fame in Anurag Kashyap’s gangster epic “Gangs of Wasseypur”. A multi-talented actor, there is no role that he is not capable of portraying with surprising ease.

Nawazuddin Siddiqui - Theater Actors
Nawazuddin Siddiqui/Instagram

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8. Boman Irani

A theatre actor for more than 17 years, Boman Irani moved to film acting in the year 2000 at the age of 41. Early in his career he worked as a waiter at the Taj Mahal Palace and then as boxing photographer. However his true calling as an actor came after his memorable performance in Munna Bhai M.B.B.S. He later did Lage Raho Munna Bhai, Khosla Ka Ghosla, 3 Idiots where his performance earned him several awards, including Filmfare and IIFA awards. His ability to seamlessly fit into any role makes him stand out amongst the rest.

Boman Irani - Best Theater Actors
Boman Irani/Instagram

9. Annu Kapoor

Born as Anil Kapoor, he later changed his name to Annu Kapoor to avoid confusion with the Tezaab hero Anil Kapoor. Annu started his career as a stage actor in 1979. In 1981, he played a 70 year old man in a play ‘Ek Ruka Hua Faisala’ which was directed by Basu Chatterjee. Shyam Benegal saw his performance was impressed by his acting skills. He signed him for his 1983 film Mandi, with which Annu made his film debut. With a career spanning more than three decades in Bollywood movies, television serials and game shows, Annnu Kapoor has given brilliant performances in many movies and has got many awards, including a National Award for Best Supporting Actor in the movie ‘Vicky Donor’.

Annu Kapoor - Bollywood Theater Actors

10. Pankaj Tripathi

A relatively new comer in Bollywood, Pankaj Tripathi is a natural with his unique style of acting. He used to play the role of a girl in his village’s natak, for which he got appreciation from the villagers. This encouraged him further to pursue acting. He did theatre in his college and later graduated from the National School of Drama in 2004. His first break in Bollywood was an uncredited role in the movie ‘Run’. After eight years of doing small roles in movies, opportunity finally knocked on his doors with ‘Gangs of Wasseypur’. His performance earned him the much needed credibility as an actor. Since then he has been part of many hit movies. He has won several awards including a National Film Awards – Special Mention, for his performance in ‘Newton’.

Pankaj Tripathi - Actors better than Khan

Can’t end the list without mentioning Om Puri. 



  1. All the actors mentioned in the list are extremely talented actors, specially Pankaj Kapoor. You have missed out on another super talent, Paresh Rawal (from Himmat bhai of TV Serial to Vishnu Pandey of Dacait, to Veljibhai Patekar of Sir to OMG, he has brought many unforgettable characters to life. Naseeruddin Shah need not be in this list, as he is already considered as a commercially successful star actor. But the real one who is an amalgam of Superstar material and acting ability is one and only Mithun Chakraborty.

  2. Don't tell they are not they are the superstar


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