25 Best Performances in the History of Bollywood Cinema

Over time Bollywood has produced some epic movies giving a career boost to iconic stars who are still remembered for their brilliant performances in such movies. These movies actually represent the Bollywood cinema internationally and show the world that our cinema is not just about singing and dancing.

Those who believe that Bollywood cinema can’t produce movies other than action-packed masala or romantic melodrama must watch some of the best performances by the following actors in the movies mentioned below.

We, at Filmy Keeday, decided to honor the 25 Best performances from Bollywood Cinema as our tribute to celebrate 100 years of the Hindi Film Industry.

Please check out these amazing performances now if you missed them:

Dilip Kumar in Devdas, 1955

dilip kumar as devdas

Tragedy King as he is well-known in Bollywood and described as “the ultimate method actor” by none other than the great Satyajit Ray, Dilip Kumar embarked upon his journey to become the most established and respected actor of time in the history of Bollywood. Of all the Devdas movies made throughout history, Dilip Sahab’s Devdas is said to be the best of them.

Nutan in Bandini, 1963

Nutan in Bandani

At a time when there were no women-oriented movies made in Bollywood, Bandini became a trendsetter. Directed by Bimal Roy, the movie depicts the story of Kalyani portrayed by Nutan who is convicted of murder and the movie displays her life in prison. Nutan gave her best performance in the movie which also starred Ashok Kumar and Dharmendra.

Utpal Dutt in Bhuvan Shome, 1969

Bhuvan Shome Utpal Dutt movie

Utpal Dutt is one of the reputed actors in Bollywood mostly known for his portrayal of character roles or as a supporting actor in the movie. His best performance came out in the 1969 Hindi Feature Film, Bhuvan Shome in which he played the title character. His performance in the film also won him his first and only National Award as Best Actor in 1970.

Balraj Sahni in Garam Hawa (Scorching Winds), 1974

Garm Hawa Hindi Film Balraj Sahni

Next on our list is veteran actor Balraj Sahni for his portrayal of an elder brother in a Muslim family living in Agra, UP in the 1974 Urdu film, Garam Hawa. The story of the movie is about the life of the Mirza family set after the partition of India in 1947. The movie gained so much accolades both nationally and internationally largely due to the brilliant performance by Balraj Sahni and was an official Indian entry for the Academy Awards in the Best Foreign Film category.

Amitabh Bachchan  in Deewar, 1975

Amitabh Bachchan in Deewar Coolie

Amitabh Bachchan launched his career with 13 flops before his major breakthrough in Zanjeer which gave him the title of India’s first Angry Young Man. Although the movie Zanjeer was the first movie in which he was acknowledged and praised for his Angry Young Man character, it was his performance as Vijay in Deewar that established Amitabh Bachchan as Angry Young Man. His character in this movie is even today considered as his best performance till date.

Amjad Khan in Sholay, 1975

Sholay Amjad Khan Sanjeev Kumar Still Ye hath Mujhe

Sholay is still considered as an iconic movie for its screenplay, script, direction, cinematography and especially the list of superstars like Dharmendra, Amitabh Bachchan, Sanjeev Kumar, Hema Malini and Jaya Bachchan. Despite all these mega stars then, newcomer Amjad Khan who portrayed the memorable role of Gabbar Singh in the movie steals the show. All the Dialogues of Gabbar Singh are still very famous. He also won his first Filmfare Award for Best Supporting Actor for his brilliant performance as a dacoit in the film.

Amol Palekar in Golmaal, 1979

Amol Palekar in Golmaal comedy movie

Gol Maal was directed by Hrishikesh Mukherjee starring Amol Palekar in the lead role with Utpal Dutt, Bindya Goswami, Deven Verma and Dina Pathak in supporting roles. Hrishi Da’s magic worked while displaying a cute love story with fun, humor and full of laughter. The brilliant acting performance of Amol Palekar as Ram Prasad and Laxman Prasad also fetched him the Filmfare Best Actor award.

Naseeruddin Shah in Sparsh (Touch), 1980

Naseeruddin Shah in Sparsh Hindi Drama film

Naseeruddin Shah is considered as the most versatile actors of all time. Although, he is not as popular as Mr. Amitabh Bachchan or labelled as a superstar, Naseer sahab has contributed a lot to the Indian cinema by displaying his acting brilliance in the art film industry. His best performance however can be witnessed in the 1980 film, Sparsh where he plays a visually impaired Principal of a blind school. He won the National Film Award for Best Actor for his acting in the movie.

Rekha in Umrao Jaan, 1981

Rekha as Umraojaan classic movie Bollywood

Yet another women centric movie that stars Rekha in the leading role, Umrao Jaan may not have pleased the crowd but it did receive applause from real cinema lovers. Rekha as Umrao Jaan was praised a lot that she went on to play similar roles in some blockbuster movies of the 80s paired opposite to Mr. Amitabh Bachchan. Rekha also won her first and only National Film Award for Acting in Umrao Jaan.

Anupam Kher in Saaransh, 1984

Anupam Kher in Saransh

At the age of 28, Anupam Kher entered the Bollywood industry from the 1984 Hind film, Saaransh in which he successfully portrayed the role of a 60+ stubborn retired old man who lost his only son and now making amends with his life. The way he displayed the anger and pain through his character, he acclaimed praises from critics all over for his mature acting in his debut film. The film also won him his first and only Filmfare Best Actor award.

Kamal Hassan in Saagar, 1985

Kamal Haasan in Saagar classic bollywood film

Saagar is a 1985 Hindi film directed by Ramesh Sippy starring Rishi Kapoor, Dimple Kapadia and Kamal Hassan in the lead roles. Although Kamal Hassan is the loser in the love triangle film between the three leads, he steals the show with his subtle performance, he shows the true Pain of getting friendzoned. The range of his acting brilliance can be measured by the fact that he was nominated for Filmfare in both Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor categories for playing the same character. Eventually, he won Filmfare Best Actor award that year.

Smita Patil in Mirch Masala, 1987

Mirch Masala Hindi Movie NFDC

A list of top performances from Bollywood movies is incomplete without the inclusion of versatile actors from art cinema. One such brilliant performance comes from Smita Patil in 1987 Hindi film, Mirch Masala directed by Ketan Mehta where she plays a village girl named Sonbai. Her performance in the movie was also listed among Forbes Top 25 Acting Performances in Indian Cinema.

Dimple Kapadia in Rudali, 1993

Dimple Kapadia in Rudaali

Yet another versatile actor who did well both in commercial cinema as well as art cinema was Dimple Kapadia. While she was known for her glamorous roles in Saagar and Jaanbaaz, she also gave her best performances in realistic movies like Rudali. Playing the character of Shanichari who was abandoned by her widow mother, she goes on to win the National Film Award for Best Actress for her performance.

Ajay Devgan in Zakhm, 1998

Ajay Devgn in Zakhm Best movie of Ajay Devgn

Ajay Devgan is one of those actors who is said to be an artist who speaks with his eyes. Not many actors are blessed with such a talent. Ajay Devgan who started his career as a Action Hero got the status of a complete actor after his portrayal of a mature and realistic character in the 1998 Hindi movie, Zakhm. In the movie, he plays a son who in spite of communal indifference fulfills his mother’s wish to be buried according to Muslim rituals. The movie won Ajay his first National Film Award for Best Actor.

Paresh Rawal in Hera Pheri, 2000

Paresh Rawal as Baburao in Hera Pheri

Paresh Rawal is one of the few actors in Bollywood who has enacted different types of character throughout his career. However, his best performance can be seen in the 2000 Comedy feature film, Hera Pheri where he played a Marathi Manus brilliantly giving us a memorable character of Babu Bhaiya alongside Akshay Kumar and Sunil Shetty in pivotal roles. His character in the movie helped him reach new heights of comedy and also eventually won him the Filmfare Award for Best Comedian that year. Hera Pheri is one of the best Cult Comedy Film ever.

Shahrukh Khan in Swades, 2004

Shahrukh Khan in Swades Hindi film

In spite of being a heartthrob of many fans and almost reigning Bollywood over a decade as the King Khan of Bollywood, Shahrukh Khan was yet not able to win the critics as a complete actor. But it all changed after the 2004 Indian Drama film, Swades which was written, produced and directed by Ashutosh Gowariker. Was it the positive theme of the movie or its stillness, the role of Mohan Bhargava is still considered as the best performance by the Badshah Khan.

Hrithik Roshan in Lakshya, 2004

Lakshya Movie on army and Armymen

At the time labelled as one-film wonder, Hrithik Roshan raised so many expectations after his debut film broke all the records of earlier movies. Although most of his movies failed after his debut film, Kaho Na Pyar Hai, he got many praises for great acting in movies like Mission Kashmir and Fiza. However, his best performance came out in the 2004 Indian war drama film, Lakshya directed by Farhan Akhtar. The performance is the best till date because of the different shades of his character and the transition from a lazy brat with no ambition in life to a disciplined military officer who goes on to play a prominent role in the Kargil War in the movie.

Kareena Kapoor in Jab We Met, 2007

Kareena Kapoor in Jab We Met

In Bollywood, the credit for the overall success of the movie is most often given to Hero of the movie while the Heroine is always considered to be the eye candy. However, Jab We Met changed the tradition as the success of this romantic love story is credited to Geet played by Kareena Kapoor. This is by far the best performance by Kareena Kapoor who otherwise was known just for her glamorous looks but after Jab We Met, she won praises and accolades from many critics and fans who now considers her as a complete actor.

Priyanka Chopra in Fashion, 2008

Priyanka Chopra in Fashion Bollywood Movie

If Jab We Met did it for Kareena Kapoor, the 2008 Madhur Bhandarkar movie, Fashion became a breakthrough point in Priyanka Chopra’s career earning her many praises and awards that year. Her portrayal of a small town girl who eventually becomes a supermodel of the industry is justified beautifully with brilliant performance. Her role of aspiring model, Meghna Mathur also won her Best Actress Awards at 54th Filmfare Awards and 56th National Film Awards.

Ranbir Kapoor in Rockstar, 2011

Ranbir Kapoor in Rockstar Muscian

When we often consider that Bollywood movies are just about songs, dance and masala based storyline without any freshness or creativity, there comes a movie that changes it all. The 2011 musical drama film, Rockstar directed by Imtiaz Ali starring Ranbir Kapoor as the main lead who plays the Rockstar was such a movie that shows brilliant direction, beautiful scenes, passionate acting and above all soulful music. Ranbir Kapoor gave in everything to get into Rockstar image learning guitar lessons, long hairs etc. His portrayal of Jordan was by far his best performance which not only won critics all over but also many film awards that year including Filmfare Award for Best Actor.

Irrfan Khan in Paan Singh Tomar, 2010

Irrfan Khan in Paan Singh Tomar

Its very rare that a non-commercial low budget biographical film emerges as super-hit both at Box Office and among the critics. Paan Singh Tomar released in 2012 did just that building hopes for new age cinema that looks beyond formula movies. The majority of the credit for the movie’s success goes to Irrfan Khan who plays the title character, an Army man and an Indian athlete who becomes a dacoit out of dire consequences. As it is a biopic, the character demanded realistic approach and who could have played it better than currently one of the best actors in the country. The portrayal of Paan Singh Tomar also earned Irrfan Khan his first National Film Award as Best Actor.

Vidya Balan in Kahaani, 2012

Kahaani Hindi Movie suspense thriller

Kahaani is one of those mystery thriller movies which binds the suspense of the movie till the end. A lot of credit goes to the direction by Sujoy Ghosh but the direction couldn’t set the magic unless the actors justify the characters as demanded. Vidya Balan plays Vidya Bagchi, a pregnant woman searching for her missing husband in Kolkata and justifies the role demands perfectly. Vidya Balan received many accolades and eventually won Best Actress awards at major award shows of the year.

Nawazuddin Siddiqui in Gangs of Wasseypur 2, 2012

Faizal Khan Nawazuddin Siddiqui in Gangs of Wasseypur

From a nobody in the Aamir Khan starring Sarfarosh to a main lead in the 2012 Indian Crime film Gangs of Wasseypur 2, Nawazuddin Siddique has come a long way as an actor. Mostly regarded as a modern cult film, Gangs of Wasseypur franchise was centered on coal mafia of Dhanbad and required realistic actors who can blend in as the characters. Nawazuddin as Faizal set new standards of acting with quirky punch lines and natural approach. The film also got him special jury award at 60th National Film Awards.

Kangana Ranaut in Queen, 2013

Kangna Ranaut in Queen Bollywood Movie

Kangana Ranaut is one of the most underrated Bollywood actresses who is not offered challenging roles more often. However, she has shown her prowess as a quality actress in movies like Gangster, Tanu Weds Manu and most recently in Queen. Her portrayal of an innocent Punjabi girl who even after her marriage is called off hasn’t given up on her honeymoon. She manages the trip on her own and in the meanwhile rediscovers herself. Kangana Ranaut won many accolades and awards for playing the character of Rani so naturally.

Farhan Akhtar in Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, 2014

Bhag Milkha Bhag Visuals

Success is the outcome of hard work and discipline. This was yet again proved by Farhan Akhtar who played “The Flying Sikh” Milkha Singh in his biopic Bhaag Milkha Bhaag very successfully putting in every inch of effort left in him. The scenes where he is training for the Olympics are totally inspiring and encouraging for modern athletes and youngsters. Although Farhan Akhtar is known for his versatility, he raised his own bar after Bhaag Milkha Bhaag. The film also earned him many awards including the Best Actor award at the 59th Filmfare Awards.

Your Turn! 

Share your favorite performance by an actor in Bollywood in comment section, you can include more name of actors and films!