Movies in India are considered more than entertainment. It is a part of their daily lives and movie stars are often admired...sometimes even worshiped. Unlike other countries, Indian movies vary a lot in terms of the languages those are made of. While in most countries, movies are made in one or two languages, Indian movies are made in at least 20 languages throughout the year. While Hindi movies, often called Bollywood movies, have become the popular face of Indian cinema worldwide, movies made in other languages are regularly hailed outside of India. Major film festivals around the world (in Berlin, Toronto, Cannes, and so on) feature Indian movies. Every year, India produces as many as 1,600 movies that have attracted followers in the Middle East, South Asia, Europe, and even North America.
There are a number of Indian actors who have been a part of Hollywood movies in the past. Most of these actors were restricted to working in only a limited number of movies. There are actors like Anupam Kher, Om Puri, and Gulshan Grover who have worked in a number of movies. This list focuses on the actors who could match shoulder to shoulder with any major Hollywood actors. However, either they did not become successful in their efforts in Hollywood movies, or they were not interested in leaving their acting career at home to focus on Hollywood. The selection criteria for these names are their looks, acting skills, and a combination of both that could have worked in Hollywood. These actors have the looks and the talents to make it big in Hollywood, but they didn’t. Here are 15 of those.
15 Sushmita Sen
The former Miss Universe, Sushmita Sen, became a movie star in India after winning the pageant. Initially, she was considered an ordinary actress with no acting background. However, she soon picked up her acting skills and emerged as one of the strong performers in Bollywood. In 2005, when Sen was still one of the leading ladies in Hindi cinema, she was reported to be looking for Hollywood projects. According to her secretary, she was all set to work with Hollywood actor Richard Gere.
However, it was later reported that Sen backed out of the Hollywood movie with Gere, as she could not accommodate dates due to her busy schedule. She also suffered a neck accident at that time which apparently made things more difficult. Anyway, Hollywood did not happen for Sush who had to remain as one of the promising Indian actors who could have made big in Hollywood, but did not.
14 Victor Banerjee
This Indian-Bengali actor had the looks, the proper accent, and the acting talent to make it big in Hollywood. Born as Partho Sarathi Banerjee, the actor refused an offer to get admitted as an Operatic Tenor at the Trinity College in Dublin. He played Jesus Christ in Stephen Schwartz’s Broadway musical Godspell. He also played Jesus in director Steven Pimlott’s York Mystery Plays. Banerjee even acted in Roman Polanski’s erotic thriller Bitter Moon, starring Hugh Grant and Kristin Scott Thomas.
In David Lean's A Passage to India, Banerjee played a significant role. In 1986, he was nominated for BAFTA award for his portrayal of Dr. Aziz Ahmed in this film. The actor was given the "SHOWARAMA AWARD" as "New International Star" by the Motion Picture Association of America. Back home, Banerjee acted in a couple of movies directed by Satyajit Ray. Most recently in Bollywood, he played a DCP in Gunday, starring Priyanka Chopra.
13 Ajay Devgan
Debuted in Phool Aur Kaante as an action star in Bollywood movies, Ajay Devgan had an OK acting career during his initial years. Even though he had a few successful movies, he was never recognized as one of the top actors in India. However, there was an apparent transition with movies like Naajayaz, Pyaar To Hona Hi Tha (Bollywood version of French Kiss, starring Meg Ryan and Kevin Kline), and Zakhm. It was only after Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s romantic drama Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam that Devgan was recognized as a powerful actor.
Devgan was recognized as one of the most powerful onscreen performers after movies like Company, Gangaajal, and The Legend of Bhagat Singh. More recently, he gave stunning performances in Omkara, Raajneeti, and Drishyam. Devgan won two national awards (the highest award for an Indian actor) for The Legend of Bhagat Singh and Zakhm. With his intense eyes and forceful rendition of various characters, he could have been successful in Hollywood.
12 Aparna Sen
Discovered by none other than Satyajit Ray, Aparna Sen made her debut in his film Teen Kanya. Sen grew up to be one of the strongest actors in the Bengali movie industry. She worked for Merchant Ivory Productions in three movies The Guru, Hullabaloo Over Georgie and Bonnie's Pictures (starring veteran British actress Peggy Ashcroft), and Bombay Talkie. Despite being one of the most powerful actors in India, Sen did not explore much in movies made in other than Bengali language. Some of those movies are Ek Din Achanak (Hindi), Thee (Tamil), and Immaan Dharam (Hindi). Those movies did not do much justice to her potential.
Aparna Sen debuted as a director in 1981 with 36 Chowringhee Lane, which brought two national awards for her—best director and best feature film in English. She went on to making a number of critically acclaimed movies thereafter. She won the national awards for five of her next six movies Paroma, Yugant, Paromitar Ek Din, Mr. and Mrs. Iyer, and 15 Park Avenue. Her focus has shifted from acting to directing over the years.
11 Amrish Puri
Amrish Puri is known as the most successful villain in Bollywood movies. However, his potential was much more than that. He has acted in more than 400 films and is remembered for playing some of the iconic mainstream characters in Hindi films. Some of those characters are Balwant Rai (Ghayal), Indrajit Chaddha (Damini), and Chaudhry Baldev Singh (Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge). However, his most famous character was Mogambo (Mr. India). According to many, Puri’s talents were never exploited much.
For Western viewers, Amrish Puri is known for Steven Spielberg's Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. He played Mola Ram in the movie. His shaved head for this role made such an impression that he kept his head shaved even after the movie. Interestingly, the bald look allowed him to experiment with his looks in his next movies. Spielberg once said that Puri was his favorite villain of all time and would remain so forever. The actor passed away at the age of 72 in 2005.
10 Madhuri Dixit
Madhuri Dixit is not only considered one of the best actresses in Bollywood, but also regarded as one of the most beautiful actresses India has ever produced. Her incredibly good looks and extraordinary talent in acting made her the queen of Hindi films for many years. A trained classical dancer, there is hardly any other Bollywood heroine who had the versatility that Dixit had during her prime. She is known for her mainstream blockbusters like Hum Aapke Hain Koun, Dil To Pagal Hai, and Devdas. However, she also acted in experimental movies like Mrityudand, Lajja, and Dedh Ishqiya to prove her mettle as a performer.
In 1999, she married cardiovascular surgeon Dr. Shriram Madhav Nene and moved to Denver, Colorado for 12 years. She was at the peak of her career when she decided to take a break. Despite living in the United States for a decade, Dixit never worked in any Hollywood movies.
9 Hrithik Roshan
Many believe that Hrithik Roshan is one of those Indian actors who have that “Hollywood” look. His unbelievable good looks are admired around the world. According to an online poll earlier this year, Roshan is one of the top three most handsome faces in the world. Often called “the Greek God of Bollywood,” Roshan had only two men ahead of him—Tom Cruise and Robert Pattinson. Roshan has long been believed to be one of the few Bollywood stars who have the capabilities to shine in Hollywood. However, it has not happened yet.
Roshan had a brief Hollywood encounter with his movie Kites. Directed by Anurag Basu, the movie had Bárbara Mori as Roshan’s romantic interest. An alternatively edited version of the movie, called Kites: The Remix, was released in North America. It was edited and produced by Hollywood director Brett Ratner. The movie had a poor box office and it did not do much for Roshan. The 42-year-old actor who reportedly turned down The Pink Panther 2, was recently reported to have met Hollywood executives in Singapore.
8 Amitabh Bachchan
Often called the biggest Indian movie star of all time, Amitabh Bachchan has had an illustrious acting career. Bachchan's inimitable voice and personality could have made him one of the biggest stars in Hollywood. However, destiny had other plans. In 2013, the actor made his Hollywood debut at the age of 71 with The Great Gatsby. In the movie, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tobey Maguire, he played Meyer Wolfsheim, a non-Indian Jewish character.
There is hardly any actor in India to match the height of popularity Amitabh Bachchan has enjoyed in his career. For many, he is worshiped like a god. His movies have ruled the box office on innumerable occasions. Despite being the “Star of the Millennium,” Amitabh Bachchan never really tried in Hollywood. He was always more focused on building his career in Hindi movies. However, Hollywood would have been lucky for sure to have a performer like him.
7 Mithun Chakraborty
One of the most underrated Indian actors of all time, Mithun Chakraborty established himself to be one of the most popular stars across India. He not only succeeded in establishing a dedicated fan base in Hindi films with his unmatched dancing style and dialog delivery, but also gained huge popularity through his films in regional languages. Not many people are aware that the Disco Dancer of Bollywood is a three-time national award winner for his acting performances.
During his youth, Mithun Chakraborty was a true example of the text book definition of a tall, dark, and handsome man. Born as Gourang Chakraborty, the Bengali actor with a chiseled body won the national award for his debut film, Mrigayaa. His other two national awards came for Bengali films—Tahader Katha and Swami Vivekananda. Despite his start in low-budget indie experimental films, he became a superstar in mainstream Hindi films. An actor like him would have made it big in Hollywood.
6 Shabana Azmi
Shabana Azmi won the national award for her acting five times. She won it in 1975 for Ankur, in 1983 for Arth, in 1984 for Khandhar, in 1985 for Paar, and in 1999 for Godmother. She is one of the very few Indian actors who are equally successful in mainstream and indie movies. For Western viewers, Azmi is known for her performance in John Schlesinger’s Madame Sousatzka and Roland Joffe’s City of Joy. Most recently, Azmi was hailed for her performance in Neerja which won the national award for Best Feature Film in Hindi.
Azmi has received a number of international awards for her acting. She got Outstanding Actress in a Feature Film in L.A. Outfest and Silver Hugo Award for Best Actress at the Chicago International Film Festival for Fire. Despite having been appreciated for her acting around the world, Azmi did not work in any Hollywood movies. If she did, she would have nailed it.
5 Aamir Khan
Aamir Khan is one of those major mainstream Indian movie stars who managed to have a successful transition for high-budget blockbusters to experimental indie films. He is known for his cerebral performances and detail-oriented method acting. However, Aamir has said that he is not interested in working in Hollywood movies. He earlier said that he had no intentions to go to the United States to pursue a career in Hollywood. He is happy with his career in India for the last two decades.
Aamir, on the other hand, has nothing against reaching out to the international audience. However, working in international projects does not really go with the 51-year-old actor’s career plans. This means the possibility for Aamir Khan working in a Hollywood movie is bleak, and that’s a loss for Western viewers. The positive thing is that he is open to offers, even though it may be already too late for him to build a career in Hollywood.
4 Shah Rukh Khan
Shah Rukh Khan is called the King of Bollywood. One of world’s biggest movie stars ever, SRK had a chance to make his Hollywood debut in Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire. The movie ended up getting nominated for ten Academy Awards in 2009 and won eight of those. According to Khan, the role was not suited for him. However, Anil Kapoor grabbed the opportunity with both hands. It opened Hollywood doors for Kapoor.
Shah Rukh Khan, often called the most popular movie star on this planet, has received numerous international honors. He received the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres and the Légion d'honneur from the Government of France. He also received an honorary degree from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. Khan could have made a name for himself in Hollywood, but he was busy in building a career in Hindi films just like many of his contemporaries. However, here is one speculation that might interest his fans. Khan is rumored to replace Ben Affleck for Batman. The rumor comes after Hugh Jackman suggested that SRK could replace him as Wolverine.
3 Irrfan Khan
Make no mistake, Irrfan Khan is the most recognized Indian actor in Hollywood at the moment. The kind of significant role he has done in Hollywood movies is no match to any other Indian actor. Here is an example. Last year, he acted in Inferno with Felicity Jones and Hollywood legend Tom Hanks. Irrfan was the adult lead of Ang Lee’s survival drama Life of Pi, which was nominated for 11 Academy Awards and has won four of those. In the same year, Irrfan acted in The Amazing Spider-Man. Irrfan’s name is still in this list because he has all the capabilities to be one of Hollywood’s A-listers. And, he had the opportunity to do so.
Irrfan was offered Matt Damon’s role in Interstellar, but he turned it down. It was the same time when Irrfan was working on two Indian films and he could not manage to dedicate four months in the U.S. for the Christopher Nolan movie.
2 Kamal Haasan
Kamal Haasan stands out as one of world’s greatest actors of all time. However, the saddest part of this statement is that most people in the world do not have any idea who Kamal Haasan is. That’s because the lion’s share of his career happened in regional films in India. Even his Bollywood career was also quite brief with only a handful of films. Kamal Haasan is one of the biggest names in Tamil films.
Kamal Haasan won the President's Gold Medal for Best Child Actor for his debut film, Kalathur Kannamma, when he was just six. He won the national award for Best Actor three times and all for Tamil movies. Those films are Nayagan, Indian, and Moondram Pirai. He won the Best Actor at Los Angeles Independent Film Festival for Uttama Villain. A number of his films were inspired by iconic Hollywood movies. For instance, Nayagan was inspired by The Godfather. However, Hollywood never happened for this incredible performer.
1 Naseeruddin Shah
In terms of pure acting talent, Naseeruddin Shah is considered among the all-time great actors around the globe. His abilities are phenomenal. But, Hollywood has not recognized it yet. Once, he auditioned for the lead role of Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi, but it was given to Ben Kingsley. Even though Shah says he does not regret getting the role, he played Gandhi twice later on. Shah’s intention was not to play Gandhi, but to be a part of an international project.
“I regret that I am not an international star like Ben Kingsley,” Shah earlier said. “But, then, if I had got the role, what would have become of Ben Kingsley.”
Shah did get to work on international projects. He had a significant role in Monsoon Wedding. He acted with Hollywood legend Sean Connery in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, where he played Captain Nemo. Shah refused to audition for Harry Potter’s mentor Albus Dumbledore. Naseeruddin Shah remains as a deep sea of possibilities, unexplored by Hollywood.