Rajesh Khanna in Amar Prem:
At the peak of his superstardom when the entire world was his stage, Rajesh agreed to play second fiddle to Sharmila Tagore in Shakti Samanta’s immortal love story. In fact, so sure was Samanta that the superstar won’t do a heroine-oriented film at that juncture of his career that he didn’t even offer the film to Rajesh. Amar Prem was first offered to Raj Kumar. It was the superstar who volunteered to play the lead in a film where he had to share the limelight with a seven-year-old boy Nandu (Master Bobby).
Salman Khan in Phir Milenge:
When Tamil star Revathi decided to direct a Hindi film about a girl who is ostracized at her workplace for having contracted AIDS, Salman generously stepped into play a secondary role (as an HIV infected) only because the cause was bigger than his stardom. Bravo.
Salman Khan In Khamoshi: The Musical:
When Sanjay Leela Bhansali turned director, he went to his friend Salman Khan for support. Salman agreed to play the lead only because he knew that Khamoshi: The Musical was out and out Manisha Koirala’s film, a female-oriented subject. The male lead was what Vinod Mehra used to play in the 1980s. If it wasn’t for Salman what would SLB have done?
Sanjeev Kumar in Aandhi:
When his best-buddy Gulzar offered this film to his ‘Haribhai’ the actor par excellence grumbled good-naturedly, ‘This is Suchitra Sen’s film through and through. What will I do in it? Tu mera dost hai ya dushman?’ But that was just a buddy tantrum. Sanjeev took up the challenge and won the Filmfare award for Best Actor.
Irrfan Khan in Piku:
Deepika Padukone played the title role in this father-daughter film. And no Irrfan didn’t play Deepika’s father. Big B did. He played the guy who drove the father-daughter to Kolkata while they drove him around the bend. The way the late Irrfan created eloquent space for himself in the narrative is the hallmark of a truly great actor.
Amitabh Bachchan In Pink:
The relentless focus here was on the three female protagonists as they battled sexual violation. Senior Bachchan quietly took the backseat for the cause, fighting the women’s battle in the court, proving that a true superstar is one who knows when to step back for the larger good.
Aamir Khan in Rangeela:
This was a film designer-structured to turn Urmila Matondkar into an overnight star. Yet Aamir stepped in and power packed a performance as a streetwise tapori that many including me regard as Aamir’s career’s best.
Rajnikanth, Sunny Deol in Chaalbaaz:
Sridevi in a double role and the two superstars cast as her romantic interests? Quite a reversal of gender rules in Bollywood. Both, the Thalaiyva and Sunny Paaji had a ball wooing Sri as she held centre stage.
Shah Rukh Khan in Dear Zindagi:
He enters the plot 40 minutes after the film begins and then he just listens to Alia Bhatt spill her innermost secrets. For King Khan this is quite a departure from his I-me-myself roles. And he simply takes over the role without taking over the plot.
Akshay Kumar in Naam Shabana:
Gender-bender in a blender… In Neeraj Pandey’s Baby, Akshay held centre stage while Tapsee Pannu made a cameo appearance as an intelligence officer out to nab a terrorist. Now, a whole film on Tapsee’s character in Baby is being made and Akshay has sportingly put in a cameo appearance. The age of chivalry is not dead yet.