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India's Celebrity Film Stars
Todd Jatras,, 03.09.01, 2:30 PM ET

NEW YORK - You've probably never heard of Amitabh Bachchan, known as Big B in India, but when the BBC last year conducted a poll on its Web site to select a "Star of the Millennium," he easily beat out Charlie Chaplin and Marlon Brando to run off with the title.

It may also surprise you to know that the Indian film industry, centered in an area of Bombay known as Bollywood, produces more films per year than any other country in the world. With between 800 films and 900 films hitting the screen every year, these movies are a cinematic staple throughout Asia but are relatively unknown to audiences in the U.S.

While India's biggest celebrity actors are treated like royalty by an adoring public, they are also the subject of the kind of media gossip that would make a National Enquirer reporter blush. The most popular Indian actors earn about one-twentieth of what their American counterparts make, with top earner Bachchan reportedly barely cracking $1 million per film. And production costs for a Bollywood film are miniscule when weighed against the Hollywood standard. The budget for an Indian blockbuster tops out around $4 million, whereas comparable American films routinely exceed $100 million.

But India's film industry puts ours to shame in terms of the drama that takes place behind the camera. Feuds between actors are carried out in public and often reach epic proportions; death threats, assaults, extortion attempts and murky financing are all part of the game.

In the past couple of months, the government has made several high-profile arrests and started an investigation into the involvement of organized crime in the film industry. Two key players, director Nadeem Rizvi and Bharat Shah, a film producer and one of India's leading diamond merchants, have been charged so far. And allegations ranging from illegal funding from Pakistani terrorists to actors being forced to accept roles at reduced fees have gripped the nation.

Forthwith, Forbes presents the five most powerful Indian film stars. Our power rankings are based on a proprietary formula weighing salary, number of press clips returned on Lexis-Nexis, and by gauging popularity from searches on Dow Jones Interactive and

India's Top Movie Stars
Rank Actor Age Most Recent Films
1. Amitabh Bachchan 58 Mohabbatein (2000), romance; Hindustan Ki Kasam (1999), action
2. Hrithik Roshan 23 Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham (2001), family comedy; Mission Kashmir (2000), police-terrorist thriller
3. Aamir Khan 35 Mela (2000), police drama; Sarfarosh (1999), Indian version of A Few Good Men
4. Aishwarya Rai 27 Josh (2000), Indian version of West Side Story; Kandukondein Kandukondein (2000), adaptation of Sense and Sensibility
5. Madhuri Dixit 33 Pukar (2000), espionage thriller; Gaja Gamini (2000), drama
Sources: Lexis-Nexis, Dow Jones Interactive,,,, Forbes.

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