12 Best Actor-Director Duos in Bollywood

Bollywood movies can strike gold with strong professional partnerships. DESIblitz brings you 12 of the best actor-director duos.

12 Best Actor-Director Duos in Bollywood - f

"When we work together, it's magic."

Within the medium of cinema, great actor-director duos are of paramount importance.

These help the final products to succeed and entertain viewers.

Over many decades, Bollywood has hosted several such partnerships.

A talented actor and a skilled director produce enthralling movies which remain in the hearts of the audience.

As a result, audiences look forward to seeing these teams join together, as well as the actual films themselves.

Delving deeper into these popular partnerships, we present the 12 best actor-director duos.

Dilip Kumar – Subhash Ghai

12 Best Actor-Director Duos in Bollywood - Dilip Kumar & Subhash GhaiDilip Kumar is a true icon of Indian cinema. He has inspired many actors and is credited with pioneering method acting in Bollywood.

From the ’80s, the Devdas (1955) star transitioned to character roles, exploring more mature characters. He portrayed these roles brilliantly.

One of the directors who oversaw these parts is ace filmmaker Subhash Ghai. He directed Dilip Sahab in Vidhaata (1982), Karma (1986) and Saudagar (1991).

All three of these films were monstrous hits. In these pictures, Subhash presents Dilip Sahab through a mature lens as the actor deals with important themes. These include corruption and betrayal.

In Dilip Sahab’s autobiography, The Substance and the Shadow (2014), Subhash pays tribute to Dilip Sahab.

He explains how working with the icon had a positive impact on him as a person:

“Keeping Dilip Sahab’s company, I changed completely.

“I became refined, began to speak and conduct myself with confidence.”

Subhash also expresses the pride he feels in having worked with Dilip Sahab:

“‘I feel proud that I made three films with Dilip Sahab in the central role.”

The films definitely reflect the feelings of Subhash. Whenever this actor-director duo joined hands, they came up with historic movies.

Dev Anand – Vijay Anand

12 Best Actor-Director Duos in Bollywood - Dev Anand & Vijay AnandThis duo of brothers truly set the benchmark within Indian cinema’s Golden Era.

Dev Anand made his acting debut with Hum Ek Hain in 1946. Using his debonair image and suave mannerisms, he cemented himself as Bollywood’s evergreen actor.

Dev Sahab’s association with his younger brother, Vijay, has made his staggering body of work glisten even brighter.

Their first film together was Nau Do Gyarah (1957). This also marks Vijay Sahab’s directorial debut.

Subsequent blockbusters they worked on include Kala Bazar (1960) and Tere Ghar Ke Saamne (1963).

However, it is arguably Guide (1965) which remains their most loved collaboration.

Guide is beautifully directed by Vijay Sahab. He showcases Dev Sahab as the opportunistic tour guide Raju. The film also features Waheeda Rehman as Rosie Marco/Miss Nalini.

The film has outstanding music by SD Burman. Furthermore, the performance that Vijay Sahab extracts from Dev Sahab is powerful and rousing.

Guide won Dev Sahab the Filmfare ‘Best Actor’ award in 1967.

Referencing Guide, Dev Sahab spoke about his younger brother shortly after the latter’s passing away:

“He was my true guide. There is nothing left for us.”

The recollection of Dev Sahab suggests that Vijay Sahab was a true leader. His filmmaking magic firmly shone in their work together.

Waheeda Rehman – Guru Dutt

12 Best Actor-Director Duos in Bollywood - Waheeda Rehman and Guru DuttWaheeda Rehman epitomises grace and elegance in the classic decades of Indian cinema. She made her Hindi film debut with CID (1956).

Waheeda Ji dazzles as a vamp called Kamini. CID is produced by none other than Guru Dutt.

Later, while planning his film Pyaasa (1957), Guru Sahab initially wanted to cast Nargis and Madhubala opposite himself. However, things did not materialise.

Therefore, Guru Sahab signed Waheeda Ji in one of the female roles. She portrays Gulabo in the film. Pyaasa is considered one of the best Indian movies ever made.

Guru Sahab was always able to draw the best out of Waheeda Ji. They worked together again on the classic Kaagaz Ke Phool (1959).

Waheeda Ji discusses Guru Sahab as a director in an interview with Simi Garewal. She comments on the ease with which she was able to work with him:

“It was very easy to understand and follow him.”

She also discloses Guru Sahab’s knack for alternative suggestions:

“Supposing I, or any artist, was not able to do a certain shot, then after sometime, he’d keep quiet, looking and thinking, and then say: ‘Okay, you can’t do this? Do it this way.'”

Guru Sahab’s adaptability ensured that Waheeda Ji was at her finest.

In all of their collaborations, she is charming, and elegant and proves her tremendous acting chops.

Rajesh Khanna – Hrishikesh Mukherjee

12 Best Actor-Director Duos in Bollywood - Rajesh Khanna and Hrishikesh MukherjeeThis actor-director duo stands out for the simple yet mesmerising outputs that came from it.

Veteran director Hrishikesh Mukherjee first worked with superstar Rajesh Khanna in Anand (1971).

The film was a stupendous success. Over 50 years after its release, it still remains an audience favourite.

Viewers love and appreciate the optimistic Anand Seghal/Jaichand, whom Rajesh brings to life via a breezy performance. Anand is dying from a terminal illness.

Despite this, Anand is filled with a contagious zest for the remaining life he has. In Anand, Rajesh’s chemistry with Amitabh Bachchan (Dr. Bhasker Bannerjee) is also entertaining.

Under Hrishi Da’s baton, Rajesh also sparkles in films including Bawarchi (1972) and Namak Haraam (1973).

When Rajesh began facing tough competition from other actors, Hrishi Da didn’t abandon him. He cast the Aradhana (1969) star in the successful Naukri (1978).

One of Rajesh’s frequent co-stars, Raakhee Gulzar, shines a light on the bond between the duo. She underlines Hrishi Da’s confidence in Rajesh’s uniqueness:

“Hrishi Da used to say that nobody can compete with Rajesh Khanna; it is impossible.”

Raakhee shares the same sentiment:

“I totally agree with Hrishi Da’s viewpoint.”

This faith is what enabled Hrishi Da and Rajesh to deliver gems that stand the test of time.

Amitabh Bachchan – Yash Chopra

12 Best Actor-Director Duos in Bollywood - Amitabh Bachchan and Yash ChopraAmitabh Bachchan is a Bollywood megastar. He is loved by millions of fans worldwide. He began his acting career with Saat Hindustani (1969).

However, it was with Zanjeer (1973) that he began to successfully climb the ladder to superstardom.

In 1975, Amitabh joined forces with blue-chip director Yash Chopra for the crime drama Deewaar. 

The film depicts the tale of two brothers: Ravi Verma (Shashi Kapoor) and Vijay Verma (Amitabh Bachchan). They are on opposing sides of the law, which builds a wall between them.

Gritty, hard-hitting and serious, Deewaar cemented Amitabh’s fame. Yash Ji helmed this film professionally and skillfully.

Deewaar also cultivated Amitabh’s iconic ‘angry young man’ image.

Yash Ji and Amitabh collaborated on a series of successful projects after this. Although they did develop more action films together, Yash Ji presents a romantic, softer persona to Amitabh.

Such films with this image include Kabhi Kabhie (1976) and Silsila (1981).

After Yash Ji died on October 21, 2012, Amitabh wrote a moving tribute to him on his blog.

He remarks on the long life of Yash Ji’s creativity:

“Your contribution to the millions that had the privilege to witness your creativity shall be immortal.

“May we all savour it till our end.”

Without authentic creativity, a film partnership cannot be fruitful. Yash Ji and Amitabh oozed creativity which is clear to see in their films together.

Sunny Deol – Rajkumar Santoshi

12 Best Actor-Director Duos in Bollywood - Sunny Deol and Rajkumar SantoshiSunny Deol made his acting debut in Bollywood in 1983 with Betaab.

In 1990, Sunny appeared in the colossal action film Ghayal. It is the launchpad of director Rajkumar Santoshi.

In Ghayal, Sunny portrays Ajay Mehra: a frustrated boxer dealing with his brother’s disappearance.

The film is an asset to the filmographies of both Sunny and Rajkumar. In 1991, Sunny was awarded with the Filmfare ‘Best Actor’ award for Ghayal. 

They made for one of the most successful actor-director duos. In the ’90s, they bring their excellence to several films such as Ghatak: Lethal (1996).

Arguably though, it is Damini (1993) that showcases their combined talent in the brightest lights.

In this courageous movie, Meenakshi Seshadri plays Damini Gupta. She sets out on a quest for justice after witnessing the rape of her maid, Urmi (Prajakta Kulkarni).

The lawyer advocating for her is Govind Srivastava, played impeccably by Sunny.

Damini also contains Govind uttering a dialogue that has become somewhat synonymous with Sunny’s acting career. Angrily slamming the delays in court hearings, Govind yells:

“Date upon date, date upon date, date upon date!”

The aggression, fearlessness and pent-up anger in Govind’s statement certainly contribute towards Damini being the classic it is.

The projects of Sunny and Rajkumar display angst and power in the common man.

Their movies together are thus ingrained in the psyches of viewers.

Salman Khan – Sooraj R Barjatya

12 Best Actor-Director Duos in Bollywood - Salman Khan and Sooraj R BarjatyaSalman Khan is a Bollywood great. He began his career with Biwi Ho Toh Aisi (1988).

Yet, it was Sooraj R Barjatya’s Maine Pyaar Kiya that firmly put Salman into the limelight.

In the film, Salman embodies the romantic Prem Chaudhary. He is romantically cast opposite Bhagyashree (Suman Chaudhary).

This musical blockbuster marks the beginning of Salman’s many ‘Prem’ roles. These characters are the quintessential romantics of Indian cinema.

With Maine Pyaar Kiya, Salman and Sooraj present themselves as one of the finest actor-director duos in the industry.

They have also overseen superhits like Hum Aapke Hain Koun (1994) and Prem Ratan Dhan Paayo (2015).

In an interview with ‘Bollywood Hungama’, Sooraj illustrates his professional relationship with Salman:

“We’ve been through the same apprehensions together.

“Somehow, somewhere, we’re both alike.”

Salman also shares the same sentiments. At a press event, he gushes over the bond they share:

“From the day we met each other, it’s just a bond. The love and the fondness, and the respect that I have for Sooraj, I don’t think I have for anyone.”

A like-mindedness, and respectful bond, can be utterly valuable things when it comes to actor-director duos.

Through their beautiful films, Salman and Sooraj have created history.

Shah Rukh Khan – Karan Johar

12 Best Actor-Director Duos in Bollywood - Shah Rukh Khan and Karan JoharThe actor-director duo of Shah Rukh Khan and Karan Johar ruled supreme in the late ’90s and 2000s.

SRK was part of Karan’s directorial debut Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998). The movie swept all the awards in 1999, proving to be a landmark film.

Karan went on to direct him in Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham (2001) and Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna (2006).

In 2010, the pair experimented with the social drama My Name is Khan. Fans regard this as one of the greatest films of both their careers.

Karan was a key player in crafting the romantic phenomenon of SRK. The actor continues to enjoy huge amounts of appreciation in lieu of his films with Karan.

In his autobiography, An Unsuitable Boy (2017), Karan dedicates an entire chapter to SRK. He talks about the great professional chemistry they both share:

“Shah Rukh and I have an awesome chemistry at work. When we work together, it’s magic.”

Karan also directs SRK in a cameo appearance in Ae Dil Hai Mushkil (2016). SRK plays Tahir Taliyar Khan.

In his book, Karan explains how SRK did not even hesitate when he requested him to perform in the movie:

“That was it. That’s how it is with Shah Rukh and me.”

SRK also launched the trailer of Karan’s Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani (2023), highlighting their bond.

A mutual agreement of respect and understanding is essential for any association to thrive. SRK and Karan have proven that time and again.

Ajay Devgn – Rohit Shetty

12 Best Actor-Director Duos in Bollywood - Ajay Devgn and Rohit ShettyTalented filmmaker Rohit Shetty started his journey helming movies with Zameen (2003).

The film stars Ajay Devgn in the lead role. He plays Col. Ranvir Singh Ranawat.

That debut kicked off one of the most enduring actor-director duos in Bollywood.

In the years following, Ajay and Rohit have teamed up on a variety of great films.

Among them are Golmaal (2006), Bol Bachchan (2012) and Golmaal Again (2017).

Perhaps their most iconic collaboration, though, is Singham (2011). Rohit showcases Ajay as the formidable Inspector Bajirao Singham.

Ferocious and righteous, Bajirao is one of the most popular police characters to come out of the industry.

Post Bol Bachchan, Rohit began working with other actors including Shah Rukh Khan and Ranveer Singh.

As a result, many wondered if he and Ajay had some sort of altercation. To this, Rohit maintains that Ajay is irreplaceable for him:

“No one can take Ajay’s place. He’s been a great support system to me.

“Whatever I’m today is because of him.”

This admiration clearly shows the love between Ajay and Rohit. The quality of their work is appreciated vastly.

So much so, that Singham spawned a sequel called Singham Returns (2014).

Hrithik Roshan – Rakesh Roshan

12 Best Actor-Director Duos in Bollywood - Hrithik Roshan and Rakesh RoshanIn 2000, Hrithik Roshan became a sensation. He burst onto the screen in Kaho Naa…Pyaar Hai. 

The film was directed by his father Rakesh Roshan. Since then, the pair have churned out some brilliant blockbusters.

Notably, they have given Indian cinema its first superhero franchise.

This began with Koi…Mil Gaya (2003). In the picture, Hrithik portrays the mentally disabled Rohit Mehra. Rohit’s life completely changes when an alien gifts him with supernatural powers.

The following instalments, Krrish (2006) and Krrish 3 (2013) showed Hrithik as Rohit’s son Krishna Mehra. Krishna has inherited his father’s powers.

With the shield of a mask, Krishna becomes the superhero, Krrish. Thus, fans were given a figure which they could cherish and idolise.

In a 2023 interview with ‘Film Companion’, Hrithik speaks about Rakesh’s confidence and his father’s endless willingness to learn:

“He just knows, when he knows. He will learn something. It is a great quality to have.”

People often allege that only his father can bring the best out of Hrithik. Hrithik comments that it is rather the other way around:

“He gives me his best.”

Irrespective of familial ties, a creative combination will not work without good qualities and compassion.

Via their innovative material, Hrithik and Rakesh have shown the depths of their skills. They are set to work on Krrish 4, bringing their creativity to new levels.

Ranbir Kapoor – Ayan Mukherji

12 Best Actor-Director Duos in Bollywood - Ranbir Kapoor and Ayan MukherjiWhen people mention the fresher faces of Bollywood, Ranbir Kapoor’s name is at the top of the list.

Additionally, any discussions of Ranbir’s career are incomplete without Ayan Mukherji.

Ayan first directed the Bachna Ae Haseeno (2008) star in Wake Up Sid (2009).

The duo have also showcased their skills in Yeh Jawani Hai Deewaani (2013). This coming-of-age drama emerged as a huge money-spinner at the box office.

Their third outing, Brahmastra: Part One – Shiva (2022) has set new milestones for Indian cinema. The stunning visual effects and painstaking world-building are firsts for Bollywood.

Undeniably, Ranbir and Ayan are gifted minds and cast divine spells when they work together.

Ayan’s first three directorials all star Ranbir in the central role. Ayan spills the beans on why he works with the actor so much.

He believes Ranbir is an admirable star, who appreciates what the director wants to achieve:

“Ranbir is amazing. He is genuinely an actor whose craft is really admired.

“He likes my vision and he likes the way I think and he has a lot of faith in it.”

Ayan’s generous words for Ranbir truly signify the cordial rapport between the two.

This is easily identifiable in their work together.

Deepika Padukone – Sanjay Leela Bhansali

12 Best Actor-Director Duos in Bollywood - Deepika Padukone and Sanjay Leela BhansaliSanjay Leela Bhansali is a grand name in the annals of Bollywood filmmakers. He is a movie architect of opulence and grandeur.

During his prolific career, Sanjay has crafted amazing cinematic experiences for viewers. In the early 2010s, he formed a new muse with Deepika Padukone.

Deepika always dazzles and mesmerises in the films of Sanjay. Her iconography, her acting prowess and her finesse shimmer onscreen.

Sanjay and Deepika have worked with each other on hits of epic scales and proportions.

These include Goliyon Ki Raasleela: Ram-Leela (2013), Bajirao Mastani (2015) and Padmaavat (2018).

Deepika dishes out detailed thoughts about being Sanjay’s muse. She talks about the iconic partnership she shares with the director:

“What ensued in the years that followed was nothing short of an ‘iconic partnership.'”

“Together, we’ve created ‘iconic characters.’ Characters that have been etched in the minds and hearts of people forever.”

Deepika goes on to assert that she would not be at the level she is without Sanjay:

“I say this without a shadow of a doubt that I wouldn’t be half the person I am today if it wasn’t for Sanjay Leela Bhansali.

Sanjay’s admiration for Deepika is reflected in the manner in which he presents her onscreen.

When correctly formed, Bollywood actor-director duos can dazzle, surprise and enthral fans.

They create some marvellous moments, culminating in effervescent onscreen magic.

Alike minds, similar thinking and mutual respect are all ingredients which these actor-director duos have in common.

All of this results in unforgettable cinema, which will remain ingrained in the hearts of viewers in an evergreen manner.

For that, these actor-director duos should be commended and appreciated.

Manav is a creative writing graduate and a die-hard optimist. His passions include reading, writing and helping others. His motto is: “Never hang on to your sorrows. Always be positive."

Images courtesy of New Frame, IMDB, IndiaTimes, Medium, Zoom TV, Masala, The Times of India and Bollywood Hungama.

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