Posted Thu, January 2, 2014 1:09pm IST

In Bollywood, leading ladies, with the exception of Vidya Balan (Kahaani, The Dirty Picture), can’t open a picture on name alone, leaving the business with male-dominated hits

But those stars are aging: In 2013, Bollywood blockbuster Chennai Express starred 48-year-old Shahrukh Khan (pictured with Aamir) while Aamir Khan, 48, and Salman Khan, 47, debuted as leading men more than 20 years ago.

Other slightly younger leading men include Saif Ali Khan, 43, Ajay Devgn, 44, Akshay Kumar, 46, and Hrithik Roshan, 39, but who is the next generation? While Imran Khan, 30, Neil Nitin Mukesh, 31, and Shahid Kapoor, 32, have failed to live up to their early promise, a new breed, generation next as it were, is making its mark.

Here are the contenders:

#10 Rajkummar Rao, 29

Formerly known as Rajkumar Yadav, Rao debuted with 2010 indie Love Sex aur Dhokha for Balaji Motion Pictures. After several acting roles, 2013 was his breakthrough year with Kai po che and Shahid, Anurag Kashyap Productions and Disney UTV’s biopic of slain activist Shahid Azmi, where he played the title role. He plays the lead in Fox Star Studios India and Vishesh Films’ Metro Manila remake Shahid. Likely to slot into the indie superstar category currently occupied by Irrfan Khan, 46, and Nawazuddin Siddiqui, 39.

#9 Farhan Akhtar, 39

Farhan Akhtar is the oldest and unlikeliest contender in the future superstar stakes but his recent box office speaks a different story. Akhtar debuted as a director with 2001’s groundbreaking Dil Chahta Hai that ushered in modern storytelling to Bollywood. He followed up with Lakshya (2004), Don (2006) and Don 2 (2011). He debuted as an actor in the 2008 ensemble musical Rock On and lead roles in Luck by Chance (2009) and Karthik Calling Karthik (2010) followed. He was one of the leads in 2011’s Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, toplined by Hrithik Roshan and the $23 million cume of that propelled Akhtar into the A-list. He enjoyed solo lead success with 2013 biopic for Viacom 18, Bhaag Milkha Bhaag ($25 million cume). In 2014, he will be seen in Balaji Motion Pictures and Pritish Nandy Communications’ Shaadi ke Side Effects alongside Vidya Balan and he will co-star with Shahrukh Khan in 2015 release Raees, produced by Akhtar’s shingle Excel Entertainment.

#8 Ayushmann Khurrana, 29

A former video jockey, television anchor and radio personality, Ayushmann Khurana debuted in the 2012 hit sperm donation comedy Vicky Donor for Eros Intl and actor John Abraham’s shingle J.A. Entertainment. Also a singer, Ayushman’s 2014 release is Yash Raj Films’ Bewakoofian. Khurana is expected to fill the comic hero role.

#7 Siddharth Malhotra, 28

A former model, Siddharth Malhotra assisted helmer Karan Johar on My Name Is Khan and debuted as leading man alongside Varun Dhawan in Student of the Year. 2014 releases include breezy romantic comedy Hasee Toh Phasee for Dharma Productions and Phantom Films, and The Villain for Balaji Motion Pictures that has doses of action and romance.

#6 Varun Dhawan, 26

The son of veteran helmer David Dhawan, Varun Dhawan debuted in the 2012 with teen romance Student of the Year from Dharma Productions and Red Chillies Entertainment, alongside fellow debutants Siddharth Malhotra and Alia Bhatt. The success of the film saw him sign several more films and 2014 releases include Main Tera Hero for Balaji Motion Pictures and Humpty Sharma ki Dulhania for Dharma. Another contender in the romantic lead stakes.

#5 Arjun Kapoor, 28

The son of veteran producer Boney Kapoor, Arjun Kapoor debuted with Yash Raj’s Ishaqzaade (2012), followed by Aurangzeb (2013), both hits. A third successive film for Yash Raj, the action film Gunday, alongside Ranveer Kapoor, is due in 2014 and he will also be seen in Fox Star Studio India’s Finding Fanny Fernandes. Of the new lot, Arjun Kapoor is seen as the edgiest, with a wild streak to all his performances to date.

#4 Aditya Roy Kapur, 28

After being noticed in featured roles in a few films, Aditya Roy Kapur broke through in 2013 with Vishesh Films and T-Series’ sequel to 1990 hit Aaashiqui, Aashiqui 2 ($17 million cume). Brother of Disney UTV head Siddharth Roy, Kapur is perceived in Bollywood as one of the contenders for the romantic hero throne. He will next be seen in another of Yash Raj’s 2014 slate, Daawat-e-Ishq.

#3 Sushant Singh Rajput, 27

After a stint in television, Sushant Singh Rajput debuted in Disney UTV’s 2013 hit Kai Po Che. Though he was one of three leads in the film, it was Rajput who walked away with the accolades and a role in Yash Raj’s Shuddh Desi Romance that screened at Toronto, after which he was signed for Shekhar Kapur’s long-delayed epic Paani.

#2 Ranveer Singh, 28

Indie giant Yash Raj Films took a punt on casting Ranveer Singh as the male lead in 2010 romantic comedy Band Baajaa Baarat and the gamble paid off. In his short career, Singh has quickly forged the reputation of being a macho lead, as seen in his 2013 hit, Eros Intl. and Bhansali Productions’ Romeo and Juliet retread Ram-Leela ($31 million cume). 2014 releases include Gunday and Kil Dil, both for Yash Raj.

Part of Bollywood royalty with his parents, uncles, grandfather, great-grandfather and cousins making up the extended Kapoor acting dynasty, Ranbir debuted in 2007 with Saawariya, Sony Pictures Entertainment’s ill-fated Bollywood bow, but won favorable notices for his performance. Since then, his rise has been stratospheric and has included 2013 hit for Disney UTV and Dharma Productions, Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani ($46 million cume). His next pic is Christmas 2014 release Bombay Velvet for Fox Star Studios India. Known for his happy-go-lucky on-screen persona.

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