What do Ranveer Singh, AP Dhillon, Alia Bhatt, Priyanka Chopra, and Rajkummar Rao have in common?

They, along with other young guns like Deepika Padukone, Kiara Advani, Siddhant Chaturvedi, and Ayushmann Khurrana have left an indelible mark on our minds and hearts with their work. We take a dive.

Harper's Bazaar India

The word ‘icon’ conjures up images of someone legendary, celebrated, and prominent. Someone who has mastered their skills and are able to, in some way, influence and motivate the many lives they touch. It’s not a word to be thrown around loosely, and you will know this when you read through this piece, where we celebrate the young legends of the Bollywood industry.

In India, Bollywood and cricket are the most revered and followed fields, and the top players in these are given (almost) God-like stature in the country. They are lauded for their brilliant work, and their style and demeanour are emulated by many, thus making a statement for the outreach these icons have. Bollywood has, over the years, created one superstar after another and continues to—from Raj Kapoor and Amitabh Bachchan, to Anil Kapoor, Madhuri Dixit, Ranveer Singh, Alia Bhatt, and Priyanka Chopra among others. 

But what makes them stand out from the rest? What gives them the ‘icon’ status? As they say, “We don’t know the name of every star that shines in the sky; we only know the ones that shine the brightest”. No matter how dark the night is, these stars light up our lives and the same holds true for our young icons in cinema who steal our hearts with their confidence and charisma. Take for instance, Ranveer Singh, who has, after yet another blockbuster, Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani, proved why he is inarguably one of Bollywood’s biggest box-office star. Since his debut, a little over a decade ago, with Band Bajaa Baarat (2010), there has been no looking back for the actor. His movies have collected a total of ₹1,925 crores in India and a whopping ₹2,614 crores worldwide. And it’s not just his performance in your run-of-the-mill Bollywood masala movies that have earned him the ‘icon’ status. In addition to commercial successes, Singh has earned critical acclaim for his work in movies such as Padmaavat and Bajirao Mastani, which also star Deepika Padukone, his star wife. 

A brilliant actor, a solid entrepreneur, and the founder of The Live Love Laugh Foundation, which creates awareness on mental health in India, Padukone has a lot to her credit. She has played the adorable Naina in Yeh Jawaani Hai Dewaani with as much ease as she has portrayed a character based on Juliet in the tragic romance Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela. Earlier this year, she was a presenter at the 95th Academy Awards and less than a year ago (in November 2022), she launched her own skincare brand 82°E. In the same year, she served as jury at Cannes, where she has been a red carpet regular since 2017. In 2020, Padukone became the first ever Indian to be signed on as a brand ambassador for the French luxury brand Louis Vuitton in its 167-year history. Padukone’s dream run on the global stage goes full steam ahead and we can’t wait to see what's more in her bag. 

Another icon who is the face of India globally is Priyanka Chopra Jonas, our forever ‘Desi Girl’. Her haircare brand, Anomaly, which became the second wealthiest celeb-owned brand in 2023, is the most recent success story in her career. Chopra has it all—a global appeal, acting prowess, fashion sensibilities, entrepreneurial spirit, and cross-cultural representation. She’s been the brand ambassador of the luxury brand Bvlgari since 2021. After dominating Bollywood, the actor has taken Hollywood by storm with impressive performances in countless offerings such as Citadel, Quantica, Love Again, Baywatch, and The Matrix Resurrections. She has earned a place in the industry and is often seen hobnobbing with big stars like Lilly Singh, Dwayne Johnson, Mindy Kalling, Zac Efron, Sofie Turner, Meghan Markle. Even more, she makes one red carpet appearance after another and serves looks, be it at the Oscars, Golden Globe Met Gala, Bulgari’s high-jewellery galas around the world or the countless fashion and music awards. 

Talent and skills aside, an icon has the will, the belief in themselves, and the determination that propels them on the path to success. And who exemplifies this better than AP Dhillon, the OG ‘Brown Munda’ from Gurdaspur, Punjab, who reigns over chartbusters every time he releases a new song. From composing music in a garage in Canada to performing at sold-out concerts around the world, Dhillon’s journey has been nothing short of inspiring. The singer has his Amazon Prime Video special, AP Dhillon First Of A Kind, a docu-series on his life and meteoric rise. 

The success of an actor is usually determined by the extent to which the audience can relate to their character. And if you had to name one young, people’s actor today, no one comes close in competition with Alia Bhatt. She always brings her A-game in every performance and offers a mixed bag of talent, vibrant fashion sense, and charming beauty. Bhatt’s career has only seen ups with her National Award win for outstanding performance in Gangubai Kathiawadi being the latest feather in her cap. Just like Singh, she rules the roost at the box office having scored her eighth ₹100 crore-hit with Karan Johar's romantic comedy Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani. Living life on her own terms and being in charge of her choices and roles, the actor has given memorable performances in movies like Gully Boy and Raazi, and also expanded the limits of her talent with her performance in offbeat movies like Highway

Other two promising names that stand out are Kiara Advani and Siddhant Chaturvedi whose rise to the top has been at a phenomenal pace. Advani seems to have the Midas touch and is considered Karan Johar’s lucky mascot, for everything she touches turns to gold as far as her projects are concerned. She has delivered seven smashing hits in her eight-year career (The actor’s five releases—Kabir Singh, Good Newwz, Shershaah, Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2, and Jugjugg Jeeyo have done a business of ₹887.14 crore). On the other hand, Chaturvedi is reaping the rewards of waiting for six long years for his big break to become an overnight sensation with Gully Boy and emerge as one of the fastest-growing names in the industry today. It’s now time for this ‘outsider’ to shine with films and brand endorsements falling into his lap after impressing the audience in Bunty aur Babli 2 and Gehraiyaan. This understated heartthrob is definitely one to keep an eye on.

It is a known saying that cinema is a reflection of our society and it is evident from the love that actors like Ayushmann Khurrana and Rajkummar Rao receive for their progressive, sometimes off-the-beat choices of movies. They have always believed in cinema for change and starred in movies such as Vicky Donor, Badhaai Ho, Bala, Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan, Doctor G (for Khurrana) and Newton, Stree, Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga, Badhaai Do, Bheed (Rao), that have not just got people to the theatres, but got them talking, too. The duo is indeed cut from a different cloth to have the courage to stand by their choices, in spite of having made it big on their own. They have created a niche, a sub-genre to say of their own, on their own. 

It’s not just the on-screen icons who matter, but also those who back these contemporary minds and ideas. One such shining light is actor and humanitarian Anushka Sharma. Having produced clutter-breaking content in the form of Paatal Lok, Bulbbul, Qala, and Kohrra to name a few, Sharma has played a big role in giving fresh and varied voices in the industry a platform to change the world for the better with their ideas and attitude. It’s not just cinema, but her choices in life that we laud and are proud of. Sharma continues to lead from the front when it comes to making a true difference in the various facets of society, be it for animals, the LGBTQ community, climate change, or for the underprivileged. Along with husband Virat Kohli, she leverages her popularity and helps those in need through their foundations—Anushka Sharma Foundation and Virat Kohli Foundation.

The journeys of these icons haven’t been easy, but are one that each of them are proud of and can inspire with. They are acing their role—as actors and true influencers—on and off the screen and being role models, in the truest sense to a nation that loves them to bits.