This is gonna be a fun one for me to write, and a useful one for some of you. Thanks for the suggestion Catherine!
1930s: Himansu Rai was a young man who was fascinated by film. He went to Germany for training, and in Europe he fell in love with another young desi training overseas, Devika Rani. They married and returned to India where they founded the Bombay Talkies film studio. Himansu and Devika discovered the young actors Ashok Kumar and Prithviraj Kapoor who went on to be the first familiar film faces in Hindi film.
1940s: Ashok Kumar’s younger brother Kishore Kumar launched as an actor, before transitioning more to being a playback singer. Prithviraj Kapoor’s son Raj Kapoor started acting, along with his friend from college days Dilip Kumar. Meena Kumari started acting as a child before moving on to be one of the first top actresses. Nargis also started as a teenager and quickly started a relationship with (married) Raj Kapoor. Famous playback singer Geeta Dutt and young actor/director Guru Dutt married and successfully collaberated. Guru Dutt helped his friend Dev Anand get his start as a young actor.
1950s: Nutan began to be recognized, daughter of a semi-successful actress Shobhna. She was known for her sensitivity and amazing chameleon abilities as an actress. Nutan would go on to set a record for number of FilmFare wins. Meena Kumari had her ups and downs, tended towards popular films with a few spectacular performances. Nargis kept growing and growing in fame and success especially in her collaborations with Raj Kapoor. Geeta Dutt was working less and Lata Mangashkar became increasingly the top singer. Madhubala was suddenly everywhere, gorgeous and fun. And very importantly, Guru Dutt had discovered Waheeda Rehman and by the end of the decade, she was known as one of the all time talents of the industry. But mostly, Dilip Kumar and Raj Kapoor and Dev Anand ruled everything.
1960s: Madhubala was dying, so was Meena Kumari. Nargis shocked the industry by leaving Raj Kapoor and marrying Sunil Dutt, and then semi-retiring. Raj Kapoor replaced Nargis with Vyjantimala, a shockingly talented dancer from down south (danced for the Pope when she was 5 years old). Raj Kapoor himself was getting a bit older and two new Kapoors were coming on the scene, his youngest brother Shashi with his innocent looks, and Shammi Kapoor. Shammi was sexy and wild and romantic and absolutely DOMINATED the industry for a few years. Along with Shammi came a collection of young fun actresses, Saira Banu and Tanuja (Nutan’s younger sister) and Sharmila Tagore and Mumtaz. And in immitation of Shammi, the Mukherjee family pulled out their son Joy to be the lead in a series of young fun teen comedies for their family studio. Another new young actor was Dharmendra, pure and handsome and athletic. And then at the end of the decade, Rajesh Khanna arrived, India’s first SuperStar.
1970s. Raj Kapoor was retired, Dilip Kumar married Saira Banu and slowed his acting, the only one of the 1950s giants still working was Dev Anand. Shammi Kapoor’s moment was over, he started taking more character parts. Shashi was still working hard, mixing art and popular films. And then mid-decade, Raj launched his young son Rishi Kapoor along with teen actress Dimple Kapadia. Waheeda Rahman was still working, and respected. The other actresses of the 1960s were slowing down, married, less active. To replace them came up new modern young women, slacks wearing Zeenat Aman and Parveen Babi, fearless Hema Malini, super talented drama graduate Jaya Bhaduri, and bouncy Neetu Singh. Of course, Rekha the minor sexy southern actress reinvented herself as the classy beautiful tragic heroine. But mostly this was a decade of men. At the start, Rajesh Khanna was king, bursting on the scene in 1969 and taking over everything. But right behind him was Dharmendra, solid action star and a pretty darn good actor too. And there was Sanjeev Kumar, the thinking woman’s actor, generally considered the best actor-actor in the industry. Mid-decade, Amitabh Bachchan finally reached the top of the industry, knocking off Rajesh Khanna. He married Jaya, Rishi married Neetu, Dimple married Rajesh Khanna, Parveen Babi sank into the mental illness that would kill her, Zeenat Aman retired, Sanjeev Kumar got sick and died young, Shashi lost his wife lost his spirit, and going into the 1980s only Rishi and Amitabh were left standing.
1980s: Technically Sanjeev and Shashi were still working, but they didn’t last long into the decade. Amitabh was king, Rishi was still chugging along doing his little romances. Mid-decade, Anil Kapoor hit the scene, young and fresh-faced with a kind of naughty streetwise feeling. And then Jackie Shroff, model handsome with a different feel to him. Sanjay Dutt, son of Nargis and Sunil Dutt, was launched mid-decade. He didn’t make much of an impact at first, but by the late decade he was the troubled heart throb of the country. Dharmendra’s son Sunny had an immediate impact, his action charm dominating the country. There was a brief moment when Kumar Gaurav looked like he would be on top, but his star faded. Feroz Khan came out on top too, but more as a producer than a star. On the female side, Dimple left her husband and returned to work (and into a relationship with married Sunny Deol). And, after dominating every southern industry, Sridevi finally arrived in the north. Hema Malini retired after her marriage to Dharmendra. And then right at the end of the decade, the one-two punch of Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak and Maine Pyar Kiya bringing in Aamir Khan and Salman Khan (and former Miss India Juhi Chawla in Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak). And at the same time, Tezaab brought us Madhuri Dixit.
1990s: Amitabh Bachchan went into retirement at the start of the decade. Meanwhile Sanjay Dutt’s personal life was falling into disarray at the same time his fame was rising. Salman and Aamir both struggled post their big hit films, running through a whole series of flop imitations. In 1992, Aamir had another major hit with Dil. And in 1994, Salman set records with Hum Aapke Hain Koun (his reunion with the Maine Pyar Kiya director who launched him). Salman, coincidentally, also cemented his onscreen partnership with Mohnish Bahl, son of Nutan. Kajol, daughter of Tanuja, also launched in the early 1990s. And Saif Ali Khan, son of Sharmila Tagore. The most famous family, the Kapoors, also had another launch with Karisma Kapoor, teenage niece of Rishi and daughter of minor actress Babita. The Deol’s launched another son too, Bobby Deol, whose curls briefly won the hearts of the nation. Dimple and Rajesh Khanna’s daughter Twinkle Khanna launched to some moderate success. And then in 1992, young Shahrukh Khan arrived out of nowhere and quickly rose up the ranks to be the equal of Aamir and Salman. That same year, Akshay Kumar also arrived out of nowhere to charm the country with his action-comedy. And then there was Ajay Devgan, son of a a stuntman, who arrived early on in the decade and made an impact by doing his own stunts. By the end of the decade, Bobby had faded, Twinkle was moving towards retirement, Kajol had married Ajay and was moving to retirement, Saif Ali Khan had surprised everyone by continuing to work and turning into a darn good actor, Juhi Chawla was retiring, Sridevi had already married Boney Kapoor and retired, Karisma had married and retired after helping launch her younger sister Kareena, Madhuri married and left the country, Sanjay Dutt was in and out of jail and tired, and Amitabh was returning as a character actor. Most of all, the three Khans (Aamir and Salman and Shahrukh) were the kings.
2000s: At the start of the decade, Aamir and Salman and Shahrukh were the rulers. Salman was fading a bit, struggling to find a place now that he was aging out of the boyish lover. Aamir had moved fully into being a serious actor, only doing one film every few years. Shahrukh was dominating, everything he made was a hit. The problem was, they were out of heroines! Preity Zinta launched right at the end of the previous decade, along with Kareena Kapoor and Rani Mukherjee and Priyanka Chopra and Sushmita Sen and Aishwarya Rai (the last three all former beauty queens). The biggest shock was the launch of Hrithik Roshan in 2001, in one film he reached the top ranks of the industry, something that had never really been done before. The new heroines started jumping back and forth between the heroes over a decade older than them (the three Khans, Akshay, and Ajay) and young Hrithik. A few years after Hrithik came Shahid Kapoor, young backup dancer and son of character actor Pankuj Kapoor. And there was Fardeen Khan, son of Feroz Khan. Yet another Deol, a nephew, Abhay Deol. But in the end only Hrithik made an impact. By the end of the decade, the kings of the 90s (Ajay, Akshay, Shahrukh, Salman, Aamir) were still the kings and only Hrithik had joined them.
2010s: Hrithik had never worked that much, Aamir was seriously slowing down, Salman had found new success by cranking out action movies, and Shahrukh was beginning to turn into more of an actor/producer. Time for fresh blood! Ranbir Kapoor, Rishi’s son, was launched. Deepika and Anushka, unconnected models, were brought in. Ranveer Singh, a nephew by marriage of Anil Kapoor, came along as a discovery out of nowhere. Arjun Kapoor, Boney Kapoor’s son and Sridevi’s stepson, also launched (with the support of his industry godfather Salman Khan). Sonam Kapoor, Anil Kapoor’s daughter, launched opposite Ranbir Kapoor. Shahid Kapoor was still working steadily. Vidya Balan launched and made little impact at the time. Rani Mukherjee (cousin of Kajol, and granddaughter of the Mukherjee film family, neice of minor 60s star Joy) was still working and increasingly respected by the industry, before retiring after marriage and motherhood. Katrina Kaif, first mostly known as the young girlfriend of Salman Khan, slowly began to make her mark.
Now: Akshay, Ajay, Shahrukh, Salman, and Aamir are STILL working, and still at the top! This is unprecedented. Hrithik is still steadily moving along as well. Shahid Kapoor, surprisingly, is in a better position than ever before in his long career. Saif Ali Khan, who is younger and launched after the other Khans, has moved on to character roles and launching his own daughter Sara Ali Khan. Sridevi’s daughter (Arjun Kapoor’s half-sister, Sonam Kapoor’s cousin, Anil Kapoor’s niece) Janvhi launched as well. Alia Bhatt, daughter of respected minor producer/director Mahesh Bhatt (also ex-boyfriend of poor Parveen Babi), launched very young and took a year to find her feet and then dominated the industry.
Couple of trends to notice, first that until recently heroines always came from outside and tended to have pretty quick short careers, with a few notable exceptions. Second that the industry has always been a mixture of outsiders and insiders. And most of all, that the length of time the 90s actors have remained tops in the industry is really unusual.
Okay, that’s all I can think of!!!! I am SURE that I have forgotten various important people, or left unclear certain connections. Ask away, and fill in gaps!