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Top South Indian actors: From Allu Arjun, Yash to Mammootty and Dhanush

From Mohanlal, Rajinikanth and Ram Charan to Vijay, the South film industry has been the breeding grounds for some of the greatest acting talents in India. Here’s a list of the top South Indian actors

Top South Indian actors: From Allu Arjun, Yash to Mammootty and Dhanush
Allu Arjun, Mammootty and Yash

Last Updated: 09.58 AM, Apr 12, 2024

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While Bollywood has been the face of Indian cinema for the longest time, the past few decades have served to establish that the top actors from the four South Indian film industries – Malayalam, Tamil, Kannada and Tamil – are among the country’s finest talents. Be it Kamal Haasan and Rajinikanth in Tamil, Mohanlal and Mammootty in Malayalam, Chiranjeevi and Nagarjuna in Telugu or Shiva Rajkumar in Kannada, the South film industry boasts of superstars who have struck a balance between commercial as well as critically acclaimed content while showcasing masterful performances that have gone on to inspire some memorable remakes across languages.

Even the younger crop of actors such as Ram Charan, NTR Jr, Allu Arjun, Prabhas Prithviraj Sukumaran, Fahadh Faasil, Dulquer Salmaan, Suriya and Yash show that they aren’t shy to test waters in other languages while also ensuring they are capable enough to spin pan-Indian blockbusters within the comfort of their own industry. Here’s a list of the top South Indian actors:

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Top actors from South Indian film industries – Telugu, Tamil, Kannada and Malayalam

Mohanlal

Mohanlal
Mohanlal

Date of birth: May 21, 1960

Debut film: Thiranottam (1978)

Languages worked in: Malayalam, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Hindi

In a career spanning over 45 years, the five-time National Award winner has established himself as one of the best actors in the country, if not the world cinema. His friend and frequent collaborator, director Priyadarshan, said Mohanlal’s success stems from how he became popular with audiences across all age-groups. Many have hailed him as a genius artiste, and he is also one of the few Malayalam superstars, whose films have the potential to break box-office records on the very first day – a testament to his ever-expanding fanbase.

Mohanlal movies to watch

  • Kilukkam
  • Rajavinte Makan
  • Chandralekha
  • Lucifer

Kamal Haasan

Kamal Haasan
Kamal Haasan

Date of birth: November 7, 1954

Debut film: Kalathur Kannamma (1960)

Languages worked in: Tamil, Malayalam, Telugu, Hindi, Bengali, Kannada,

Kamal Haasan’s moniker of Ulaganayagan comes from his stellar work across the South film industries as well as Hindi, not just in the capacity of an actor – but as a singer, screenwriter, producer and director. The multi-faceted talent is among the biggest stars in India today and throughout his iconic career has pushed to innovate through his movies. His performances has drawn high praise from renowned filmmakers such as Mani Ratnam who hailed him for pushing boundaries and experimenting, and Christopher Nolan who called him as “the most exciting actor in the world”.

Kamal Haasan movies to watch before you die

  • Nayakan
  • Anbe Sivam
  • Dasavathaaram
  • Michael Mandana Kama Rajan
  • Thevar Magan

Rajinikanth

Rajinikanth
Rajinikanth

Date of birth: December 12, 1950

Debut film: Apoorva Raagangal (1975)

Languages worked in: Tamil, Telugu, Hindi, Bengali, Kannada and Malayalam

Rajinikanth is arguably the biggest superstar in Indian cinema today. Even his contemporaries Amitabh Bachchan and Kamal Haasan have attested to this, with the former hailing him as the “ultimate superstar” during an event and the latter lauding the Enthiran star’s ‘mass’ appeal with audiences across the country. With several blockbusters to his credit, Rajinikanth is also among the rare superstars who have stayed grounded despite his massive influence and popularity.

Rajinikanth movies to watch before you die

  • Thalapathi
  • Baasha
  • Enthiran
  • Petta
  • Jailer

Mammootty

Mammootty
Mammootty

Date of birth: September 7, 1952

Debut film: Anubhavangal Paalichakal (1971)

Languages worked in: Malayalam, Tamil, Telugu, Hindi, English and Kannada

Along with Mohanlal, Mammootty has formed the other pillar of Malayalam cinema for much of the 90s and 00s. But the megastar, as he has known, has shown no signs of slowing down. From continuously reinventing himself and proving that there’s no better actor than him, Mammootty’s fanbase has only kept expanding and his hunger to improve his craft has served as an inspiration for majority in the industry today. Actors such as Amitabh Bachchan and Kamal Haasan have called him as one of the finest actors of Indian cinema, and one look at his illustrious filmography that has also earned him three National Awards would prove why.

Mammootty movies to watch before you die

  • Oru Vadakkan Veeragatha
  • New Delhi
  • Pathemari
  • Bheeshma Parvam
  • Nanpakal Nerathu Mayakkam

Chiranjeevi

Chiranjeevi
Chiranjeevi

Date of birth: August 22, 1955

Debut film: Pranam Khareedu (1978)

Languages worked in: Telugu, Tamil, Hindi and Kannada

The Mega Star of Telugu cinema has been pivotal in increasing the popularity of the industry – both in terms of critical films as well as commercial. With a string of blockbusters under his belt, Chiranjeevi was at one point in time, the biggest superstars in all of South cinema, rivalling the popularity of even Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan. Both the Tamil actors have praised Chiranjeevi’s charisma and craft for entertaining audiences. He was awarded with Padma Vibhushan, the country’s second-highest civilian honour in 2024.

Chiranjeevi movies to watch before you die

  • Khaidi
  • Indra
  • Muta Mestri
  • Rudraveena
  • Tagore

Shiva Rajkumar

Shiva Rajkumar
Shiva Rajkumar

Date of birth: July 12, 1962

Debut film: Sri Srinivasa Kalyana (1974)

Languages worked in: Kannada, Tamil, Telugu

In a career spanning more than 125 films, Shiva Rajkumar has become the leading Kannada superstar. Following the footsteps of his father Rajkumar, Shiva Rajkumar, known as Century Star, is an acting powerhouse who earned a massive fanbase following his hat-trick hits in the 80s that included his superhit film Ratha Sapthami. Of late, he is also spreading wings to other film industries – with his cameo role in Rajinikanth’s Jailer winning acclaim. Actors such as Upendra, Sudeep and Rakshit Shetty of Kantara fame have praised his contribution to Kannada cinema.

Shiva Rajkumar movies to watch before you die 

  • Om
  • Anand
  • Tagaru
  • Jogi
  • Bhajarangi

Yash

Yash
Yash

Date of birth: January 8, 1986

Debut film: Jambada Hudugi (2007)

Languages worked in: Kannada, Tamil

The Kannada superstar, who began his acting career with a series of roles in television serials, tasted pan-Indian success with Prashanth Neel’s KGF: Chapter 1 and 2 that had him play the role of Rocky bhai. Today, Yash is one of the most-sought after South actor. Yash’s meteoric rise also catapulted the Kannada film industry – which followed KGF with movies such as Kantara. Yash’s performances have won praise from filmmakers such as Karan Johar and SS Rajamouli, whose Baahubali films had raised the bar for South cinema.

Yash movies to watch before you die

  • KGF: Chapter 1 and 2
  • Mr and Mrs Ramachari
  • Santhu Straight Forward
  • Kirataka
  • Masterpiece

Ram Charan

Ram Charan
Ram Charan

Date of birth: March 27, 1985

Debut film: Chirutha (2007)

Languages worked in: Telugu and Hindi

Within 15 years of making his debut, Ram Charan’s career saw a meteoric rise that made him one of the highest paid stars in Indian cinema. Son of Telugu superstar Chiranjeevi had a brilliant start with SS Rajamouli’s Maghadheera and continued to build on that – even making his debut in Bollywood with the remake of Zanjeer. His movie with NTR Jr, RRR, made him one of the biggest stars in the country – earning high praise from some of the best in the industry and abroad including James Cameron, who marked out his performance in the movie, calling it a “triumph”.

Ram Charan movies to watch before you die

  • RRR
  • Rangasthalam
  • Magadheera
  • Yevadu
  • Naayak

Allu Arjun

Allu Arjun
Allu Arjun

Date of birth: April 8, 1982

Debut film: Vijetha (1985)

Languages worked in: Telugu

Stylish Star Allu Arjun is one of the few Telugu actors who have a huge fanbase in each of the South states and this was even before the OTT revolution. Throughout his career, the actor has delivered big blockbusters in various genres, showcasing his versatility and also cashing in on his popularity. He is also a complete entertainer, acing dance, action, romance and of course, style. His movie with director Sukumara, Pushpa: The Rise, catapulted him to national fame and his contemporaries such as Mahesh Babu and Ram Charan have lauded his dedication to each role.

Allu Arjun movies to watch before you die

  • Arya
  • Vedam
  • Sarrainodu
  • Ala Vaikunthapuramuloo
  • Pushpa: The Rise

Vijay

Vijay
Vijay

Date of birth: June 22, 1974

Debut film: Vetri (1984)

Languages worked in: Tamil, Hindi

Thalapathy Vijay is often touted to be the natural successor to Rajinikanth’s mantle – in terms of his connect with the masses and his popularity. Though he had acted in several movies as a child artiste, he made his acting debut in a lead role through Naalaiya Theerpu and tasted success four years later with Poove Unakkaga that established him as a romantic hero. But Vijay’s strengths lie in how he was always relatable to the audience. With superhits such as Thamizhan, Ghilli and Sivakasi, the actor become a superstar in the early 2000s and is now one of the most highest-paid actors in Tamil cinema. Vijay announced that he will be entering politics in 2024 with his party Tamilaga Vettri Kazhagam.

Vijay movies to watch before you die

  • Ghilli
  • Thuppakki
  • Nanban
  • Mersal
  • Bigil

Prabhas

Prabhas
Prabhas

Date of birth: October 23, 1979

Debut film: Eeswar (2002)

Languages worked in: Telugu, Tamil, Hindi

Probably no other actor in Telugu cinema have attained pan-Indian stardom as fast as Prabhas, whose meteoric rise came from headlining SS Rajamouli’s Baahubali movies. The actor, who has already completed two decades in the industry, is known as Rebel Star and Darling, among his Telugu fans – having aced both romantic as well as action roles early on in his stellar career. The largely introverted actor has also teamed up with KGF filmmaker Prashanth Neel for the Salaar franchise and Nag Ashwin for the sci-fi extravanganza Kalki 2898 AD. Despite some of his recent pan-Indian ventures failing at the box-office, the actor is still one of the most highly-paid actors in Indian cinema.

Prabhas movies to watch before you die

  • · Baahubali: The Beginning
  • · Salaar: Part 1 - Ceasefire
  • · Varsham
  • · Mirchi
  • · Darling

Dhanush

Dhanush
Dhanush

Date of birth: July 28, 1983

Debut film: Thulluvadho Illamai (2002)

Languages worked in: Tamil, Telugu, Hindi, English and Malayalam

Tamil superstar Dhanush is a true gamechanger and an inspiration for all actors, for showing that talent is not restricted by languages or film industries. Though he had made his debut in 2002 and has made a name for himself essaying underdog characters, today’s his filmography include Hollywood films such as The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir and The Gray Man, which was helmed by the Avengers: Endgame filmmakers. Frequent collaborator and renowned filmmaker Vetrimaaran had praised Dhanush for his dedication to his characters in their movies – Polladhavan, Aadukalam and Vada Chennai – all of which has a cult following. Dhanush is one of those rare actors who never cease to amaze his audience, and that he is a singer, filmmaker and producer make him a perfect package.

Dhanush movies to watch before you die

  • Vada Chennai
  • The Gray Man
  • Asuran 
  • Aadukalam 
  • Shamitabh
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