1 Amitabh Bachchan as Inspector Vijay Khanna – Zanjeer (1973)
Dharmendra, Dilip Kumar and Dev Anand all passed on screenwriters Salim-Javed's angry young man in Prakash Mehra's Zanjeer (1973). Instead, the role of Inspector Vijay Khanna went to Amitabh Bachchan. The film forever changed his fortunes and turned Vijay into Hindi cinema's quintessential upstanding police officer.
2 Shashi Kapoor as Sub-Inspector Ravi Verma – Deewaar (1975)
“Mere paas maa hai.” With those powerful words, Ravi Verma launched himself into the history of Indian cinema as the ultimate honest cop who cannot be lead astray off the right path. As the moralistic younger brother of an underworld smuggler, Shashi Kapoor held firm in his performance of upright police officer.
3 Sanjeev Kumar as Retired Police Commissioner Thakur Baldev Singh – Sholay (1975)
In Indian cinema's greatest story told, it all began with Thakur Baldev Singh's quest to avenge his family, round up the notorious dacoit Gabbar Singh and bring justice to the village of Ramgarh. Surprisingly, actor Sanjeev Kumar was only 35 when he played Thakur. 40 years later, Thakur's splendid lines, written by Salim-Javed, have been elevated to a cult status.
4 Iftekhar as DSP De Silva – Don (1978)
Character actor Iftekhar mainly appeared as the voice of reason onscreen in Hindi cinema. Usually typecast as a high-ranking police officer or head of an intelligence service, Iftekhar was DSP De Silva in Chandra Barot's Don (1978), launching a dangerous scheme to overcome Don's underworld network by enlisting his lookalike Vijay to take his place.
5 Dilip Kumar as DCP Ashwini Kumar – Shakti (1982)
In yet another take on the upright police officer by writers Salim-Javed, Dilip Kumar played the honorable DCP Ashwini Kumar in Shakti (1982). The Deputy Commissioner of Police views the law above everything else, including his own son, who grows up to be an infamous gangster. Kumar won his eighth and final Filmfare Award for Best Actor for the film.
6 Om Puri as Sub-Inspector Anant Welankar - Ardh Satya (1983)
In this landmark film on a tense battle between a honest cop and coldhearted gangster, director Govind Nihalani gathered most of his cast from his debut Aakrosh (1980) to create an indelible portrayal of power and frustration. Actor Om Puri credits Ardh Satya (1983) and his role as Anant Welankar for entry into mainstream Hindi films from arthouse cinema.
7 Jackie Shroff as Inspector Ram Pratap Singh – Ram Lakhan (1989)
The 1989 blockbuster, Ram Lakhan, had Jackie Shroff and Anil Kapoor playing brothers with differing views of the law to get revenge on their relatives who have stolen their ancestral right and caused their father's death. Incidentally, that same year, Shroff played the opposite of the principled brother Ram as the gangster Kishen in Vidhu Vinod Chopra's Parinda (1989). He won the Filmfare Award for Best Actor for his performance.
8 Rekha as SP Namrata Singh – Phool Bane Angaray (1991)
Director K.C. Bokadia's box office hit with Rekha and Rajnikanth in a special appearance was remade recently into Dirty Politics (2015) starring Mallika Sherawat, Om Puri, Naseeruddin Shah and Anupam Kher. The remake, however, was a flop and couldn't replicate the success of the original in which Rekha stars as a grieving widow and superintendent of police who decides to punish those who had a part in her fellow officer and husband Ranjeet Singh's death.
9 Vijayashanti as Assistant Superintendent of Police Tejasvini Joshi - Tejasvini (1994)
N. Chandra's Tejasvini (1994) brought the life of India's first female officer, Kiran Bedi, to the big screen. Southern actor, Vijayashanti, played the role of the honest police officer on a mission to weed out corruption in our nation's political capital in the Telugu action hit Kartavyam (1990) first.
10 Manoj Bajpayee as Inspector Samar Pratap Singh – Shool (1999)
Produced by Ram Gopal Varma, the National Award-winning Shool (1999) depicted the lawlessness that greets a good, honest police officer when he is transferred to a small town in Bihar. Actor Manoj Bajpayee received a Filmfare Critics Award for Best Actor as Inspector Samar Pratap Singh who refuses to adjust his principles even though he is outnumbered at every turn.
11 Nana Patekar as Inspector Sadhu Agashe – Ab Tak Chhappan (2004)
Influenced by the life of Mumbai cop Daya Nayak, Shimit Amin's Ab Tak Chhappan (2004) had Nana Patekar portraying the fearless police officer. The film title refers to the number of 'encounters' Inspector Sadhu Agashe has had, taking down perpetrators. A less successful sequel Ab Tak Chappan 2 with Patekar returning as Agashe released earlier this year.
12 Kay Kay Menon as DCP Rakesh Maria – Black Friday (2004)
Writer-director Anurag Kashyap's controversial Black Friday (2004) brought to life the real-life events following the devastating bomb blasts of 1993 that tore apart Mumbai. Kay Kay Menon plays the District Commissioner of Police, Rakesh Maria, who is tasked with investigation of the crime. Part police procedural and part documentary, the film never shies away from the ugly realities of life.
13 Anupam Kher as Commissioner of Police Prakash Rathod – A Wednesday! (2008)
Filmmaker Neeraj Pandey's directorial debut A Wednesday! (2008) also drew inspiration from Mumbai's chief cop, Rakesh Maria. As the about to retire commissioner of police, Anupam Kher narrates the events of one fateful Wednesday when an anonymous caller reveals there are bombs planted across the city. A Wednesday! (2008) was remade into Tamil as Unnaipol Oruvan and in Telugu as Eeenadu in 2009. Both versions starred Kamal Haasan.
14 Salman Khan as Inspector Chulbul Pandey – Dabangg (2010)
Superstar Salman Khan has had several iconic characters in his nearly three decade career but his turn as the roguish Inspector Chulbul Pandey, nicknamed Robin Hood Pandey, redefined his career yet again. Abhinav Kashyap, brother of Anurag, had an explosive debut as a writer-director as the film went on to become the highest-grossing production of 2010 and won the Filmfare Award for Best Film.
15 Ajay Devgn as Inspector Bajirao Singham – Singham (2011)
A remake of the Tamil blockbuster Singam (2010), director Rohit Shetty and actor Ajay Devgn transferred the no-nonsense methods of a sincere police officer Durai Singam as Bajirao Singham. With a popular Marathi catchphrase, “Aata majhi satakli”, the duo set about bringing an action franchise featuring a straightforward cop in Hindi cinema with Singham Returns (2015).