This seems like a more reasonable comparison right? All three were number one actors and also the most intense actors of their generations. I thought for a long time before making this comparison, as I do not want to be partial to anyone because I belonged to his generation. Nevertheless, here is a comparison I have wanted to present since my college days.
Everyone will agree that Dilip Kumar was the most gifted actor out of the three. Despite being intense he also believed in delivering controlled performances. He began acting in films in 1944 and his career spanned a period of five decades. He acted in more than 60 films and still holds the record for maximum Filmfare Best Actor Awards with Shah Rukh with 8 wins. Few people from today's generation know that he was a versatile actor and, in addition to doing intense and serious roles that literally made him, like Mughal-E-Azam and Devdas, he also acted successfully in comedies and action films like Aan, Azaad and Ram Aur Sham. Dilip-Saab as he was popularly known rarely saw Box Office failure in his illustrious career. I would be surprised if anyone has a better Box Office record in terms of percentage of hits than him. May be Amir Khan does, but I am sure no one else does. The earlier films that established him as the proverbial tragedy king were Deedar, Amar, Andaz, Madhumati and Devdas. He also produced Ganga Jamna in 1961 and that remains his only production. David Lean, the famous British director offered him a role in the classic "Lawrence of Arabia" but Dilip Kumar declined it.
What's more, absolutely no one has as good a record as Dilip Kumar in the roles of elderly characters. In Bollywood, where the film-life of an actor gradually declines as he grows older, Dilip Kumar continued serving up smash hits in his sixties such as Kranti, Shakti, Vidhata, Karma, Saudagar and Mashal. Dilip Kumar achieved several accolades including the Dadasaheb Phalke award in 1994 and Pakistan's highest civilian felicitation, Nishan-E-Pakistan. He also received Padma Bhushan in 1997 and was the Mumbai Sheriff in 1980. In addition to winning the Filmfare Best Actor Award 8 times, he also received 19 nominations.
Although he has played several brilliant roles, my personal favorite remains Shakti, where as a principled father, struggling to keep his son in line, he delivered a dazzling performance and overshadowed his only serious competition - the greatest superstar of all time, Amitabh Bachchan in the role of his son. Although his role was meant to dominate Amitabh's, he delivered a convincing performance like no other.
Shah Rukh Khan is the latest megastar carrying forward the torch of intense acting. He began his career on Television and made a brilliant film debut in a short, supporting role in Deewana. Shah Rukh has released many commercial hits in his time and, very deservingly, is called the King Khan. Some of his blockbusters such as Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, Dilwale Dulhaniya and Le Jayenge have made record business at the Box Office. Several of his films did huge business overseas, thereby making him one of the greatest Bollywood actors of all time.
After the superb debut in Deewana he went on to make small budget films until he scored the first of his several massive hits in Baazigar. His antihero in the film displayed his capacity to play villainous roles. This ability landed him another couple of roles which were huge hits, viz Darr and Anzaam. He also played a sensitive role in a small film called Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa. Facing the nightmare of the possibility of getting typecast as a villain, he went on to deliver another hit as a conventional hero in Karan Arjun. All throughout his career he had to face competition from two other Khans- viz Salman Khan and the more serious competition of Aamir Khan. Despite having had several hits, it was in the late nineties that he finally established himself as the King of Bollywood. A plethora of hits were to follow, like Yes Boss, Dil To Pagal Hai, and Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. In the year 2002 he acted in the remake of the Dilip Kumar classic Devdas which earned him another Filmfare award for Best Actor. Later he also remade the Amitabh Bachchan classic Don. His last huge hit was My Name is Khan which earned him his 8th Filmfare Best Actor Award. Despite upcoming challenges from younger actors he remains the King of Bollywood.
Personally I liked the small budget films he did with Aziz Mirza such as Yes Boss and Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman and I think his best performance to date remains Chak De. As a tarnished Muslim Indian hockey player, he put his life into the role and delivered a brilliant performance that won the hearts of everyone. The film won many awards and was a huge commercial success. Notably he did a couple of films with Amitabh Bachchan like Mohabbatein and Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gam which did not really spark any fires although the films did well at the Box Office. Well, some sparks in Mohabbatein but nothing like the Amitabh-Dilip Kumar comparison.
Shah Rukh also produced several films out of which Main Hoon Na and Chalte Chalte were highly successful. Although you would associate him more with commercial success, he did get honored with Padma Shri in 2005. He also hosted the popular TV show Kaun Banega Karodpati following Amitabh Bachchan.
The biggest superstar of them all was the great Amitabh Bachchan. He was a force in Hindi films like no other. His angry young man films in the seventies are classics and people still watch them with awe. I have never seen any actor in Indian cinema having a screen presence as mesmerizing as Amitabh Bachchan. You couldn't take your eyes off him. Who can forget those burning and unbelievably focused eyes and the resonant voice? I am not going to waste time in reciting his achievements here. Everyone knows them. An actor with an unbelievable range and ability to play all kind of roles with authority made him an icon that no one could compete with in the seventies. He has played all kinds of roles and won all kinds of awards but his biggest achievement remains his dominance of the Indian Film Industry in the seventies. He was called "One Man Industry" at that time and no one was able to stand up to him. It was unprecedented and will probably never be achieved again. Those revenge films from the seventies still give me goose bumps. What we are watching today is a much more mellowed person and actor although that fire and brilliance can be seen occasionally in films like Sarkar.
The objective of this article is not to show that other actors did not come close to these three. In fact several actors did, like Raj Kapoor, Dev Anand, Ashok Kumar, K L Saigal, Rajesh Khanna, Aamir Khan etc. But the best and most successful, intense actors are these three. My verdict, at the risk of being corny, is Dilip Kumar. The thespian was and is still the greatest actor of them all, with Amitabh Bachchan a close second.