Khan was born in Bandra's Holy Family Hospital, Mumbai, India, to a Muslim family that has been actively involved in the Indian motion picture industry for several decades. His father, Tahir Hussain, is a film producer while his deceased uncle, Nasir Hussain, was a film producer as well as a director. He is a descendant of the Muslim scholar and politician Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. He is also a descendant of former President of India Dr. Zakir Hussain and a second cousin to former Chairperson of Rajya Sabha Dr Najma Heptullah.
Khan began his film career as a child actor in a home production, made by Nasir Hussain, titled Yaadon Ki Baraat (1973) and Madhosh (1974). Eleven years later, he made his adult acting debut in a role that went quite unnoticed in Ketan Mehta's Holi (1984). Khan's first notable leading role came in 1988 in the film Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak which was directed by his cousin and Nasir Hussain's son Mansoor Khan. This film was a breakthrough commercial success, effectively launching Khan's career as a leading actor. Having the typical 'chocolate hero' looks, he was publicised as a teen idol. He also starred in critically acclaimed film Raakh, for which Khan got his first National Award for Special Jury Award. After that, he went on to appear in several other films in the late '80s and early '90s: Dil (1990), which became the highest grossing film of the year, Dil Hai Ke Manta Nahin (1991), Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar (1992), Hum Hain Rahi Pyar Ke (1993) (for which he also wrote the screenplay), and Rangeela (1995). Most of these films were successful critically and commercially. Other successes include Andaz Apna Apna, co-starring Salman Khan. At the time of its release the movie was reviewed unfavorably by critics, but over the years has gained a cult status. Khan continued to act in just one or two films a year, an unusual trait for a mainstream Hindi Cinema actor. His only release in 1996 was the Dharmesh Darshan directed commercial blockbuster Raja Hindustani in which he was paired opposite Karisma Kapoor. The film earned him his first Filmfare Best Actor Award, after seven previous nominations, and went on to become the biggest hit of the year, as well as the third highest grossing Indian film of the 1990s. Khan's career had seemed to hit a plateau at this point of time, and most of the films to follow for the next few years were only partially successful. In 1997,...