News Karnataka
Tuesday, September 27 2022

PRAN, The man all loved to hate

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Barkhurdaar,” “Sardar, ye police ka aadmi hai,” or “Kyun, theek hai na?“, or even “Shatale, shatale, mera bhi samay aayega…!“There were the days when people used to stick to their chairs holding their breath and had a fear of what would happen when they hear the above dialogues in the theatre. It was always “Pran” who gave such a negative feel to the words.

The first thing everyone recalls when they hear “Pran” is the look that was almost his trademark: a raised eyebrow, a piercing gaze and sneer-curled lips. A friend of the great Pakistani short-story writer Sadat Hasan Manto and the only villain who commanded more respect (and fatter pay cheques) than heroes, Pran was a proper gentleman. The veteran actor passed away last night in Mumbai.

Born into a wealthy family in Delhi Feb 12, 1920, Pran lived and was educated in Lahore, Kapurthala, Meerut, Dehradun, Rampur, Unnao and finally Mumbai as his father, Lala Kewal Krishan Sikand, was a government contractor building bridges and roads, including the Kalsi Bridge near Dehradun.

As a young man, Pran wanted to be a photographer, but a chance meeting with a producer of Punjabi films landed him the role of the villain in Yamla Jat (1940). The film was a huge hit and 20-year-old Pran was on his way to becoming an actor. Before Partition, Pran acted in twenty-odd Punjabi films in Lahore. Even back then, he was mostly cast as a villain.

Pran left Lahore in August 1947 and came to Bombay. (Apparently his greatest regret was that when he left Lahore at the time of Partition, he had to leave his dog behind. Later, Pran had three dogs, whom he named Bullet, Whiskey and Soda.) The films he had made in Lahore counted for nothing in Bollywood and Pran, now a married man with a child, struggled to find work. Fortunately for him, he had a few friends in the movie business and one of them was Manto, who got him a role in the Dev Anand-starrer Ziddi (1948). It was a a massive box office success and within a week, Pran had signed three more films.

Though he managed to get the role of a lead hero in some movies, his personality and natural acting talents came to the fore only as a villain in those early days of the black-and-white era.

Pran acted in over 400 movies in a career spanning over six decades and made smooth, seamless transitions from a hero to a villain to a character artist, playing each role with rare finesse, his “extra touch” ensuring that each was different from the other.

The roles ranged from being the domineering, cruel brother-in-law in “Ram Aur Shyam”, the limping and loveable Malang Chacha in “Upkar”, the streetsmart fraud in “Victoria No. 203”, and the brother of the character played by Dev Anand who reforms after learning his true identity in “Johny Mera Naam”, the rough but kind Pathan in “Zanjeer”, which was a turning point in Amitabh Bachchans career, the evil lame Uncle Kaido in “Heer Ranjha” and the stern jailer in “Kaalia” who sent the worst criminals into shudders, among many others.

His contribution was finally recognized with the award of the Indian film industrys highest award – the Dadasahab Phalke Award – for 2012.

Despite the non-salvageable, utterly negative and chronic bad onscreen image, the real life Pran was absolutely different, a lover of Urdu poetry, folktales, humour, and one who always went out of his way to help people in need.

“He was delightful company who loved to smoke and enjoyed his evening Scotch, after the shootings,” as Amitabh once recalled.

“He was softspoken, uninterfering, highly cultured, a lover of sports and games, associated with many social and sports organizations, loved to take part in charitable activities for the poor in the film industry and queued up to help people around the country in times of disasters.”

One of the few in the film industry who would always answer his phone calls (if he was around), Pran had been ailing with old-age related diseases for the past few years, but several top industry personalities came eagerly to greet him on his 90th birthday.

At 90, answering a question, he said: “If I am born again, I would like to Pran…”

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