Pran Krishan Sikand chose to be a villain even though he acted in some films first as a hero.
Being a villain, he felt, was far more challenging.
Thus, this good-looking young man took up the role of the most evil villain — film after film — in the 1950s and 1960s.
The fear and dread he evoked in the hearts of the audience actually made them hate him even while they admired him for his realistic performances.
It is difficult to imagine any successful film of that era without the menacing figure of Pran lurking around with his cigarettes, cigars, pipes, turning a stick around with his hand, his many costumes, hats, caps, wigs and various types of beard!
The evil characters he portrayed had that strong attraction which evil always has.
The Challenge: Pran showed us that being a believable villain was always more difficult. (Photo: YouTube)
So, even when people abused him, they were transfixed by his rich baritone and large eyes (sometimes with a hint of kajal) as he delivered those intimidating dialogues, threatening the hero or the heroine.
He was the biggest obstacle in their way. Always.
Of course, he was eliminated in the end and that was what brought a feeling of satisfaction to the viewers.
Without Pran–bashing, a 1960s romantic film looked incomplete. Leading men like Shammi Kapoor, Dev Anand, Shashi Kapoor, Jeetendra, Dharmendra and Biswajeet were all bashed up by Pran and vice-versa.
It was all black or white — there were no grey shades in characters in those years. Pran was all evil and the heroes were all good.
On his sixth death anniversary today, looking at his momentous journey as a legendary actor would take us back to the days when he at first wanted to be a professional photographer.
Black and White: All his contemporary heroes became heroes only after bashing up Pran. (Photo: YouTube)
After having worked as one, he shifted to Bombay in 1947 when the country was partitioned. With the help of the famous writer, Saadat Hasan Manto, he bagged the role of villain in Ziddi (1948) — a Dev Anand-Kamini Kaushal movie.
The film did well — and he was greatly appreciated.
This sent him forward on his journey as the most well-known villain of the silver screen.
In his interviews, he said that he could never bring himself to comfortably sing romantic songs while running around trees with the heroines.
Later in his career, he did song and dance sequences but those were never romantic ones.
Among these, one would like to remember Kasmein waade pyaar wafa, sab baatein hain baton ka kya (Upkar), Yaari hai imaan mera, yaar meri zindagi (Zanjeer), Raaz ki baat keh dun toh jaane mehfil mein phir kya ho (the well-known qawwali from Dharma), Hum bolega toh bologe ke bolta hai (from Kasauti) and Daaru ki botal mein sahib paani bharta hain (from Majboor).
In all these, one can see and feel how much he enjoyed singing and dancing.
Each of these song and dance numbers was linked to the story of the film and took it forward.
Because, yaari hai imaan: It was Pran who recommended Amitabh Bachchan to Prakash Mehra for Zanjeer. (Photo: YouTube)
He acted with Amitabh Bachchan in many films — they had a wonderful chemistry that led to many a memorable scene.
It was, in fact, Pran who recommended Amitabh to Prakash Mehra for Zanjeer after Dev Anand, Raaj Kumar and Dharmendra rejected the role. Don, Kalia, Amar Akbar Anthony were among the films they did together.
Pran’s versatility was such that his diverse skills gave us roles like that of Halaku in the film Halaku (1956), Raaka in Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai (1960), the cruel brother-in-law of Ram in Ram Aur Shyam (1967) , the wicked uncle of Heer in Heer Ranjha ( 1970) , the comical crook Rana in Victoria 203 (1973) , the loving and philosophical Malang Chacha in Upkar (1967), Harrnam, the character with grey shades, in Purab aur Paschim (1970), the strict father of Rishi Kapoor in Bobby and the disciplinarian but loving grandfather in Parichay.
Such diverse roles were played with wondrous ease and sophistication. The fact that he was loved in his positive roles just as passionately as he was hated in his negative roles establishes his credentials as one of the best actors the Indian film industry will ever have. In Shaheed (1965), Pran played the role of a condemned criminal who is in jail along with the young Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and others. He is shown as a very tough man but when he sees the strength of will of these young men, he is moved and turns emotional.
This emotional dimension of the actor was brought to light entirely by Manoj Kumar who cast Pran in his first major positive role in Upkar — which proved a turning point in Pran’s career. The audiences who could not have — even in their dreams — thought of Pran as a good man were greatly surprised to see Malang Chacha and how they loved him!
Pran appeared in Khandan (1942) as a hero opposite a very young Noor Jahan when he was in the Lahore film industry.
In 1965, he appeared as a villain with a touch of comedy in a film of the same name which starred Sunil Dutt and Nutan. He was very fond of wearing three-piece suits with ties, experimenting with costumes that suited his roles like that of a Pathan (Sher Khan) in Zanjeer, a debauched nawab in Mere Mehboob and a bandit in Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai. He could carry off different get-ups very well.
Pran was close to Ashok Kumar, Manoj Kumar and Shammi Kapoor.
There were other villains too during the times but Pran was considered the best. He was in stellar company including KN Singh, Ajit, Premnath, Madan Puri and Jeevan.
However, once Pran appeared with his strong scene presence, no other villain came to mind. Not for nothing was he called the “villain of the millennium”.
Thankfully, Pran was honoured with the prestigious Dadasaheb Phalke Award in April 2013, months before he passed away. Or, he would have said with trademark sardonic humour, “Barkurdaar! Bahut der kar di!"
Also Read: A tribute to the brilliant Guru Dutt: The great master of the art and craft of film making