… and Pran is 90
That’s how his name appeared on the screen in at least 250 of his 350-plus starrers in Hindi, beginning with Khandaan in 1942, though he had acted in several Punjabi films in Lahore before moving to Mumbai on August 14, 1947. He has had an amazing career graph since then, the longest innings as both a dreaded villain and a loveable character actor. Walking woes and other health problems forced him out of action, and he decided to hang his gloves in 2004, at the ripe age of 84 though producers still chased him with plump assignments.
But physical disability hasn’t succeeded in cooling down his spirits, though the quantities may have become measured. Friends and well wishers crowded his spacious apartment in a multi-storey complex that was once his bungalow on the foothills of famous Mumbai suburb, Pali Hill, with a fleet of a wide range of dogs, including an alsatian, a white pomeranian and a black cocker spaniel to begin with. The numbers grew down the years until the complex gave way to the present structure. With the dishonourable exception of Dev Anand, Manoj Kumar, and Amitabh Bachchan (whom he promoted unashamedly in his formative years, including help in getting the turn-a-new-leaf role in Zanjeer), close friends and associates like Dilip Kumar, Shammi Kapoor, Prem Chopra, Shatrughan Sinha raised their whisky glasses to celebrate Pran’s 90th birthday sometime ago.
The myth has it that so strong had been the impact of his villainous deeds on screen that parents stopped naming their sons ‘Pran’, who is otherwise known in the industry as ‘finest gentleman’. In an article in Screen, film historian Firoz Rangoonwallah commented, way back in 1988: “The only scar all this –playing bad man in film after film– left on Pran was an unconscious habit of narrowing one eye and enlarging the other. I still remember that even when he was playing lovey-dovey with his little heroine Sharda in Grahasti and singing a duet Tere naaz uthane ko jee chahta hai with her, the expression s on his face suggested that his intentions towards the lady were not exactly honourable.”
But if it was Badi Bahen (1949) with which he started his villainous career, it was nearly three decades later with Upkar (1967), (when he had first contemplated retirement, that Manoj Kumar dared to take the
risk, casting him as the good-hearted malang baba. “People thought I was a fool,” averred Manoj Kumar, in a private conversation, “and taking a big risk in casting Pran saab in a sympathetic role in my very first film as a producer-director, but I then firmly believed that if a good man can do the acting of a villain, why can’t be he do the acting of a good man? …Even while I was working on the script, as the scenes of Malang Chacha developed, I began constantly to see in my mind’s eye Pran saab doing the role.” And the rest, of course, is history. Upkar became Delhi-born Pran Krishen Sikand’s third experiment with acting histrionics for which he did not need to go an Actors’ Academy.
As a person, Pran saab had no detractors in the Hindi film industry. He had been known to be considerate, punctual and hardworking. No other actor in the world has experimented with get-ups the way this loving bad man did. There was a sequence in Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Guddi where a young Jaya Bhaduri cautions Dharmendra for getting friendly with Pran. There are stories about children shutting their eyes in movie theaters when Pran appeared in one of his villainous acts. There is also the story of his refusing the role of Pathan in Manoj Kumar’s Shor mainly because he had accepted a similar role in Prakash Mehra’s Zanjeer. He refused to accept the Best Supporting Actor Filmfare Award because he felt that year’s Best Music Director award should have gone to the late Ghulam Mohammed for Pakeezah, and not Shankar for Be-imaan.
Pran loved his puffing at State Express stick, and nursing his scotch at sunset, but never while on the sets. During the seventies and the eighties these drinking bouts at Raj Kapoor, Sunil Dutt, Dharmendra, Raj Khosla went into the wee hours of dawn. And though now almost a recluse, except an odd celebration at home or elsewhere, beginning his pre-lunch session with a glass of beer, followed by meals and afternoon siesta. The ritual recommences in the evening, whether alone or in company, with the lady from Scotland at sunset. The family ensures his birthday is celebrated befitting the style of the grand old man of Hindi cinema.
2010 was no exception. And one hopes the next, and the year after too.
By Suresh Kohli