In one of the rare press interviews that Pran gave after his retirement, he had smilingly admitted, “No one in those days liked to name their son as ‘Pran’.”
That was Pransab, talking about his acting career spanning more than four decades in the Hindi film industry. The kind of fiendishly wicked image he had, mothers were apprehensive of naming their sons as Pran for it was synonymous with villainy.
“But I was happy with that image. It proved that I was able to essay my role well,” he had said.
That was the towering actor whose popularity was so great that in the history of the Hindi film industry, he is the only villain who charged more than the hero of the film, and producers were happy to oblige. The story goes that the late Raj Kapoor wanted to cast him in his son Rishi Kapoor’s debut film, Bobby, but couldn’t afford Pransab’s fees. The senior Kapoor had lost heavily in the previous film, Mera Naam Joker. The gallant Pransab did it for free!
While essaying the villain’s role, Pran never resorted to any gimmickry in make-up or attire. In fact, he was the most stylishly dressed man, always in Western attire. From the ’50s to the ’70s, the air of menace he brought out in all his roles by snarls, sneers, modulating his voice or twitching his eyebrows brought goose bumps to many in the audience. I remember closing my eyes shut tight and grabbing my dad’s hand whenever Pran appeared either galloping on horseback, with a whip or a cigar in his hand.
Thespian Dilip Kumar who acted alongside Pran in umpteen number films was quoted in a Mumbai newspaper: “It used to be very amusing for onlookers to watch the change that would come over him when he faced the camera with me in the same frame, after all the friendliness and affection they had seen a while ago between us.”
Prem Chopra who too acted in several films with Pran said, “I was indeed fortunate that I got to act with him in my first film, Shaheed (1965). I essayed the role of Sukhdev and Pransab had a cameo role of Daku Kehar Singh. I was very much in awe of him but when we started working together and we had acted in umpteen films including Bobby, Upkaar, Purab aur Paschim, etc., I found him to be a very friendly and helpful person. He had no airs or ego of being a senior or so well-known.”
Having acted in over 400 films, in personal life he was the antithesis of his screen persona. Remember the scene from Guddi, starring Jaya Bahaduri-Bachchan? Guddi, while visiting a film shoot, is terrified of meeting Pran but his gentlemanly behaviour takes her by surprise. It probably may have happened in real life with others too who came across Pransab.
Many were surprised when Pran shifted gear and started essaying positive roles. Starting with portraying an all-round nice guy in the film Upkaar, he did several more such characters. With Amitabh Bachchan he did Zanjeer, Majboor, Amar Akbar Anthony, John, Jaani, Janardan, etc. Even his comic timing in films like Victoria 203, Dus Numbri, etc., were largely appreciated.
A gentleman to the core for those who knew him personally, Pransab was also a highly disciplined man: very punctual, professional and it is said he loved to live life to the full. After shooting, he would sit with his co-actors have a drink or two, attend a party but made sure that he arrived on the next day’s shoot on time and absolutely ready for the act.
Elaborating his other traits, Prem Chopra said, “He loved to potter around in the kitchen on the sets. He loved dal and dal ko tarka to unhi ne dena hota tha! We enjoyed our evenings after the shoot when we would all sit around a bonfire and recite poetry and shairi.”
The recipient of many awards including the Padma Bhushan, the third highest Indian Civilian award and Dadasaheb Phalke award besides several Filmfare awards, Pran will long live on as the ‘best’ villain that Bollywood has ever produced.