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Pran. - File photo
Pran. - File photo

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.

Comments (30) Closed

AJ Mohmand Jul 21, 2013 01:50pm

John, Jaani, Janardan..There is no such movie. This was Amitabh's name in the mega-starer 'Naseeb' in which Pran sahab was Amitabh's father, if I remember well

Tahir A Jul 21, 2013 02:12pm

I have known him as a baddie on the screen from childhood since the mid-1950's. RIP Prem Ji. You were a decent person in real life.

If I am not mistaken, one of his sons was a an academician and taught as a Professor at the well renowned Imperial College in London.

Muhammad Farooq Jul 21, 2013 05:00pm

Thespian par excellence of Indian Cinema, gentleman villain Pran Saab was a great human being. Thanks to the writer and the Dawn who sent me down the memory lane with this interesting write up. May his soul rest in peace.

Sri1 Jul 21, 2013 05:50pm

May Pranji's soul rest in peace. Not only a gentlemanly human being, but extremely professional actor.

Agha Ata Jul 21, 2013 06:13pm

I first saw Pran in

M. Siddique Jul 21, 2013 06:55pm

India rarely made Hindi movies. Most Indian movies were in Urdu. The writers, directors and many actors were Urdu speaking. Its time to distinguish between Hindi and Urdu. Myself for one do not understand Hindi but I well versed in Urdu.

Taimur Khan Jul 21, 2013 08:33pm

Pransaab started his acting career in the pre partition era, when the script, the dialogue quality/ delivery and the actors were all that counted, in the absence of the color, the modern camera and special effects, which totally transform the modern movie into a fantasy. Gentlemen actors of his ilk are hard to locate in the modern Indian Cinema. He was a true and dedicated professional, and his roles in Halaku ; Ammar, Akbar, Anthony and many more memorable movies would remain as land mark case studies in the discipline of movie making! Well played, Pransaab!!!

pathanoo Jul 21, 2013 10:17pm

Indian movie industry lost giant actor. Gosh, only the Thespian Dilip Kumar is left. God Bless Dilip and give him long and healthy life.

ramesh Jul 21, 2013 11:13pm

@AJ Mohmand: John Jani Janardan was Rajni Kant's movie with triple role.

ramesh Jul 21, 2013 11:14pm

Jon Jani Janardan was Rajni Kant's triple role movie..

Pankaj Patel Jul 22, 2013 12:32am

I lived in Mumbai and so I know he was a very private person and had an excellent family life.He was very good human being and religious too. I have never heard him having any problem with law or any individual or of having any affair with any one in his long carrier.He was really best actor and should be a role model for today's actors.

vivek patil Jul 22, 2013 06:29am

@AJ Mohmand: you are right

Saeed Ahmed Jul 22, 2013 07:58am

Pran got his first role in Dalsukh Pancholi's Punjabi film Yamla Jat (1940) because of an accidental meeting with writer Wali Mohammad Wali at a shop in Lahore. Directed by Moti Gidwani, the film featured Noor Jehan and Durga Khote. This was followed by small roles in the film Chaudhary and Khajanchi, both in 1941. Pancholi cast him again in Khandaan (1942), which was Pran's first Hindi film. The film featured him as romantic hero, opposite Noor Jehan, who had acted with him in Yamla Jat as a child artist. In the pre-partition era, director Gidwani casted Pran in more films like Kaise Kahoon (1945) and Khamosh Nigahen (1946).

Pran had acted in 22 films from 1942

Sanjeev Jul 22, 2013 09:53am

Well wirtten...thanks Dawn it seems as if it is an Indian newspaper. In James Bond's words " We share the same passion".

Tajammal Jul 22, 2013 09:55am

@Muhammad Farooq: Bhai Saab?

ila Jul 22, 2013 11:06am

@AJ Mohmand: let see when correction comes-in.

avnish Jul 22, 2013 01:58pm

@M. Siddique: what do u want to say finally?, what u speak is neither pure hindi nor the urdu. This language of mass here in india and paksitan has come far of the long distance of time.

raj Jul 22, 2013 02:24pm

Firstly it is not Hindi Movie it is Indian and the language use is mainly Urdu in all the Indian movies, it is only about 5% Hindi. if we the readers accepts this perception articulated by the writer and the editors of this artical then technically we are acceeding to the will of Indians that Pakistan is culturally captured and which also implies that the Indian have dominated us regionally. Please Wake up!

Lalit Sharma Jul 22, 2013 03:18pm

@M. Siddique: Typical Pakistani

Feroz Jul 22, 2013 03:56pm

Many of today's heroes often have a lifestyle that resembles a villain. Pran carried the role of Villain with an elan that made him a really hated figure, in real life he was a thorough gentleman who helped every co star in any way he could. His philosophy was very simple -- enjoy life, live it to the fullest and help whomever you can.

Agha Ata Jul 22, 2013 05:03pm

@M. Siddique: If you take away Sanskrit vocab. from Hindi and Persian and Arabic vocab. from Urdu, then you have only one language; they even have the same grammar rules. Call it whatever you may like. :)

Ashok Pandey Jul 22, 2013 05:20pm

I am filled by happiness and a respect for DAWN.

This paper has given a space for the legend. This tells us that this site is not just limited to pakistan but covers all around.

Impressed with this article and the writer has done justice with character description.

xl Jul 22, 2013 05:23pm

@AJ Mohmand: There is such a movie kindly refer to Unfortunately Pran did not act in that movie.

Anoop Jul 22, 2013 06:48pm

@M. Siddique:

"Its time to distinguish between Hindi and Urdu. "

"Aapka naam kya hai?". Is this Hindi or Urdu?

Anybody, who feels the same, please answer.

Anoop Jul 22, 2013 07:12pm

Its actually surprising to see Pakistanis reminiscing about old movies and retired actors or late actors. Goes to show the Cultural hegemony India has over its neighbours. The soft power exercised by India is truly wonderful.

Rahul Jul 23, 2013 02:09pm

@M. Siddique: i would like to quote Raj Kumar's dialogue to Dilip Kumar "Ab hum tum se kyaa pooche ?". Giro yaaro par itna bhi nahi ki aasman to dharti maan lo :) !!

Malik Butta Jul 23, 2013 03:37pm

@Anoop: It is the same culture...many of the big names in Indian film industry came from what is now Pakistan..Pran spent a fair bit of time in it is not something as grand as 'hegemony' it is something as natural as similarity of south Asian culture :-)

kumar Jul 23, 2013 11:59pm

@Saeed Ahmed: Pran first worked in Lahore in Punjabi films before moving to Bombay.

kumar Jul 24, 2013 12:02am

@M. Siddique: There is not much difference. We in India understand these movies. Anyway,how does it matter if it is Hindi or Urdu. These were great movies.

Omar Jul 24, 2013 03:06am

@Lalit Sharma: well at least he's factual. your comment however reeks of bias and stereotype.