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— Reuters Photo
— Reuters Photo

MUMBAI:  Bollywood's most famous villain Pran will receive the highest award in Indian cinema, the government announced on Friday, in a rare honour for an actor whose career spanned over 300 films in the second half of the 20th century.

Pran Krishan Sikand, 93, known to moviegoing audiences just by his first name, is the 2012 recipient of the Dadasaheb Phalke award, instituted in the name of the man who made India's first feature film a century ago.

Pran was easily Bollywood's first-choice villain from the 1950s to the 1980s, although he successfully broke that mould to prove himself equally adept at comedy and drama. He played a hapless father who turns to crime in "Amar Akbar Anthony" (1977) and the affable gangster in "Zanjeer" (1973).

"His impressive performances have bestowed an entirely unique new dimension to the negative and character roles in Hindi cinema," the ministry of information and broadcasting said in a statement.

Pran, who lives in Mumbai and has been ailing for some months, may not be able to attend the awards ceremony.

"He watched all the news bulletins and he was very happy. He knows it's a big honour," the actor's daughter Pinky Bhalla said. "The whole world has been calling."

Pran made his Bollywood debut in 1948 in "Ziddi", acting alongside evergreen hero Dev Anand. In the ensuing decades, his body of work would come to include some of the Indian movie industry's most famous films.

Such was the dread his name evoked during his heydays as a movie villain that 'Pran' is said to have fallen out of favour as a baby name.