His brand of evil was stylish and impeccable. Finally at 93, Pran has got the highest recognition he truly deserves - the Dadasaheb Phalke award.
The film on TV could have been made anytime between the 1950s and 1990s. The hero was listless, the heroine did all that was expected of her and so did the supporting cast. The songs were hummable but the success of the film was due to just one person, the villain. Scene after scene he dominated, in looks, personality and histrionics. The audience responded with cheers and whistles. The film could be a crime story, a family tearjerker, a comedy or a war movie but the villain was the same… Pran. Invariably the film was a hit.
Pran Krishan Sikand was the shining star in the galaxy of Hindi film villains for more than five decades. Money, fame honours and awards poured in. Last week at age 93, finally the Dadasaheb Phalke award came his way. Today, Pran is a recluse and hardly speaks but the industry rose to shower plaudits.
Last Sunday, I watched ‘Ram aur Shyam,’ a blockbuster film from the South, on TV. Dilip Kumar played a double role and romanced Waheeda Rehman and Mumtaz, Naushad Saab provided the melodies but Pran, as the greedy, cruel brother-in-law was impeccable. The audience without exception hated him and relished every blow inflicted on him by the hero. That was the Pran magic.
Mind you, Hindi films could boast of other outstanding villains – Jeevan, Prem Chopra, Amrish Puri, Ranjeet and Ajit- but Pran was the most ‘stylish’ of them all. Characters in Hindi films, main or supporting, had to have mannerisms or repeat bits and pieces of popular dialogue. Pran did not need any of that. Whether it was the rich zamindar, the smuggler, the dacoit or the crooked politician, Pran played them all with flair. As the evil rich man, he exuded a sort of steely contempt which froze the other characters. He maintained a figure and personality which suited an urban villain. Watch him in a three-piece suit, glass in hand, steely eyes, lips curled in contempt, ordering everyone in a rasping voice…. This was Hindi film villainy at its best.
Watching Pran overshadowing most of the main actors, one often wondered why producers cast him as the villain but denied him the hero’s role. Occasionally, the actor offered an explanation, he hated running around trees and chasing heroines. He did not mind taking on actors of the calibre of Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor, Dev Anand, Rajendra Kumar and so on. Some of the shrewd producers, noticing that smouldering volcano within him, offered him roles which went beyond mere villainy. Remember the evil dacoit Rakha in Raj Kapoor’s ‘Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hain’?
When opportunities came to do a character role, Pran was more than ready. Manoj Kumar’s ‘Shaheed’ and ‘Upkar’ proved his mettle. He found a soul mate in Ashok Kumar in experimenting with different roles and they made a hit pair in the comic crime thriller, ‘Victoria 203’. Who can forget his Sher Khan which almost eclipsed inspector Vijay (Amitabh Bachchan) in ‘Zanjeer’?
The highest paid character actor in the industry, Pran earned more than quite a few heroes but spent freely for good causes. The first to volunteer for film star cricket matches for charity, he and Dilip Kumar successfully ran a soccer team ‘Bombay Dynamos’ in the 1950s. Principles were his priority. He refused to accept the Best Supporting actor award for ‘Beimaan’ because judges for this contest (obviously under pressure) presented the Best Music Award to the silly film ‘Pehchaan’, ignoring Ghulam Mohammad’s immortal melodies in ‘Pakeezah’.
He quit due to old age. It was the right decision because today’s Hindi cinema does not need villains, as the greedy insecure heroes grab everything.