How do you encapsulate a character like Pran, a villain dreaded by heroes, a bad man secretly admired by the ladies; he was dapper, dashing, adventurous, he was very different. He could play any character, a light-hearted prankster or a devious negative soul, with consummate ease, drawing on the hookah, blowing smoke rings, puffing a cigar, or relishing a drink. It all came so easy to him; just as it came so easy to his fans, so fascinated by his range of roles.
It is said he charged more than the leading male actors of the day and rightly so, for he often carried the movie on his shoulders. “Pran hai kya?” was an anxious query ahead of the release of a movie. One can’t remember an actor so popularly looked-for at the box office! A movie’s success was so reliant on one man’s appearance, sometimes merely fleeting.
Pran could be the oppressor of “Dil Diya Dard Liya”, the despotic zamindar of “Gopi”, the deceitful Ugranarayan of “Madhumati”, the Malang chacha of “Upkar”, and the affluent but treacherous Rajan of “Naya Zamana”. He accepted all roles. His fans accepted Pran in any role too. He was a raging star when he signed for “Naya Zamana” where he flaunted some impeccable bandhgala coats. He appealed in suits. He would have won your heart in dhoti too.
It is not a movie about Pran’s awesome acting skills. It has other characters too. A bitter writer (Dharmendra), a charming beauty (Hema Malini), a petite next-door girl (Aruna Irani), a forgettable joker (Mehmood) and a composer (Sachin Dev Burman) who works behind the scene to contribute melody at regular intervals as a huge relief from some banal stuff on the screen. But not when Pran comes alive.
There are shades of “Pyaasa” where Vijay (Guru Dutt) is a poet. Here he is Anoop, a struggling novelist who loses his work to a scheming Rajan. If Vijay conveys his anguish through “Yeh Mehlon Yeh Takhton Ki Duniya”, the stage here is ripe for Anoop to lip-sync a classic Kishore Kumar offering “Duniya O Duniya Tera Jawaab Nahi”. Incidentally, the composer for both the numbers happens to be common — Sachin-da.
Like Rehman in “Pyaasa”, Pran is at the receiving end in “Naya Zamana” but gives a stellar performance with his stern expressions conveying the world. Never could Pran be accused of over-acting and this was one movie where he enjoyed the space that he shared with the central characters of the movie, Dharmendra and Hema.
There are moments to savour from the movie for fans of Pran. He does not get to mouth the “disgusting and damaging” or “Lilly don’t be silly” refrain. That is Manmohan’s domain but Pran, as Rajan, has a dominating part in the narration. He is the cunning brother of Seema, who, after a fiery introduction with Anoop, predictably falls in love with the man after a few meetings. The story progresses with Anoop and Seema developing a strong bond. Anoop’s sister Rekha (Irani) and Mahesh (Rajan’s brother-in-law) join the party too. We also have Ashok Kumar and Lalita Pawar in passing appearances.
“Naya Zamana” highlights the rich-poor conflict even at the cost of repetitive situations. The emphasis on confrontation between good and bad hampers the pace of the movie even as a rash of songs in the latter half clearly exposes the director’s (Pramod Chakravorty) lack of control. He is saved by Sachin-da’s work “Kitne Din Aankhen Tarsengi”, “Rama Rama Gazab Hoi Gava Re” and “Das Gayi”. The “Choron Ko Sare Nazar” number at the start is a tribute to the Anand Bakshi-Sachin-da combination which is at its best in “Duniya O Duniya”.
Pran leads the performance chart. His clash with Hema at the fag end is a stand-out moment of the movie when the brother tries to dominate by raising his voice but the sister decimates him with some impactful retort. Hema is good with her unglamorous countenance that matches Dharmendra’s character well but Pran is the winner, the bandhgala and the cigar leaving a lingering impression.