His name usually appeared last in the credits, but he always features at the top of any list of Hindi movie villains. Pran, one of Hindi cinema’s best-known antagonists, died at the age of 93 in Mumbai, the city to which he migrated from Lahore in 1947. He appeared in at least 300 films over seven decades, his last appearance being in the 2007 movie Dosh. Pran had been recently admitted to Lilavati Hospital in suburban Mumbai following respiratory problems. He is survived by his wife, Shukla, two sons Arvind and Sunil, and daughter Pinky Bhalla.
Film journalist Bunny Reuben’s detailed and illuminating biography of the actor, …and Pran, took its title from a suggestion made by Pran’s daughter. “When she was asked ‘Why…and Pran?’, she produced an email written by a fan who thought Pran’s name was ‘and Pran’ since in all his films, he used to be the last one listed in the line-up of the cast!” writes Reuben in his acknowledgements. The biography is the best-known account of Pran’s prominence in the revolving gallery of rogues that is as much a part of the movies as is its galaxy of stars.
Pran was an integral part of numerous Hindi films, and he can claim a share in the lasting popularity of many of them. His roll call includes Bimal Roy’s Madhumati, Tapi Chanakya’s Ram aur Shyam, Radhu Karmakar’s Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai, Manoj Kumar’s Upkar, Raj Kapoor’s Bobby, Prakash Mehra’s Zanjeer, Brij Sadanah’s Victoria No 203 and Chandra Barot’s Don. All these films required Pran to explore the range of his acting skills, from cruel and lascivious (Madhumati) to honourable (Zanjeer) to comic (Victoria No 203) to noble (Upkar).
Pran was born Pran Kishen Sikand on 12 February 1920 in Delhi. He started his career in pre-Partition India as a villain but also did quite a few leading man roles. He first appeared on the screen as a paan-chewing threat to the moral fibre in the Punjabi film Yamla Jat in 1940. The rakishly good-looking and nattily dressed man was working in a photography studio in Lahore when he was spotted at a paan shop on Mysalrore Road by Wali Mohammed Wali, a writer who worked for leading producer Dalsukh M. Pancholi. According to Pran, he initially scoffed at Wali’s offer of a role in Pancholi’s forthcoming production of Yamla Jat. Pran’s wealthy landowning family looked down on the movie business. Pran’s father was a civil engineer, but his son wasn’t academically inclined and initially pursued a career in photography before destiny came knocking.
After playing both hero and villain in close to 20 Hindi and Punjabi films, says Reuben, Pran moved with his family to India after the Partition. He arrived in Mumbai with his wife and infant son a day before India was declared independent from British rule. Pran initially struggled to find a foothold in the Hindi movie trade for several days. After being cast in Shahid Lateef’s Ziddi in 1948, however, he went on to forge an extremely successful career for himself as a menacing villain.
“Even though some of the roles offered to him were the usual, run-of-the-mill variety, which left him with little room to improvise and experiment, Pran put his heart into the preparation of each role, making every effort to rise above the mediocre script and produce a performance that was both skilful and believable,” writes Rueben.
Pran liked to experiment with get-ups, make-up and accents, the actor told Reuben for the biography. “I constantly thought of, and incorporated, mannerisms into every new character I was to depict in each of the films I had signed. I also had to have a new voice, new make-up, new gait, I did not want to repeat my actions,” Pran says in the book. Rueben narrates an undated incident that took place in Ahmedabad in Gujarat. “A mimic was imitating actors such as Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor, Dev Anand, Raaj Kumar and Mehmood,” Reuben writes. “Somebody from the audience then asked the mimic to imitate Pran. The mimic fell silent. Then he asked the person who had made the request: ‘Which role of Pran’s should I imitate?’”
Pran bagged several trophies for his acting over the years, and was honoured with “lifetime achievement awards” quite a few times. One such occasion was the Lux-Zee Lifetime Achievement Award in 2000. “When you think of a villain, Pran immediately comes to mind,” said veteran journalist Rauf Ahmed, who was working with Zee at the time. “When Pran came on the stage for the function, he touched his head to the ground. He got a standing ovation.” The Indian government honoured Pran with a Padma Bhushan in 2001 and the Dadasaheb Phalke award this year.