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Class Act

Devil in disguise


Singing one of his many qawwalis in Adalat (1958)

That he was the biggest baddie of Hindi cinema is what is best known about Pran. But here’s a look at a lesser-known , and softer, side of the Dadasaheb Phalke Award-winning villain of yesteryear.


There was a softer side to Hindi cinema's biggest baddie. Pran himself admits his real passions are poetry and photography, and that there was a time when his home was filled with photographs of himself in different disguises. Those who worked with him recall how he would recite the poetry of Sant Kabir, Ghalib and Faiz Ahmed Faiz at any given opportunity and would often be seen reading while on a set. Playing cards and sports were just as close to his heart. He and his wife Shukla were regulars at Mumbai's Cricket Club of India. He organised many celebrity matches along with late actor P Jairaj. He even sponsored a Mumbai football team called the Dynamos SHY WITH THE LADIES The actor worked with all the top female leads, some of who debuted opposite him. In Khandaan (1942), a 13-year-old Noor Jehan was so short that she had to stand on bricks to act opposite him. Vyjayanthimala did her first film Bahar (1951) with him, as did Helen, who shook a leg opposite him in Halaku (1956). Despite his professional association with Hindi films' most beautiful actresses, and his lecherous image onscreen, Pran was known in the industry as a gentleman. There has never been a whiff of a scandal involving him, and all the actresses he worked with recall how he kept to himself. Mumtaz says, "He was very jovial on the sets, talking, cracking jokes and, if the occasion were right, reciting shayari. But once the scene was over he'd retire to his room and keep to himself. "


Pran had one weakness - he couldn't dance. So if a comic situation had to be created in one of his films, he was made to dance, like in Munimji (Dil ki umangein hain jawan) and Bluff Master (Husn chala kuch aisi chaal). It was because he couldn't dance that he gave up playing the hero after six or seven films. Though dancing and singing were anything but Pran's forte, his songs became distinctly popular, be it Yaari hai imaan mera yaar meri zindagi from Zanjeer (1973), Raaz ko raaz he rehe do from Dharma (1973) or Kasme vaade from Upkar (1967)


The sixth child in a large family of four brothers and three sisters, Pran's first role - he played the hero in Punjabi film Yamla Jat directed by Dalsukh Pancholi - was offered to him while he was standing outside a paan shop by writer Walli Mohammad Walli in Lahore in 1939. He was only 19 years old, and was paid Rs 50 for the part. Despite having acted in over 350 films, Pran rarely watched films, including his own. He has said he found his role in Parichay (1972), directed by Gulzar and co-starring Sanjeev Kumar and Jaya Bhaduri, one of the most difficult because he played a strict disciplinarian who was obdurate but not unlikeable, a balance he found difficult to achieve. His favourite film was director Brij's Victoria No 203 (1972)


"He always played a bad man, so it is difficult perhaps to understand what a good man he really was, " says Mumtaz. It is a widespread belief that people stopped naming their children Pran after his villainy made him a household name and the actor himself admits that his three children, Pinky, Arvind and Sunil, were embarrassed that other children called him "bad man". His daughter Pinky once asked him why he didn't play "good" roles. So when he was offered Upkar (1967), he quickly took it. The film, directed by and starring Manoj Kumar, was his first positive role in Hindi cinema. Mumtaz recalls a funny incident, "My skin is very delicate and I bruise easily. Since the scenes I did with Pran sa'ab always showed me struggling to free myself from his clutches, I would end up with black-and-blue marks on my shoulders from his rough grip. Once the scene was done, he'd be so embarrassed that he'd apologise profusely for hurting me. "


Pran was a part of almost all of Shammi Kapoor's films and though the two played antagonists in each film, in real life they were great friends. They shared a love for non-vegetarian food (especially paya curry) and drinks. Dilip Kumar and Raj Kapoor were also good friends and they met frequently


The actor redefined villainy by underplaying it and never repeating himself. He was known to adapt a new mannerism for every film. Though a villain, he was never loud and never the sidekick. Film stories abound about the intrigue he brought to a film. Mumtaz, his co-star in several films including Sawan ki Ghata and Brahmachari, says that because he played a villain in film after film, he didn't want to become repetitive. "He'd work out a graph for himself that was completely different from what he'd done before and he'd give his own suggestions to the director about his character. " She adds, "Sometimes he'd repeat a word over and over or just shake his hair off his face in a certain way or deliver his dialogue in a certain way. He worked hard to settle into every character he played. "


Pran built his bungalow in Union Park in Bandra in the 1950s. The area was considered unlucky by the film fraternity because anyone who came to live there sufferred professional losses. Careers of comedian Gope, producer Ram Kamlani and music composer Anil Biswas had nosedived after they moved to this area. Pran, however, refused to bow to such superstitions. He liked the place and named his home Pinky after his daughter. It was the first of the landmark homes on Pali Hill and just like how today people stand outside Amitabh Bachchan's bungalow Prateeksha in Juhu, kids would stand and stare at Pran's house, ready to run in case he came out. But he loved kids, and his daughter Pinky says, "It was dad who made friends with all the children in the locality and brought them home and gave them biscuits and sweets. After that they became our friends. " For over four decades, a kirtan has been held at Pran's home every Thursday. If he is home, Pran joins in towards the end.


Pran arrived in Mumbai on August 14, 1947, in time to celebrate India's Independence. He had to struggle a bit before he was called by both Bombay Talkies and Prabhat Studios who signed him on. The first Marathi words he heard about himself were "Dole changle aahet" or "Your eyes are nice"


Pran has always had several dogs, which is why he chose to live in a bungalow and not in an apartment in Bandra, which his wife would have preferred. (The old bungalow however has now been razed and replaced by a building. )

Reader's opinion (1)

Vandana JhangianiApr 21st, 2013 at 16:04 PM

The feature on Pran, the actor of yesteryear by Lata Khubchandani was awesome.Notonly were the photgraphs a collector's joy, but the content about this talented actor make you look at him in sheer awe. Truly it is artistes like Pran who put pran(life)into their roles and make their art immortal.

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