The Real and Reel Life of Pran, Bollywood’s Villain Extraordinaire
Pran was Hindi cinema’s evil incarnate
Pran was Hindi cinema’s evil incarnate

The Real and Reel Life of Pran, Bollywood’s Villain Extraordinaire

Pran was the actor who made badness his chief occupation for a career spanning over five decades and more than 350 films, to scare the audience witless. Here’s a look at some of the interesting aspects of the real and reel life of the villain extraordinaire on his death anniversary.

The Photographer Becomes the Actor

Pran with Anjana in his first film (Punjabi)<i>Yamla Jat </i>
Pran with Anjana in his first film (Punjabi)Yamla Jat

Pran never set out tobe an actor. Photography was the career he vied for, and took it up as aprofession in Delhi, and later moved to Lahore. There was a paan shop he used to frequent afterdinner with his friends. This is the place where writer Wali Mohammed Wali spotted him and approached him for acting.

Wali was a writer for Mr Dalsukh Pancholi, the famous producer and studio owner who was planning to make a Punjabi film titled, Yamla Jat. Wali thought Pran fit the bill of one of the main characters, and wanted him to do the role. Pran cheerfully agreed, and Wali gave him his card asking him to meet the next day at 10 am. But the 19-year-old young man didn’t really take Wali’s offer seriously and didn’t turn up.

Thefollowing Saturday when he went for a matinee show at Plaza cinema, hebumped into Wali again, who showered him with the choicest of expletives forWali had relied on Pran and actually told his producer not to sign anyone else.Guilt-ridden, Pran told him that he would come the next day for sure. But Waliwasn’t the man who wanted to take another chance. He noted down his address, and picked him up the next day. After the photo session and an interview, Pranwas signed for the role of the main villain. Yamla Jat turned out to be a big hit. The year was 1940.

Debut With NoorJehan

Pran’s third film, Khandaan (1942) was remarkable for many reasons. It was his first film in Hindi, and also the first film in which he played the role of the main protagonist, the hero. It was also Noorjehan’s debut as the lead actress opposite him. Since the future Malika-e-Tarannum was barely 12-13, the filmmakers made her stand on bricks so that she could match the height of Pran in close-ups.

Lahore to Bombay

Pran was forced to leave Lahore in the pre-Partition months
Pran was forced to leave Lahore in the pre-Partition months

India was about to gain independence, the air was smacked of riots and communal conspiracies. Pran sent his wife Shukla, his sister-in-law and his almost one-year-old son to Indore for safety as soon as he got a whiff of riots in Lahore. He stayed back. But his wife refused to celebrate their son’s first birthday which fell on August 11, 1947 unless Pran turned up in Indore. Despite wanting to stay in Lahore, he relented to his wife’s demands, and reached Indore on August 10.

The following day, news of people being massacred in riots in Lahore began to spread, and it was certain that Pran couldn’t go back to Lahore. Since he had a successful career in films, he thought of Bombay as the city for his vocation. He reached the port city on August 14. He booked himself into the Taj Mahal Hotel, the top hotel at that time. But soon reality began to dawn upon him when he realised that his 20 films old career in Lahore meant nothing in the Hindi film industry of Bombay.

Out of work for more than six months, he started shifting to smaller hotels, and finally had to sell his wife’s jewellery to make ends meet.

Pran with Sunil Dutt and Nargis (Photo courtesy: Pinterest)
Pran with Sunil Dutt and Nargis (Photo courtesy: Pinterest)

No Child Named Pran

When Pran became ahousehold name in malevolence, a few journalists conducted a survey in schools and colleges in Bombay, Delhi, Punjab and UP, and found out that not a single boy was named Pran post his rise. After Raavan, the antagonist in Ramayana, Pran was Hindi cinema’s evil incarnate.

Declined to Accept Award

In 1973, Sohanlal Kanwar’s Be-Imaan swept the Filmfare awards, winning seven awards, including Best Supporting Actor for Pran. But the actor refused to accept the award because he felt the judging committee was unfair in giving the Best Music Director award to Shankar Jaikishan for Be-Imaan and not to Ghulam Mohammed for his exquisite score in Pakeezah.

Dil Dosti etc With Dilip Kumar

Pran and Dilip Kumar seen here with Shankar of music director duo Shankar-Jaikishan (Photo courtesy: Pinterest)
Pran and Dilip Kumar seen here with Shankar of music director duo Shankar-Jaikishan (Photo courtesy: Pinterest)

Pran was very close to Dilp Kumar andRaj Kapoor owing to their long association in the film industry. Pran cherished his turn in Dil Diya Dard Liya (1966), in which Dilip helped him to shape his role.

When Dilip was getting married, Pran was shooting in Kashmir. Despite heavy rain, he managed to reach Bombay to attend his friend’s wedding. The entire gang including Raj Kapoor got drunk, banged on Dilip’s nuptial-night bedroom door relentlessly till he opened up to say hello to them.

Modelled Himself After Real Life Personalities

Pran was known for adding personal touches to his characters by creating interesting gestures, and being very particular about his look in films. Whenever he saw an interesting character in real life, books or magazines, he kept his observation in mind to use it later.He modelled himself after many real life personalities such as Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Adolf Hitler, Sam Pitroda and Abraham Lincoln among others in many films to give his performance a distinctive touch.

Most famously, during Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hain (1960), it was Pran who suggested to Raj Kapor that he should run his hand across his neck for the supreme fear of a dacoit is to be hanged, and subconsciously, he would always think of a rope around his neck. Thus Raaka, the dreaded dacoit was born.

(The writer is a journalist and a screenwriter who believes in the insanity of words, in print or otherwise. Follow him on Twitter: @RanjibMazumder)

(This story is from The Quint’s archives and is being republished to mark legendary actor, Pran’s birth anniversary.)