The amount of effort and the sheer energy that Pran put into preparing for each of his roles may have caused some to conclude that it was ‘all work and no play’ for the actor. However, despite the hectic schedules and demands in his time, Pran did have quite a few interests that were far removed from the world of films.
One of his main interests outside the world of cinema was sports. Elder son, Arvind, says: ‘My father had several different hobbies, but he was very passionate about sports. He also had a great passion for hockey. He became a member of the Bombay Provincial Hockey Association and (was) very active there.’
Pran’s inclination towards sports also made for some excellent relaxation, good times with fellow actors and sportsmen. Pran’s first introduction to sports was in school in Uttar Pradesh, where as a young schoolboy, he played a little hockey. However, he confesses that he was not that good a player! His interest in sports was renewed after he came to Bombay in 1947.
By becoming a member of Bombay’s Cricket Club of India, Pran and his friend, producer-director Ram Kamlani were able to watch every major cricket match played at the Brabourne Stadium! Pran and Ram Kamlani always liked to sit in two particular seats in the pavilion at the CCI. So, to make sure that they got those two seats and none other, Pran used to be the first in the queue at 5 am outside the CCI!
So strong was Pran’s love for cricket that during a Test match, he used to be present at the CCI on all five days! It was the same with hockey and football. Pran ardently followed all the hockey and football matches until his schedule did not permit him to do so. It goes without saying that on the day there was an important match, there would be no shooting!
Pran’s son Arvind reveals a little known, but interesting, tidbit about his father’s friends and their love of sports: ‘Dad, Ram Kamlani, Satish Bhalla and others formed a group who would always attend all the cricket Test matches and stash away their bottles of hip flasks of whisky, which was all very daring because those were the days of Prohibition!
‘I think he didn’t miss a single Test match until the death of Ram Kamlani, who was a very great, close friend of his. After that he refused to go to the matches because he was, in a sense, grieving for him.’ Yes, many of the friends Pran made during those days also shared Pran’s love for sports and they remained friends for life. One such friend was Akhtar Hussain, Nargis’s elder brother.
And it was through Akhtar that Pran came onto the football field. Talking about how his passion for football took root, Pran disclosed: ‘Akhtar Hussain had signed me to work in his film Pyar Ki Baaten. However, I was intrigued to find that Akhtar packed up at 4.30 pm. In fact, that was not the first time! Akhtar would regularly “pack-up” as early as 4 or 4.30 pm! We didn’t know why – but soon found out! Actually, Akhtar was a great football fan and even had his own club, which he had named The Globe.
He used to rush to the Cooperage whenever his team was playing, or whenever any exciting matches were to be played. I, on the other hand, had never yet seen a football game. ‘So one day I joined him to see a football match. I liked it so much that I also started going with him regularly. I made friends with a lot of the footballers. And they made me a member of their club.’
Pran continued his reminiscences: ‘I began to like football so much that I wanted to make my own team. I talked about it to Raj Kapoorjee. He said: “Okay, we’ll do it and the filmwallahs will contribute.” ‘Then there was a man who had (a vast) knowledge of football, and he knew practically everybody. So I met him and he suggested some players’ names, and together we formed a team in the early 1950s, calling it the Bombay Dynamos Football Club after the famous Moscow team. Our team had six members who represented Maharashtra including one who represented India at the Olympics…
His football club
‘The team was pretty good too! Most of them were local Bombay boys. But I recruited Sanjiva, from Calcutta, who was the goalkeeper at the 1948 London Olympics. Another Olympian who played for us was inside forward, Parab…
‘The only drawback was that the film people had backed out… It was very expensive too, since I had to support around fifteen players, paying for their boarding, lodging and other expenses… So, sadly, I had to close it down.’
Since Pran was extremely knowledgeable about cricket, he always had an opinion to give. As late as 1990, in an interview given to Sportsworld, Pran went on record to make a typically ‘Pran’ statement: ‘Ever since international matches started being held at Wankhede Stadium, I stopped watching the five-day Test matches.’
When asked by journalist V Gangadhar as to why he stopped going to see cricket matches, Pran replied: ‘You must have been to Brabourne Stadium. Tell me, is there a better venue for international cricket? It is one of the finest grounds in the world. Wankhede Stadium was created to satisfy the ego of certain people. What a waste of money and material!’
Pran’s love for sports and sports people earned him many friends in all parts of the world – especially the cricketing world. One of his close friends was Sir Frank Worrell (a former captain of the West Indies), who met Pran every time he came to Bombay. The comedian, Om Prakash, used to be with Pran when he would go to meet Sir Frank.
Another of Pran’s dear friends was the cricketer Vinoo Mankad, whom Pran called ‘the greatest all-rounder we have ever produced’. Pran’s love for cricket goes beyond political boundaries. With reference to an incident which brought home the fact that political barriers should not interfere with sports, Pran recollected: ‘When the Pakistani team under Asif Iqbal was on the verge of winning the Test match in Delhi in 1979, some of their board officials announced that gold medals would be given to the team members. Mind you, this was even before the match was actually won.
‘That match was the one when Pakistan’s Sikandar Bakht took eight wickets, but India was saved by (Dilip) Vengsarkar’s century. I prayed and prayed for a draw. I told our board officials that I would present gold medals to our players if they saved the match. They did and got the medals, but I also gave medals to some Pakistani players, including Sikandar Bakht. I think cricket is a gentleman’s game, not a war between our nations.’