Pran's Birth Anniversary: There wasn't, isn't and will never be an actor like this legend!

Updated: Feb 12, 2020, 15:36 IST | mid-day online correspondent | Mumbai

The greatest strength of Pran, whose centenarian happens to be today, was to make his chilling and charismatic characters his own, and his cinematic brilliance lay in his seamlessness and searing persona.

Pran Pictures Courtesy: Mid-day Archives and YouTube
Pran Pictures Courtesy: Mid-day Archives and YouTube

Writing something about an actor as great and a personality as giant as Pran can be an uphill task. The man would have turned 100 today, it's his centenarian. His life and journey aren't less than a mainstream, masala Hindi film potboiler that his most frequent director Manmohan Desai would have revelled in.

Before he became Pran, he was Pran Krishan Sikand, born in Delhi's Ballimaran area. He began his acting career seven years before India saw its Independence, and had already acted in over 22 films when the day arrived. It's nothing but sheer coincidence that someone who was adamant of making a mark in Hindi Cinema had his debut with the film Ziddi.

Every artist waits for that one Friday that escalates him/her into the skies of stardom and pierces into the consciousness of the people. Perhaps the day Ziddi released, that Friday was meant for this iconic figure. No actor can forget where he came from and how he made it in a fluctuating and flickering industry, but there was no looking back for Pran, who marched ahead with one searing performance after another.

He was gentle and known for his humility and calmness, but as soon as the camera switched, he transformed into the character he was given, and it was his sheer understanding of the craft and intimidating persona that made him the viewers' favourite. It's ironic how someone defined by his genteel demeanour could be known for his dread and villainy on the silver screen. Pran's life, it seems, was straight out of a Hindi film!

One of the earlier films of the actor I remember watching is Ram Aur Shyam, which came out in 1967. I saw it on television and couldn't help but think how Hindi Cinema's fetish for the double-roles began. Two brothers are separated at birth where one grows up to be notorious and the other naive. Pran played leading man Dilip Kumar's evil and cruel uncle, hell-bent on usurping his ancestral property. Had it not been for the film's comic tone and amusing background score, coupled with Kumar's terrific timing, Pran's character could have sent a chill down anyone's spine.

Pran

When Pran left for the skies in July 2013, Kumar recalled the fond memories they spent together. "I can never forget how Pran managed to come to my marriage, braving bad weather in Srinagar where he was shooting. He took a flight to Delhi and then to Bombay and reached by evening in time to hug me before the nikah ceremony." Their partnership transcended celluloid boundaries!

As the 70s began, colour came in and the language of cinema began to change. Filmmaking became more commercial and larger-than-life and over-the-top in its ethos and Pran moulded himself into the changing landscape. This is the time when Prakash Mehra and Manmohan Desai were at their peak. It's impossible and unfair to talk about this era without talking about these two filmmakers and their collaborations with Pran, and, of course, Amitabh Bachchan.

It's no news that Bachchan was nowhere close to being cast for Zanjeer, it was a role reserved for Raaj Kumar, Dharmendra, and even Dev Anand. When all declined, Pran recommended Bachchan's name and that is how The Angry Young Man was born. Zanjeer breathed life into the ailing career of the actor and a star was born. Bachchan and Pran's confrontational battle powered this gripping drama that still resonates with filmmakers, actors, and cinephiles. The duo went on to do classics like Amar Akbar Anthony and Don.

Pran

The great thing about their films together was the way they told impossible narratives with unapologetic glee. Manmohan Desai and Prakash Mehra did everything unconvincing with conviction and clarity. You could either scoff at the proceedings, or root for the protagonists, and the nation always opted for the latter. Talking about Pran and his legacy, Bachchan's blog was a tearjerker.

"A gentleman of the finest order, an admirable colleague and a considerate human," he wrote. He added, "Pran Saheb....! Another stalwart leaves us, and this massive and imposing Film Industry edifice, tottering by the removal of the giant pillars that held it up, suffers another deathly blow.... 'At this time of our lives', as a close relative once sadly said 'we do not make friends any more, we lose them'! What shall remain thankfully, shall be the immense volume of documented work that they leave behind, a work that has been laboured sweated and bloodied over years and years of harsh and severe commitment! We don't make the likes of them anymore...(sic).

Even in an interview with Filmfare in October 2013, Bachchan spoke about working with him and their multiple partnerships. "Pran saab has been one of the finest colleagues that any artiste could hope for. His professionalism, his unshakeable commitment to the project and his witty shayari during the break in the shoots, shall remain with me forever," he said.

Dharmendra, in July 2018, also took to his Twitter account to share some fond memories with the actor and a pure nostalgic rush. Remember this tweet?

Rishi Kapoor is one actor who has always acknowledged the achievements of Indian actors, and how can he not do the same with Pran, with whom he has spent his childhood, how can you not see this picture?

Such is the legacy of the actor that a Chowk was inaugurated in Bandra after his name in September 2018. The tomb reads - 2001 Padma Bhushan and 2013 Dadasaheb Phalke Award, two of the highest Honours for any artist. And Rishi Kapoor tweeted about this too:

Did you know Aamir Khan also worked with him at the beginning of his career? Speaking to a group of reporters a few days after Pran's death, the actor recalled the fond memories of working with him.

The millennial is used to seeing heroes becoming villains becoming comedians, the 90s kids may recall Amrish Puri as the greatest villain, but before that, there was Pran, and there isn't, wasn't and will never be another Pran. His journey was meant to be iconic and unforgettable, and he did that pretty early in his career. The rest, as they say, is history!

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  • 1/22

    Born as Pran Krishan Sikand on February 12, 1920, the legendary actor was born in old Delhi's Ballimaran area. Pran started his acting career in 1940. He had acted in about 22 films, before Partition, most of which were released by 1947. Post partition of India, Pran moved to Bombay and after an eight-month-long struggle, finally managed to bag a role in 1948's Ziddi. Writer Saadat Hasan Manto and actor Shyam are believed to have helped Pran secure a role in the 1948 Dev Anand-starrer. All pictures/mid-day archives

  • 2/22

    After Ziddi, Pran never looked back and went on to deliver one hit after another — Zanjeer, Ram Aur Shyam, Amar Akbar Anthony, Upkaar, Johnny Mera Naam and Don, among others. Pran has appeared in over 350 films.

  • 3/22

    Though he played each character with panache, dedication and ease, it was Pran's negative roles that people swear by even today. Such was Pran's aura in the '50s and '60s that parents feared to name their child 'Pran' thinking that their son would grow up to become a baddie.

  • 4/22

    Not many might know that Pran's first role as an actor dates back to 1938, wherein he portrayed the character of Sita to Madan Puri's Ram during a local Ram Lila show in Shimla.

  • 5/22

    One of his main interests outside the world of cinema was sports. Pran's first introduction to sports was in school in Uttar Pradesh, whereas a young schoolboy, he played a little hockey. However, he confessed in an interview with mid-day that he was not that good a player! His interest in sports was renewed after he came to Bombay in 1947.

  • 6/22

    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.

  • 7/22

    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!

    In picture: Pran with Dilip Kumar, Dharmendra, Dara Singh and Shammi Kapoor.

  • 8/22

    And it was through Akhtar Hussain that Pran came onto the football field. Talking about how his passion for football took root, Pran disclosed, in the interview, "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."

    In picture: Pran at the birthday bash for Amitabh Bachchan.

  • 9/22

    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..."

    In picture: Pran and Prem Chopra.

  • 10/22

    Like many other stories of our country's partition period, the story of how the Sikands (Pran and his family) happened to be there, is both serendipitous and miraculous. A successful pre-partition actor in Lahore, the star had flown to Indore only a week earlier, packing just a suitcase of his finest suits, to celebrate his son's first birthday with his wife and her family

    In picture: Pran inaugurating his website at his residence on his 80th birthday with family members in February 2000.

  • 11/22

    It was only after Pran had arrived that news had come in of a massacre and bloodbath in Lahore, as riots had broken out. Borrowing money from friends, the 27-year-old actor left for Mumbai in the hope of finding similar work here, knowing there was no going back

    In picture: Pran on his 80th birthday.

  • 12/22

    But true to his style, Pran had booked himself and family into the city's classiest hotel of its time - The Taj!

    In picture: A candid picture of Pran Saab.

  • 13/22

    "On the night of August 15, Pran and his family went riding in an open jeep along with the dancer-actress Cuckoo and her parents, to see the celebrations across the city," said a relative of the actor to mid-day about that historic day

    In picture: Pran in the hospital with his daughter.

  • 14/22

    Pran's relative further added, "They had met the actress in the foyer of the hotel and she had invited them to drive along."

    In picture: Sushilkumar Shinde felicitates Pran and Marathi actress Vanmala with the Maharashtra Government awards and V Shantaram award. Also seen are Sunil Dutt, Ashok Chavan, Kiran Shantaram and Govinda.

  • 15/22

    The legend's Bollywood career spanned over 6 decades.

  • 16/22

    Pran won Filmfare Awards for best-supporting actor in 1967, 1969 and 1972.

    In picture: Sushilkumar Shinde and Sunil Dutt with Pran.

  • 17/22

    Pran's first film role was as the villain in the 1940 Punjabi film 'Yamla Jat'. Initially, Pran wanted to become a photographer but destiny had different plans for him. A chance meeting with a film producer got him his first break in Punjabi film 'Yamla Jat' in 1940.

  • 18/22

    Pran was conferred the Padma Bhushan Award in 2001 and Dadasaheb Phalke Award in 2013.

    In picture: Dev Anand with Pran.

  • 19/22

    Pran was also rated as one of the top 25 Asian actors of all time in 2010 by CNN.

    In picture: Actress Sulochana and Pran.

  • 20/22

    Pran also received the Villain of the Millennium award from a Bollywood magazine.

    In picture: Manoj Kumar and Pran.

  • 21/22

    Pran retired in the '90s, appearing just two films - 'Mrityudaata' and 'Tere Mere Sapne'. He made one of his last public appearances at Amitabh Bachchan's 70th birthday party.

    In picture: In his most celebrated role as Sher Khan in 'Zanjeer'. Though known as a villain, he also left a mark as a brilliant character actor.

  • 22/22

    The nation mourned on July 12, 2013, when Pran, after a prolonged illness, breathed his last. He was 93. 

    You will be truly missed, Pran Saab!

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