Pran: In Memoriam

You could say Pran played, in a way, an important role in shaping my early film-watching days. My parents tell me that when Majboor (1974) was released, I—then a toddler—completely fell in love with one of its songs. My rendition of Michael daaru peekar danga karta hai (“Michael creates a ruckus after a few drinks”) was a little flawed. I cheerfully (and innocently) sang Michael daadu peekar ganda karta hai (“Grandpa Michael creates a mess after a few drinks”). But I thought the song was fabulous. I thought Michael was a good ‘un. And I thought—as I still do—that Pran (February 12, 1920 – July 12, 2013) was in a class by himself.

Pran, of course, was the quintessential villain. But in a cinema that had as many ‘invariably villains’ as ‘invariably heroes’, Pran stood out. Amongst the Madan Puris, the KN Singhs, the Jeevans, the Prem Chopras (and, to a lesser extent, or later, people like Prem Nath, Ajit, and Rehman), Pran was one of those who just had to appear onscreen for that moment of epiphany: Ah, here’s the villain.

Pran, 1920-2013

He could embody many different types of villain. He could be the ruthless, unashamed and absolutely evil brute—the man who saw no need to hide his villainy. Like Ugra Narayan of Madhumati, a man so debauched that nothing short of the supernatural could stop him. Utterly without scruple, merciless and vile: the sort of man who would make anyone shiver.

Pran as Ugra Narayan in Madhumati
Then there was the somewhat deceptive villain: the suave charmer who was really a wolf in sheep’s clothing. This was one particular type of role that Pran made his own. Well-dressed, smart, well-spoken and self-assured, this was the character who could charm people into handing over the keys to their safes. Films like Chori Chori, Hum Sab Chor Hain, Basant, Brahmachari: all had Pran playing men charming enough to successfully woo the heroine herself.

Pran with Rajshree in Brahmachari
(And, in Phir Wohi Dil Laaya Hoon, a deception of another kind—a villain who pretends to be the battered, broken-minded long-lost son of a millionaire).

There was the not-quite-a-lost-cause villain, too. The crooked lawyer in Gumnaam, for example, who’s really more shades of grey than outright villain.

Pran with Helen in Gumnaam
Or, in Johnny Mera Naam, Moti/Mohan, Johnny’s long-lost brother, a criminal, yes, but not past redemption.

Or—an even more compelling character—that of Ashwini Nath in Do Badan, who forces a woman in love with another to marry him. Not because he lusts for her, but because he genuinely loves her. The moment when he realises, near the end of the film, that his unwilling wife will never be able to love him in return, is poignant, and redeeming: because he gives her up to her true love. Too late, too tragic, but it makes him less of a villain.

Pran with Asha Parekh in Do Badan
Then, of course, there are the many other roles Pran made his own. From the bitterly cynical but good at heart Malang Chacha of Upkaar, to the greedy and lecherous Pran (yes, he had by then become such a synonym for villainy that even screen villains were named for him!) in Love in Tokyo, who dies one of the most gruesome deaths I’ve seen in classic Hindi cinema. From a cameo as a drunk at a kotha in Devdas, to the title role in Halaku… Pran did it all.

Over 400 films, a long journey, an entire panoply of characters that are an integral part of Hindi cinema’s history. And roles, as you can see, that showed Pran to be not just a ‘cookie-cutter villain’ actor, all gritted teeth, curled lip and flashing eyes. But an actor who was capable of bringing interesting nuances to a negative character. An actor who was really a very good actor, very deserving of the Dada Sahib Phalke Award that he received earlier this year.

Pran as Malang Chacha in Upkar
Some time back, I read an interview with Biswajeet in which the actor talked about how, on the sets of Mere Sanam, Pran said about Mumtaz: “She will be a great actress. She has a lot of potential.” When I reviewed that film, someone pointed out a scene to me where you can actually see Pran do a little bit of online mentoring to the 17-year old Mumtaz. She, as Kammo, is looking straight at the camera and talking; he, as Shyam, her accomplice, reaches out and takes her chin, turning her face towards him. It fits perfectly into the scene, but it highlights an important aspect of acting: you don’t act at the camera.

Mumtaz as Kammo in Mere Sanam
How many well-established actors (Pran had been acting then for 25 years, and was 27 years older than Mumu) would have taken the trouble to do that? To show a raw teenager how it was done? But Pran was, as most of us know, a very different man—a true gentleman, a sweet and kind soul—from the villains he portrayed onscreen.

Rest in peace, Pran. May you live on in our films.

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66 thoughts on “Pran: In Memoriam

  1. There was a scene in the movie Guddi, where Pran takes of his watch and gives it to Dharmendra. The latter goes on to talk about how magnanimous a man he is. Pran Sahab was just like that.

    A wonderful post, BTW.

    • Thank you, both for the appreciation, and for sharing that anecdote. It’s been ages since I saw Guddi – I think about 30 years! So I’ve forgotten that particular scene. I need to watch it again.

  2. Wonderful tribute, Madhu. And a good selection of roles to reflect Pran’s variety.

    And I’m glad you started with “daaru ki botal”. I love that song too. :-)

    Pran was SUCH a fine actor that I think, this was the biggest reason his villainy came across as SO real. And caused parents to not even name their babies after him. He really lived the roles he played so convincingly, it was as if you were meeting a bad man in real life.

    Yet, in real life, he was supposed to be a very humble and gentle man. And always helpful. Sometime in in 1983 or 84, when Kapil Dev needed to get a surgery done in England, the BCCI refused to foot the bill. Pran stepped in and offered to take care of the bill.

    Pran was an amazingly versatile actor. I read somewhere that he deliberately did different types of roles. As you know, he often had a takiya-kalaam or some sort of visual mannerism in many movies of the 60s – the crowds loved it.

    Thanks for this tribute. Am off to read more tributes now. Just heart-warming to read tributes about this fine, fine actor and gentleman.

    • I didn’t know about that fact involving Kapil Dev’s surgery, and Pran having paid for it – that says so much about him. I haven’t read his biography, but from all the anecdotes I’ve come across about him, he seems to have been a good-hearted, generous soul – very different from the men he invariably portrayed onscreen!

      I agree completely re: his versatility. Since the last film I’d watched was Saajan (with Madan Puri as the villain), I couldn’t help but mentally compare Madan Puri and Pran when I was writing this post. Madan Puri, in almost all the films I’ve seen of him, whether he’s Dharamdas in Saajan or the Chinatown goon in China Town, is usually very similar in acting style: there’s a sort of oily, ingratiating way about him, fake smiles that hide the evil rather ineffectually. (Of course, there are exceptions, as in Blackmail or Nau Do Gyarah)… but Pran is amazingly different. Forget about the differences between Malang Chacha and Sher Khan or Halaku and Ugra Narayan – even small things like an accent, or a particular mannerism – he was able to play so many different types of villains.

      Very late already today, so I will go and read the other tributes tomorrow. I did see there were some out there.

  3. Very sweet tribute, Madhu. One of the most lovable characters is Sher Khan in Zanjeer. And his cameo in Guddi as the real Pran is also memorable. And finally the character of the man – he refused his Filmfare Award in 1972 on the ground that Best Music Award should have gone to Ghulam Mohammad for Pakeezah and not SJ’s trash Beimaan. I love his Gajendra Babu in Ram Aur Shaym, both when he thrashes Dilip Kumar and also when he is whipped by him.

    • Yes, AK – the role of Gajendra Babu was really very memorable, too. It’s been a long time since I watched Ram aur Shyam, so a lot of it has been forgotten, but I do remember being quite enthralled by Pran.

      I hadn’t known about the incident regarding the Filmfare Award in 1972. Quite a sense of fair play there. And a good ear for music! (No matter how his character was made to ‘sing’ in Dil ki umangein hain jawaan) :-)

      • Madhu,
        This ‘singing’ by Pran is fascinating. I knew this song but had not noticed Pran’s singing. It is surprising they still hired a singer called ‘Thakur’ (?) to give playback for Pran.

        • Oh, I didn’t mean to say that Pran was really singing (I don’t think he was, just that his character was made to sing so badly offkey). From what I know, the singing for him here is Thakur all through.

  4. Wonderful tribute to a wonderful actor, Madhu! I loved that Michael daadu peekar ganda karta hai!
    Bit of trivia – his brother used to live in our building and he came to attend his niece’s wedding in our building. Everyone was more interested in looking at him rather than at the bride and groom!

  5. This is lovely, Madhu – your “Michael” story is scrumptious! I was looking forward to your Pran tribute because I knew, as usual, it would be full of exciting recommendations for me. When I sat down to do my own Pran post yesterday I was surprised and disappointed at how few of his movies I’ve seen, only a dozen or so. There is really no excuse for that! My favorite Pran role – thus far – is probably Half Ticket, mostly for the hilarious song, Aake sidhi lagi, in which Pran seems to romance Kishore.

    What a great actor, with so many wonderful and fun roles in his portfolio – it will be a treat indeed to get myself more respectably caught up on his career.

    carla (Filmi Geek)
    http://filmigeek.net

    • Isn’t Aake seedhi lagi a delightful, fabulous song? I love it to bits. Last night, just before I was about to go to bed, I learned that Pran had passed away, and even after I’d laid down, I was thinking what I’d do for a tribute post. The first idea that popped into my mind was a post of Pran songs, and the first song there that occurred to me was Aake seedhi lagi. :-) It’s been years since I watched Half Ticket, so I’ve forgotten much of the film except for the Kishore Kumar-acting-as-a-kid angle. But that song is unforgettable.

      I shall tell you about my favourite Pran roles on your blog post tomorrow. :-)

  6. A wonderful and befitting tribute to one of the great legends of Indian Cinema! Pran was one of the most versatile actors who played villainous roles with panache and played memorable character roles like Malang Chacha of Upkaar and Sher Khan of Zanzeer with equal ease.
    May his soul R.I.P………….

    • Thank you, coolone160! Yes, Sher Khan was another amazingly memorable character, wasn’t he? Just as Pran played some really nasty men in the 50s and 60s, he played some truly likeable (yet not in a sugary way) characters in the 70s. Such a great actor.

  7. Oh God, no, not again…

    When I saw your post title, that was my first thought. Oh, no. These past few years have been terrible. I always remembered him as the obvious villain – all he had to do was step on screen and boom, no question who’s the bad guy. But you’re right – he did so many other kinds of characters. Even though my eyes were all for Dev in Johny Mera Naam, I absolutely loved Pran as well!

    I think he has left such a legacy that I will never be able to look at the name Pran without thinking – oh, the film villain! And there have been countless times I have giggled over someone else’s name being Pran. Once as a kid I asked my grandma, “Why is he called Pran? Is he bad, too?”

    RIP Pran. :(

    • Yes, a friend of mine was saying the very same thing on Facebook today… so many people gone in this past year or two. And now another. :-(

      He acted with Dev Anand in a lot of films, didn’t he? I especially liked him in Munimji, Johnny Mera Naam and Jab Pyaar Kisi Se Hota Hai – so very good. Especially (and I agree with you there) in Johnny Mera Naam. Loved him in that!

      That little anecdote from your kiddie days is very cute. :-D

  8. When People talk to Pran, it is always Pran Saab. Such respect for the man. An adorable Villian. Covered all shades of characters.. Great man.

  9. I have tomention Kashmir ki Kali’s Pran here. He was absolutely a rogue there!!! Such a void I feel :( Such a great legend is no more…

    • Absolutely agree about his character in Kashmir ki Kali! He usually seems to have played the urban villain – Pran in a suit, smoking and swigging daaru from a hip flask, is the image that’s always conjured up in my mind. But Pran as he was in Kashmir ki Kali was just so perfect, too, in his rural avtar. The accent, the style, the villainy. Superb.

  10. Lovely tribute, and you’ve chalked out his different roles so well, DO.
    He was so handsome too. Well, *sigh*. The disadvantage of being an ardent fan of old films is that the actors and actresses you love so much have reached an age when they have to leave :-(
    May his soul rest in peace.

    • “The disadvantage of being an ardent fan of old films is that the actors and actresses you love so much have reached an age when they have to leave :-(

      So true. :-( I was mentioning the same thing to a friend of mine who was bemoaning the fact that over the space of only about a year we’ve lost Shammi Kapoor, Dev Anand, Dara Singh… and now, Pran. Also, as I pointed out to my friend, Achla Sachdev, Nalini Jaywant, Kalpana, and Ravi. They could be making a late 50s’ film up there in heaven. :-)

  11. RIP Pran Saab!
    My first memories of Pran were his character roles in the 70s in the ‘masala’ movies directed by Brij like Chori mera kaam, Victoria no. 203, etc. I noted he almost always seemed to have songs picturised on him in these movies and a lot of the early 70s films.
    Anyway, Pran was by far the ‘best’ villain of the 50s and 60s. You and the commenters have mentioned most of his memorable roles , I recall the villain in ‘Khandan’ with a comedic touch, which became a trend later. Pran was the best thing in that film! Also the daku in ‘Jis desh mein Ganga behti hai’.
    I have heard some stories as a kid , that mothers stopped naming their boys ‘Pran’ in the 50s-60s. Is it true?

    • Somehow I never got around to watching Chori Mera Kaam, but Pran was the life and soul of Victoria No. 203 – really, really good. And, of course, also from the 70s, Majboor.

      Oh, I remember him in Khandaan. He was teamed with Mumtaz there, wasn’t he? Again, a long time since I watched the film (and then too in bits and pieces – it was being shown on TV, and the electricity kept coming and going, so I missed sections of the film).

      Yes, that story about people not naming their sons ‘Pran’ in the 50s and 60s is a popular one. I guess it’s true. I’ve heard it fairly often (not that that is any guarantee of its authenticity).

  12. I read about it on my RSS feed day before, Madhu. I don’t know why, but I was expecting it to happen, since he had been ailing for so long. :( I’m so glad they managed to finally bestow the Dada Saheb Phalke award on him. Ironically, I had a post on him that I had drafted a few weeks before but never got around to completing – when I heard about his death. But I knew I would find a tribute to him on your blog, Madhu. I loved the way you pointed out all his varied roles. Thank you for this.

    Did you know he was one of the highest paid artistes? Ever? (And that included the heroes as well; in his heyday, only Rajesh Khanna was paid more than him.) RIP Pransaab. You will always be remembered.

    • Yes, he had been ill a long time. I was shocked to see how frail he looked in his photos of him being given the Dada Sahib Phalke Award. But then, 93 years is a ripe old age! What amazes me is that he actually acted in a film in 2007 – or was it 2008?

      I read about him being one of the highest paid actors – The Times of India, in a tribute to him a couple of days back, mentioned that in the early 70s, he was getting 20 lakhs per film, outdone only by Rajesh Khanna, as you mention.

  13. Well we were more less expecting this, Pran led a full life and what’s more was also able to himself receive the Dadasaheb Phalke award. I do not think you would remember but I had talked about an interesting interesting incident on Memsaabstory involving my father, Pran and Jeevan while they were on their way to the location to shoot for ‘Ganwaar’. Here is the link to it Tarun Bose Part 4
    When I read about his passing away this was the incident that came to my mind— Shilpi

    • Thank you for linking to your description of that incident, Shilpi! I had read all your posts on Greta’s blog back when they’d been published, but I’d forgotten about this one. It would have been fun if the daaku had seen Pran and run off, scared. :-D

  14. A great tribute to a great personality.I have loved Pran sahab since I started watching old bollywood films.He was truly a versatile actor.I have loved all his films especially Dharma,Halaku and Victoria No.203 and many more..He used to be the scene stealer in most of his movies.Whenever I see any song in which Pran is present,even if he is not singing then also he is the first one to catch my attention.And those songs in which he is singing are among my favourites.He always added his special quality to his performances.

    • Very true. Pran had a massive screen presence. Incidentally, of all the films people (including me) have mentioned in the comments for this post, one that hasn’t been written about, but which also had a very good performance from Pran was Bade Dilwaala. He was wonderful in that too, and had this nice song picturised on him:

  15. I think you missed one shade of villainy (should I even call it that?) that Pran excelled in – the stern patriarch. As Rishi Kapoor’s father in Bobby you felt like kicking him. But he really excelled as Thakur Sahab in Parichay – one of his best roles.

    • Ah, yes. He did excel at roles like that, though I must admit I don’t remember them too well – except possibly Parichay, which I agree was one of his best performances in that category.

  16. Lovely tribute Madhu, certainly well up to your usual standards.

    I just thought I’d add a few words about his immense comedic talents. Wonder why this was hardly ever tapped in Hindi films. Karz contains a few brilliant scenes. One involves Simi Garewal getting a spooky phone call that tells her, in Rishi Kapoor’s voice, that he is her late husband’s reincarnation. As she hears all this, Rishi Kapoor himself walks in. By now Simi near-hysterical, and reduced to screaming ‘Kaun bol raha hai???’several times over. The scene cuts to Pran sitting somewhere else with a phone and tape recorder. He hangs up, and then says ‘Tumhara baap bol raha hai.’ One of the most memorable scenes from the entire movie, and largely due to Pran’s understated delivery.

    Michael Daadu and that Half Ticket song (where he plays the straight guy – funny term to use for a villain – to Kishore’s over-the-top antics) have already been mentioned. My favourite, and indeed the song I prefer to remember him by, is this gem from Kasauti. Ayo Gurkhali!!

    • Oww. I’d completely forgotten that Hum bolega toh bologe was picturised on Pran. This used to be another of my favourite songs as a kid. (I was obviously quite a Pran fan, even back then). And I’ve forgotten Pran’s role in Karz (though I do remember some scenes from the film – especially the one where Simi kills Raj Kiran’s character). Must watch it again.

      If I remember correctly, Pran’s character was quite funny in Victoria No. 203 too. He did have great comic timing – just goes to show what a fine (and versatile) actor he was.

      • Haven’t seen Victoria 203. But about his versatility, one more film comes to mind. It’s in Bengali, I guess of 1960s vintage, can’t remember the name. He not only plays the lead role, he effectively carries the movie on his shoulders. The story is very atypical. At a specified time, certain people act like they are possessed. This happily married lady gets into a taxi that’s always waiting outside at the right time. She and the cabbie drive off somewhere, and later neither can remember what happened.

        Pran is an eminent clinical psychiatrist brought in to find out what is going on. He had studied medicine in Calcutta, and can still speak fluent if accented Bangla. He starts probing, and eventually unravels the murder mystery underlying the scenario.

        Pran plays his natural self here, a middle-aged gentleman with a strong personality but as such benevolent. But the way he delivers his lines, with every inflection in the right place and with the right amount of stress, one gets the feeling he understood every word of what he was saying.

        • You can’t do this to me, Abhik – tell me about what sounds like an absolutey fabulous movie, and then not remember what it was. Please, please try. Even if I can get hold of an unsubtitled version, I can probably persuade one of the Bengali-speaking members of my family to sit down and interpret for me.

  17. Pran would inject ‘pran’ in the character on the screen and make that character come alive.
    Raj Kapoor also had dne full justice to the histrionic talent of Pran. If his Raka , in Jis Desh Men Ganga Baheti Hai was a cult in itself, Pran’s characterization in Aah was personification of a very exclusive personality.(see 2.04 @ http://youtu.be/h2LZu3YfJEo – we can see his typical style of adding a unique mannerism [the way he smokes pipe, in this case] and ‘soulful’ expression in his gaze that injects ‘pran’ in the character).

    • Thank you for reminding me of Pran in Aah! I had completely forgotten his role in this film. He was very different here, and very good. One (along with the music) of the few things I liked about the film, which is sadly not one of my favourites – I find it too depressing. But Pran is superb, and so expressive. You put it very well; he does inject pran into the character.

  18. Madhuji,
    Thank you for the wonderful article on Pran the gentleman-villain actor, covering a variety of his films and songs. In fact he received the Best supporting actor (Filmfare) award for his role in the film Be-Iman(1972), which he refused to accept. Pran was a versatile actor and played varied roles. In fact the year 1972 provides enough example of his versatility. He was in his mid 50s then. Here is a song sequence of Pran from the film Be-Iman where he played role of constable Ram Singh. Kishore Kumar sings for Pran.

    In the same year Pran played double role in the film Jungal mein mangal’. It was not a great film, but Pran played the role of a romantic old man opposite Sonia Sahni and was also in the role of a young hippy (with long hair) opposite Meena T. Here is a song sequence having Pran in both the roles.

    The song from ‘Half Ticket’ with Pran and Kishore Kumar was mentioned in the comments section. Watch this song sequence!

    Let me share a rare song sequence involving Pran and Sunder from a Punjabi film ‘Chhai’ (1950)

    ,

    • Venkataramanji, thank you so much for these songs! They’re a brilliant showcase of just how very versatile Pran was. Not just a villain (even though he could be so many different types of villain!), but also such a great comedian. All the songs you’ve posted here are new for me, so this was a really interesting few minutes of discovery for me. Thank you – this was very, very enjoyable. The first few songs are great for showing Pran in his many different personas, but I must admit to liking the last song especially – great music.

  19. Hello Raja ji and Madhu ji !

    I was googling about ‘Takiya Kalaams of Pran’ and reached this blog. Wonderful tribute to the legendary actor. So, at the outset I congratulate Madhu ji !

    Further, can both of you help me about the ‘Takiya Kalaams of Pran’? In one of the articles on internet, it is written that the credit of popularising ‘Takiya Kalaams’ goes to Prem Chopra. (Bobby : Pram naam hai mera, Prem Chopra) But I am very sure Pran had started this long before Bobby and Prem Chopra. Do you recollect any of his Takiya Kalaams and help me in this ?

    Thanks in advance.
    Waiting for your reply.

    Regards,
    Ranjeet.

    • Thank you so much for the appreciation, Ranjeetji! You’re very encouraging. :-)

      I have to admit that offhand I can’t think of any Pran takiyakalaams (though I seem to recall something he keeps repeating again and again in Kashmir ki Kali – I’ve forgotten what the word/phrase was, but I do remember something there). I don’t have the time to go and rewatch, but if you do, you might find something. Will post here if I recall anything else.

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