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.
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.
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?
Cheering Pran sahib with some naughty joke !!! When he was bedridden. pic.twitter.com/3Nx8KljwP7— Dharmendra Deol (@aapkadharam) July 24, 2018
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?
Man to man talk with the legend - Pran sahab. I have done more than 30/32 films with him. A learning curve! pic.twitter.com/scLTXSOB1M— Rishi Kapoor (@chintskap) January 24, 2020
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:
The intersection on Carter road,Bandra,Mumbai dedicated to the memory of the legend “Pran” sahab/uncle. Many congratulations Baboo Tunni Vivek and Pinki. pic.twitter.com/e3d71n4ogJ— Rishi Kapoor (@chintskap) August 29, 2018
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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