Though I wasn’t born in the era that saw him rising to stardom, I learnt about the genius ever since I started following his films in the 1990s. Pran indeed, mesmerised me in more ways than one, for he came across as a villain whom I adored and did not want to see getting beaten up by heroes.
For someone who was born in the 1980s and who could hardly see him work in films owing to old age, Pran emerged as an iconic figure, who could portray varied roles and justify each character to the fullest. But for me, he was the one and only Sher Khan, a lion-hearted Pathan, who epitomised a true friend.
And the song ‘Yaari Hai Emaan Mera’ from the film ‘Zanjeer’, picturised on him and Amitabh Bachchan, gives me goose bumps whenever I listen to it. The film saw Pran in a flamboyant role - perhaps the first time when he made the most of his dancing abilities! And from his centre-parted hennaed hairdo to his thick beard to his Pathani shalwar kameez, Pran immortalized the character of Sher Khan, who could sacrifice his life to keep up his commitment.
I even vividly remember having watched his film ‘Amar Akbar Anthony’ over 10 times, where he played father to Vinod Khanna, Amitabh Bachchan and Rishi Kapoor. In the film, Pran played an honest driver to his powerful, mean boss Jeevan and takes the blame of a brutal hit-and-run accident involving his master. And in the end, how destiny forces him to indulge in anti-social activities to avenge his ill-fated life.
And how could I be left not smitten by his portrayal of Malang Chacha in Manoj Kumar’s ‘Upkar’ that saw him play a positive character for the first time ever!
Even his old classic films speak volumes about him as a performer. Though he played an antagonist in most films, he came across as someone who was too polished to be a villain. He emitted charm endlessly and also came across as a style icon. He represented a villain from the elite section of the society – was highly sophisticated, one who wore a coat, sported a hat and clamped a cigar in his fingers stylishly. He had tremendous screen presence and could give his starry co-stars a run for their money. Such was his aura.
In ‘Half Ticket’, starring Kishore Kumar and Madhubala, Pran played a diamond smuggler. Half way through the film, you will see the thespian attired as a gypsy, trying to coax Kishore Kumar (dressed as a woman)! And trust me; you would be left dumbfounded on seeing him shake a leg.
The veteran lived a spotless life, a rare feat for any celebrity to achieve in a career spanning over 6 decades! Perhaps many can take a leaf out of his book and imbibe the virtues that he was blessed with.
Many took inspiration from his acting style, yet couldn’t match the standard set by him. Somewhere, I feel the culture of producing a “dignified” antagonist in films ended with his departure from the world of entertainment. Villains since then have looked impish, spooky and even bizarre at times.
None can be like Pran. His persona spoke a great deal about the character that he was in real life and his conduct makes for a fine lesson to learn.
Pran Saheb, you have certainly transcended to heaven, but going by your name, you will remain alive in our hearts forever!