Born to a Punjabi family in Delhi, Pran was always keen on acting and performing. A chance meeting with writer Wali Mohammad Wali in Lahore gave Pran his first role as a villain in Dalsukh Pancholi’s ‘Yamla Jat’. In the four years leading up to India’s independence, Pran had 18 movie releases but the partition saw him leave the newly formed Pakistan and seek his fortunes in the heart of what would become Bollywood – Mumbai.
He cemented his place as a villain in Indian movies with stellar performances in movies like ‘Azaad’, ‘Madhumati’, ‘Devdas’, ‘Aadmi’, ‘Ziddi’, ‘Jis Desh Men Ganga Behti Hai’ and ‘Aah’ among others. He also played the lead role in movies like ‘Halaku’ and ‘Sindbad the Sailor’ in the 1950s. His contribution in comedy movies also didn’t go unnoticed with some side-splitting performances in ‘Half Ticket’ and ‘Bewaqoof’.
In a bid to reinvent himself, he began to take on more positive roles from the late 60s with varying degrees of success. He even dabbled with Bengali cinema.
In the 70s, Pran was among the highest paid actors in Indian cinema, ahead of his co-stars like Amitabh Bachchan and Vinod Khanna. He will, though, perhaps be most famously remembered for his role as the iconic Sher Khan in the super-hit movie ‘Zanjeer’, where he wowed the audience with his very impressionable pathan guise, playing alongside a young Amitabh Bachchan.
With a variety of roles, a versatile acting range and plenty of praise, his filmography holds 350 credited appearances and he earned the title of ‘Villain of the Millennium’. But quite unlike a villain, he remained a largely uncontroversial figure. Negative as his role may have been, he always seemed to play it with class, style and dignity.
Having already won 3 Filmfare awards in the ‘Best Supporting Actor’ category for his roles in ‘Upkar’, ‘Aansoo Ban Gaye Phool’ and ‘Be-Imaan’, Pran was conferred the ‘Filmfare Lifetime Achievement Award’ in 1997. He also won ‘Lifetime Achievement Awards’ at the Star Screen Awards and Zee Cine Awards in 2000. The following year he won the ‘Padma Bhushan’ as well.
But all of these are merely facts and figures and none of these can even begin to capture the effect the ‘Villain of the Millennium’ had on the audience when he appeared on screen. He may have breathed his last, but he will live on in the audience’s memories and it’ll be a fair few decades before TV screens stop playing the immortal villain, strutting his stuff in his own inimitable manner.
Legendary actor and ‘multiple-Filmfare winning star Pran has breathed his last today, aged 82. The actor, who performed in various negative roles in Bollywood movies from the 1940s to the 1990s, had been struggling with illnesses for quite a while now.