Pran Sikand is just 50, that is, he's completed 50 years in films. Add 18 to that and you get his age. Villain, hero, villain, character actor, comedian, character actor, villain, that's the flip flop of his five-decade career in celluloid, and even today Pran commands and gets the respect he deserves in an industry known for worshipping rising suns and tearing apart those on the wane. Articulate and direct, Pran thinks a bird in hand is worth two in the bush. Here he talks about life, villainy, movies and mush else :

Q : What's the difference between a villain's and a negative role?
A : Well, in Hindi films, the villain is supposed to be bad, but I don't think all my roles have been bad, even when I was playing the villain. Take Raka in Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behati Hai. He torched villages and shot people, but lay down his weapons for the girl he loved and lost. I would term him as one of the greatest lovers in the world, not a baddie.

Q : How important are mannerisms to a negative character? Do they matter to the audience?
A : Sometimes a great deal, sometimes not at all. See, when a film flops, only lakhs see it, when it becomes a hit, crores do. We don't make films for personal satisfaction, but for audience appreciation. Coming to the point of mannerisms, well, take the example of Raka again. He keeps on running his forefinger across his tight collar. This to me signifies that he feels like a condemned man, one who either expects to be hanged or have his throat slit, but that's a nuance very few people would understand.

Q : How important are other gimmicks like make-up, get-up, voice modulation, etc?
A : Very important, because merely by changing my costume, or wearing a red beard and wig, I wouldn't have been very impressive as a Pathan in Zanjeer. So I changed my voice, too, to sound like a real Pathan. There have been occasions when I have had to do as many as 18 retakes to get the pronunciation of a word right.

Q : But you seem to have a fascination for various get-ups.
A : It adds variety to an otherwise dull character. It gives the role life, and when you are doing something different, you enjoy it. It maybe just prickly hair and blue contacts in Ram Aur Shyam, or a flowing beard in Krodhi, or maybe even 'drag' in Jangal Mein Mangal.

Q : And these paintings that you have all over your house?
A : A passion of mine. I guess the painter has done full justice to me and my various get-ups. I have about 70 paintings in different get-ups, and hope to complete 100 soon. Then perhaps I'll have an exhibition of these.

Q : Why this element of farce in comedy?
A : I was fed up of straight-laced villainy, so from Kashmir Ki Kali onwards I introduce comedy in villainy, something that every new villain these days follows.

Q : But despite the change, why didn't you ever try and be a chic chocolate hero?
A : I am not cut out for it. I don't like singing in the rain and dancing in the snow, or running around trees. Apne ko jamta nahin hai, bhai (It doesn't suit me, brother).

Q : Then why the switch to character roles?
A : I guess boredom of the same routine again and again. I think my first tryst with character acting came with Manoj Kumar's Shaheed; I was a baddie coming good in the end. People liked me. And then came Upkar. My Malang Chacha role was the catalyst.

Q : With so much of mythology in the air, which character from Indian mythology impresses you the most?
A : Ravana, from Ramayana. Perhaps there is hardly anyone as powerful as him, for he could have done what he wanted to with Sita, but he didn't. And when he came to know about Ram's promise of a 14 years banvaas, he kept Sita in Ashok Vatika, rather than in his palace at Lanka. Can you show me another character who can match up to him?

Q : Coming back to villain roles, once again one noticed the switch from goody-goody to baddie-baddie. why?
A : I was too good : (pun intended), and being good all the while for someone who has played the villain most of his life, I guess there was no option for me but to turn a bad leaf again, which I did.

Q : Do you subconsciously ape any actor?
A : No, but I ape that I have seen and absorbed, like the role of Kaiku, that I played in Heer Ranjha. He was lame, and I mimicked the walk of a man I had seen in the streets of Lahore ages ago, limping on a stick not crutches.

Q : All these years in films, and no gossip about you?
A : Could be two reasons. One, that I am a good family man, who likes his wife and kids. Another could be that I am a much better actor in real life (guffaws)! Well, the real reason is that I treat my work like a prayer, and the studio as a temple, and for a love affair to start, it takes two to tango, and Pran doesn't dance to that time.

Q : You have flirted with politics.
A : I think I have spoken out for the people. During the Emergency, I felt excesses were committed, so I canvassed for Ram Jethmalani, and openly supported the Janata Government. But these days I feel all politicians are just there for themselves, not for the country. What we really need is benevolent dictatorship.

Q : What have 50 years in film industry given you?
A : I remember a sher… Khuda taufik deta hain jinhe who yeh samajhte hai/ke khud apne hi haathon se bana karti hain taqdeeren (Those who have been gifted greatness by the Lord think/That they have attained good fortune through their own merit). I am what I am because of the industry, I owe it a lot, and I feel grateful to all my fans who have accepted me, and my colleagues who have helped me reach this stage. That is why I always tell people that when you are climbing up, always salute the ones coming down, because when your time to climb down comes, they'll remember you.

Q : One last question: if given a chance to be reborn what would you like to be ?
A : Be Pran all over again, and live life exactly the way I have done in this birth…

Interviewed by Sanjay Sayani