Sixty years and more than 350 films.
It's been a long innings for Hindi cinema's most hated Bad Man. Of course, today the hate has changed to love, respect and awe. When the Lifetime Achievement Award was being presented to him, Pran got a standing ovation from the 5000 plus audience. He had been Bollywood's most hated 'bad man'. One late evening in 1939 he was standing with a group of friends outside his favorite Paan shop waiting for his after-dinner Paan, when a stranger who had been staring at him boldly for a long time, walked up to him and asked abruptly," What's your name?" The man was Mohammed Wali, a leading script, dialogue and lyric write of the time. But Pran didn't know him and startled by the man's avid curiosity he retorted, "why are you so interested in me?" Wali Mohammad Wali introduced himself and writing the script for a Punjabi film, Yamala Jat, and thought he looked like one of his characters.
" Would you be interested in making a movie?" he asked him. Pran was incredulous, convinced that he was being taken for a ride. " After a few drinks every person imagines himself to be Wallia (Urdu for the enlightened one)," he thought to himself, and informed Walli that he wasn't interested in movies. The scriptwriter still insisted that Pran drop into Pancholi Studio at 10 am the next day and meet his boss Dalsukh Pancholi."This is the address," he said and pushed a piece of paper into Pran's hand. The next morning Pran looked at the paper and dismissed the stranger and his strange offer in minutes. " It was quite obvious that he'd been a little high the offer under the influence of liquor," Pran confessed.
He decided not to waste his time rushing off to the studio and instead went to his shop. The following Saturday he had gone to the Plaza theatre to see a movie and in the foyer bumped into Wali Mohammed Wali again. Wali started cursing him loudly.
" I told my boss, Mr.Pancholi, that I had found the perfect body for his film, but you embarrassed me by not turning up," he growled. Realizing that the man was serious, Pran was contrite and promised him that he would be at the studio the next morning. But this time Wali was taking no changes. He turned up himself with a car at Pran's house the next day to take him to the studio. The same evening Pran was playing the villain's role in Pancholi Studios' Yamala Jat for the princely salary of RS 50 per month, However, Pran's career as an actor almost came to a standstill because he couldn't speak Punjabi properly.He had been born in Delhi and had drown up in UP because his father, a civil contractor, Lala Kewal Krishan Sikand, did most of his work there. Had Walli's brother Nazim Panipati not worked with him on his accent, Pran might well have remained a photographer's assistant. Yamala Jat was a superhit. Pran signed a few more Punjabi films. One of them was Chaudhary, with Noorjehan who had played his sister earlier in Yamala Jat. Soon after, both signed their first Hindi film, Shaukhat Hussain's Khandaan.
This was Noorjehan's first film as a heroine and Pran's only film as a hero. He was very uncomfortable romancing. Then in jusEverytime he had to run around the trees with his heroine he would run away! Pran worked in 22 films till the Partition. In the beginning of August 1947, fearing trouble, Pran packed off his wife and son to Indore. After a couple of months he got a letter from his wife asking him if he would be in Indore for their son's first birthday. He packed a couple of suits and reached Indore on August 11. The next day the massacre of Hindus in Hindus in Lahore. Instead he moved his family to Mumbai. For 4-5 months he was jobless and had to sell his wife's bangles to pay their hotel bills. t three days he landed four films- Bombay Talkies' Ziddi, Prabhat's Apradh, SM Yusuf's Grahasti which went on to celebrate a golden Jubilee and went on to celebrate a golden jubilee and Wali's own production Putli. For Ziddi, he remembers, he was paid RS 500. Soon after he was called to Pune to negotiate the deal for Apradhi.
" How much are you paying me?" was one of his first questions. When he was told it would be RS 500 he turned down the offer saying he wanted more. But Ram Singh, the film's hero opposite Madhubala, was also getting RS 500. " How can we pay you more than the hero?" he was told. Pran wouldn't relent and finally the deal was clinched at RS 600. "But please don't tell the hero!" he was told pleadingly.He After this there was no looking back. Pran played the stereotyped Bad Man in film after film. Kashmir Ki Kali, Khandaan, Shaheed, Dil Diya Dard Liya, Munimji and Tumsa Nahin Dekha. If he was Hitler in Khandaan he looked like Sheikh Mujibur Rehman in Jugnu. So convincing were his performances that whenever he was spotted on the roads he would be greeted with taunts like," Array Badmash" "Hey Lafanga" " Ogoonda, barami."
shrugged off these jeers easily till one day his daughter asked him quitely,"Daddy why don't you do some decent roles for a change?" Pran realised immediately that her school friends had been talking to her." Those days whenever I came on screen kids would hide their faces in rheir mother's lap and keep enquiring,'Mummy, gaya who? Can we open our eyes now?" But aSoon after Manoj Kumar came to him with an offer which was to change Pran's life. Manoj Kumar had earlier persuaded Pran to accept a small role of the dacoit, Kahar Singh, in Shaheed which he had scripted. When he was writing Upkar he wrote the character to Malang Chacha with Pran in mind. "If you accept it I can assure you'll make a lasting impression,"he told Pran. Pran accepted the role and was rewarded with one of his best songs. Kalyanji-Anandji were ditraught when they heard that Kasme Vaade was going to be picturiseed on Pran.
"He'll ruin our song,"they wailed. Kishore Kumar refused to sing the song.
After seeing the first print the music directors had to admit that Pran had sung the song from the heart, not just the lips. Soon after the film's release Pran drove down to Delhi for Om Prakash's daughter 's wedding. He had to park his car a good 400 yards away and walk to the mandap.
"I still ma Stars who'd preceded him had been mauled by star-crazy fans as soon as they stepped down from their cars. Shivering. Pran stepped out of his car. Someone whispered," Malang Chacha aa rahen hain, Make way for him." And miraculously, the crowds cleared a path for him, gazing at him with new respect in their eyes.
rvel at the almost overnight change in people's perception of me," Pran beams. Another memorable role was in Raj Kapoor's Jis Desh Main Ganga Behti Hai. What made the decoit of jis Desh… different was his mannerism of buttoning his shirt upto the coller while speaking."
The man was a daku and knew that one day he would be either hanged or would have his throat cut. That explains his preoccupation with his neck," Pran explains. Another role for which Pran is remembered is that of the Parthan, Sher Khan, in Prakash Mehra's Zanjeer. The film's hero was Pran's son's friend. Before Zanjeer, Amitabh had been just another struggling actor. In fact, when he arrived in Calcutta for the premiere without Pran the public was irate,"Where's our hero?"they demanded. The next morning Amitabh was a superstar."Never again did the Janta ask, 'where is our hero?" Pran says with a smile. Today, two decades later, Zanjeer is remembered as much for its "angry young man" as for its qawwli, Yaari hai imaan mera yaar meri zindagi. When Prakash Mehra informed Pran that his first shot for the film would be for a song which they were picturising the very next day Pran wanted to opt out." You haven't sent me my lines nor a recording and you expect me to be ready," Pran thundered.
Mehra was in a fix. If he didn't have the mahurat the next day the distributors would ditch him. He rushed to Pran and convinced him to shoot the song on the condition that he'd immediately edit it and show the rush print to the actor. " If you don't like it, we'll scrap it," Mehra assured Pran. Convinced, Sher Khan agreed to take centrestage. Days after the mahurat he was getting calls from friends and colleagues who'd seen the rushes. " You're brilliant," they raved. When Mehra called Pran to come and see the print he told him he'd seen it already." When? Where?" asked a bemused Mehra." Through the eyes of the people who have seen it," Pran told him."Retain it. It will be a hit!" After Zanjeer, Pran and Amitabh worked in as many as 11 films together. One of them was Majboor, which is remembered for that frisky number, Michael daru peke danga karta hai.
The first scene Pran shot for Majboor was his death scene. As he lay there taking his last breath, he noticed the director visualizing the camera angle through the circle of his thumb and four fingers. Pran told him, "Why don't you dothat with both hands?" And the image of the binocular was born an image with which the film opens and which are used all through. Sixty years and more than 350 films. It's been a long innings for Hindi cinema's most hated Bad Man. Of course, today the hate has changed to Love, respect and awe. When the Lifetime Achievement Award was being presented to him, Pran got a standing ovation from the 5000 plus audience. And there was no doubt in anyone's mind that Pran isn't just a name anymore. He is an icon scores of films are identified with. A living legend.