At a time when becoming heroes was the ‘done’ thing if you had the personality for it, the very handsome Pran Krishan Sikand opted to be a villain because he did not relish running around trees in the song sequences, which heroes had to do! This was his thought process after doing many successful films as a leading man in pre-Partition Lahore, beginning with the 1942 Khandaan – because he had started out with Yamla Jat (1940) in Punjabi as a villain!
And to think that this man never wanted to be an actor, not even after a turn as Sita in a local Ramlila held in Shimla, where he was employed then! He was ‘transferred’ to Lahore (pre-Partition) when writer Wali, the right-hand man of big shot producer and studio owner Dalsukh Pancholi spotted him at a paan shop and offered him a role.
Laughed Pran when he narrated the incident, “He wanted to know if I was interested in acting! I nodded even though I was not, and never kept his appointment. I came across him at a theatre some days later and he abused me, saying that he had told Mr. Pancholi not to cast anyone else. Not wanting to take any chances, he took down my address and picked me up the next day from my home!”
Pran, when I met him at his home in 2000, was a fascinating blend of the humble and the correctly proud – fake humility was never his cup of tea. That year he had received both the “Villain of the Millennium” trophy from Hero Honda-Stardust as well as the Lifetime Achievement award from Zee TV. His reaction to both was simple and heartfelt. “I especially value the Millennium award among my many trophies as I won it among such tough competition!” he said sincerely.
The Zee award saw him tell the audience that it was they who were responsible for his success. “I bow before you all!” he declared on stage and suited the action to the word! When I mentioned what I had seen on television, he simply stated, “I said only what I felt deep inside – and somehow said it well!”
Needless to say, the powers-that-be did take belated note of his excellence and awarded him the Padma Bhushan in 2001. But the Phalke award, as most industry stalwarts and associates stated, took too long in coming. In 1988, the President had come down from the stage to present the wheelchair-bound Raj Kapoor with the trophy. There are those in the industry who feel that the same honour should be given to the bedridden thespian at his Mumbai residence! After all, Pran has given almost 63 years to the film industry, with more than 360 films and even a title-role in a television serial, They Call Me Dangerous in his oeuvre.
When we interacted for over 90 minutes then, his sharp eye for details that had paid him rich dividends in his acting career was intact. He told me how he still stored observations of people he interacted with, and cut out pictures in newspapers of faces for their moustaches, hairstyles and expressions that he could use in future!
Most directors, he let on, gave him a lot of freedom to improvise, and he recalled Raj Kapoor’s delight at his suggestion that Raaka, Pran’s character in Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai, run his hand across his neck frequently as a mannerism. “Raaka was a dacoit. It was natural that he had a subconscious fear of being hanged!” explained the actor to me with a smile.
It is accepted that most villains on-screen are perfect gentlemen in real life, but Pran took the quality to a special level with his cordial warmth. Soft-spoken to the core off-screen, his voice rang out in the dramatic roles he played as bad man and later even as a noble soul. After, in his own words, “trying out every variation possible in villainy,” he chose to turn a new leaf under Manoj Kumar’s visionary direction in Upkar, only to go back to villainy in specific later films like Andhaa Kaanoon (1983).
Pran is very proud of the fact that he left such a distinct stamp in the industry that at his peak as a villain (from the ‘50s to the early ‘70s) no child was named Pran among the film-savvy populace of the country! Alongside, he mentioned that when he attended comedian Om Prakash’s daughter’s wedding in Delhi, the crowd made way for him, shouting “Malang chacha (his character in Upkar) aa gaye!” because of the iconic stature of his positive role.
Halaku (1956) was a film very close to his heart, in which he played the title negative role. He had a few other favourites – Madhumati, Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai, Dil Diya Dard Liya, Shaheed, Upkar, Zanjeer and Victoria No.203. The world, however, also cherishes him in diverse films like Ziddi (his first film in Mumbai, where he migrated just before Independence), Munimji, Chori Chori, Half Ticket (in which he enacted the hit song ‘Aankh Seedhi Lagi’ with Kishore Kumar), Ram Aur Shyam and Milan and his gray, comic or sympathetic turns in Nanha Farishta, Johny Mera Naam, Purab Aur Pacchim, Parichay, Bobby, Jungle Mein Mangal, Don, Des Pardes and Karz. He was, after all, the complete actor.
For the record, Pran co-produced the 1991 film Lakshmanrekha for his filmmaker son Sunil Sikand (among two sons and a daughter from his marriage to Shukla) starring Jackie Shroff and Naseeruddin Shah.
Last but not the least was what is known as the ‘Pran song’. The actor insists that all his songs as a character artiste, especially after ‘Kasme Vaade Pyar Wafaa’ from Upkar, were a part of the story as told through the song. After initial reluctance at having the song filmed on him, veteran composer Kalyanji (-Anandji) complimented Pran at the premiere, stating that while others enacted their compositions “from the lips, he had sung it from the throat”!
The duo was soon to unleash a hit-parade for him – ‘Tujh Mein Ishwar’ (Nanha Farishta), ‘Do Bechare’ (Victoria No. 203), ‘Yaari Hai Imaan Mera’ (Zanjeer), ‘Hum Bolega To Bologe Ke Bolta Hai’ (Kasauti) and ‘Meri Nazar Se Bachaa Na Koi’ (Chori Mera Kaam) . To this, many other hit songs were added by other composers – ‘Raaz Ki Baat Keh Doon To’ (Dharma) where this writer recollects audiences throwing coins at the screen, ‘Daru Ki Botal Mein’ (Majboor) and others in a huge variety of films. Come Mohammed Rafi, Manna Dey, Kishore Kumar, Hemant Kumar or Mahendra Kapoor, the master-singers too seemed to put in a special ‘pran’ in their songs for him.