MUMBAI: 92 years old – that was Pran’s age when he passed away last night at Lilavati Hospital after a prolonged illness. Even in his old age, he fought death till the end, one would say just like his characters in Hindi films.
Pran Krishan Sikhand was born in Delhi in a British India, in 1920, and it was only twenty-one years later, in 1941, that Pran was seen in his first film. A Punjabi film called ‘Yamla Jat’ lead to many more roles in other Punjabi films, and eventually his first role in a Hindi film called ‘Khandaan’ in 1942.
All these films were shot in Lahore, in pre-independence India. In 1947, after the Partition, Pran left Pakistan to arrive in then-Bombay, but roles were not easy to come by. With the help of writer Saadat Hasan Manto, Pran finally got a role in a Bombay Talkies’ film ‘Ziddi’ which also starred Dev Anand. ‘Ziddi’ turned out to be the fortune-maker for both Dev Anand and Pran and there was no looking back for both of them.
Pran may be known more for his villainous roles. Who can forget Sher Khan from ‘Zanjeer’, or Jasjit from ‘Don’? But initially, Pran played the romantic hero. In the forties, and to an extent in the fifties too, Pran was known as the hero on screen, who would romance various women, not as the villain who’d take away women from the leading men.
The turning point in Pran’s life was 1960’s ‘Upkar’, directed by Manoj Kumar. Playing a war-veteran, it was one of Pran’s most critically acclaimed role with him getting his first Filmfare Award. From then on, Pran looked to acting in more character roles, and Manoj Kumar too casted him in such roles in films like the iconic ‘Purab Aur Paschim’ and ‘Be-Inaam’.
His popularity did not fade, even though he took to, sometimes smaller, character roles. For some time in the industry, Pran was the highest-paid actor even against lead actors like Vinod Khanna, Amitabh Bachchan, Shatrughan Sinha and Rishi Kapoor. Pran was also the reason why Amitabh Bachchan is perhaps huge in Bollywood today as it was he who recommended Amitabh’s name to producer Prakash Mehra for ‘Zanjeer’.
But it was anyway Pran himself, who took the spotlight over himself in Zanjeer. The Pathani style, the red hair and beard and the song ‘Yaari Hai Imaan Mera’ made Pran’s Sher Khan an all-time classic.
Pran was also known for his acting partners. Dev Anand was his partner from the time of his birth in the industry, going till the seventies in films like ‘Johny Mera Naam’ and ‘Des Pardes’. Then there was Ashok Kumar, with whom he acted in 27 films together, including ‘Victoria No. 203’. They were also close friends in real-life.
Pran and Rajesh Khanna too acted together in quite a few iconic films, including ‘Aurat’ and ‘Jaanwar’.
His relationship with Amitabh Bachchan, though, is the most well-known one. Acting in films like ‘Zanjeer’, ‘Don’ and ‘Amar Akbar Anthony’ strengthened their bond, and even after Pran took a temporary leave from films in the nineties, he still made exceptions for him in the Amitabh Bachchan-produced ‘Tere Mere Sapne’ and ‘Mrityudata’.
Post-‘Mrityudata’, his roles in Bollywood films were confined to guest appearances as his health started taking a toll. Even before his death, he had been admitted to the hospital many times. This led to him missing out on the National Awards in May 2013, where he was to receive the Dadasaheb Phalke Award. He had also received the Padma Bhushan, India’s third-highest civilian award in 2001.
Pran sahab, as he was called lovingly, will be missed. Rest in peace, Barkhurdar.