It was long overdue. Especially since Pran made the audience shudder with his acting finesse when he played those dyed in the wool villains with arched eyebrows. And the decision to confer the Dadasaheb Phalke award on the nonagenarian actor, though belated, tacitly acknowledges the contribution of on-screen villains to Indian cinema.
The country was simmering with nationalistic fervour in the 40s. It was then that Pran Kishan Sikand, a young man with an aquiline nose and sharp features, played a villain in the film “Yamla Jat.” With box office success came more acting offers. The partition of India in 1947 brought him to Bombay, the mecca of Hindi cinema.
The tectonic shifts in the social milieu in the 50s brought along a new set of villains, dark characters from princely kingdoms and the landed gentry, as seen in films like “Munimji,” “Madhumati” and “Devdas.” Pran had all that was required to portray the oligarchs, thakurs, zamindars and sahukars. Over the next two decades, Pran left an indelible mark in a genre that also saw stalwarts like K N Singh, Madan Puri and Jeevan in their prime. Pran, in his portrayal of the exploitative “sahukar” or the lusty zamindar or the scheming corporate who orders demolition of slums, avoided hamming and imparted a natural flavour to on-screen villainy.
Pran effectively emoted the desperation of aristocrats trying to cling on to their halcyon days. Though many of his films were formulaic in format, Pran managed to light up the screen by rendering certain sharpness to the dark plots hatched by the proverbial villains. In the 60s, Pran, by then a numero uno villain in Hindi cinema, began experimenting with roles. He brought in comic elements to negative roles in films like “Half Ticket” and “Kashmir ki Kali,” while playing a cynical, world-weary lawyer in “Gumnaam” with aplomb. The 60s and 70s saw villains morphing into gangsters. Pran, interestingly, switched to character roles. His portrayal of a cynical outsider in the cult film “Upkaar” put his career on a different trajectory altogether. Following the success of “Upkaar,” Pran started playing character roles. In “Zanjeer,” Pran showcased his acting prowess yet again by playing the role of a pathan. The success of the film and his character brought him a slew of roles, each showcasing him as characters from different communities.
However, a deteriorating health forced the stalwart to slowly withdraw from the silver screen, leaving an eager audience wanting for more of his acting might.