Bollywood's iconic villain falls silent

Bollywood's iconic villain falls silent

The demise of legendary actor Pran, a synonym for on-screen villainy blowing smoke-rings with arched eye-brows, brings down the curtains on an actor who strode and ruled the screen for over six decades.

The forties was when the country was simmering with nationalistic fervour. Pran Krishan Sikand, a young man with an aquiline nose and sharp features of a villainous Englishman or Brown Sahib, fitted the bill of a villain in the film “Yamla Jat.”

Most of the movies revolved around nationalistic themes and box office success brought him offers. However, partition brought him to the mecca of Hindi cinema, Bombay.

The fifties were the period with tectonic shifts in the social milieu and old Englishman villains paved way for new screen villains. These dark characters came from princely kingdoms and landed gentry in films like “Munimji”, “Madhumati” and “Devdas”.

The Dadasaheb Palke awardee had the looks required to play the role of thakurs, zamindars and sahukars, and the period finally gave him an identity that was to remain as his fiefdom for the next two decades.

Possibly his early travels across the country due to his father’s frequent transfers, soaked his sub-conscious with different social mosaic and people who inhabited these structures.

From the role of an exploitative sahukar, to the irrational daemonic carnal explosions of thakurs or zamindars, to the urbane scheming corporate honcho ordering the razing down of slum dwellers, Pran assiduously avoided hamming and brought a naturalistic elan to negativity on screen.

This was the period that also saw the fading away of the princely states and the rage of the erstwhile aristocracy at the waning of their power. Pran, with his steely gaze, effectively emoted the desperation of this aristocratic class.

Sixties saw several character actors over the hill veering towards negative roles, but Pran by then the numero uno villain in Hindi cinema, began experimenting.

And for the first time, even if he was tweaking his eye-brows menacingly on screen in most of the formula films with a whip in his hand, in “Ram aur Shyam,” Pran began introducing comic elements to negative roles in “Half Ticket,” “Kashmir ki Kali” on the one hand, and a cynical world-weary always-drunk lawyer in “Gumnaam” on the other.

The sixties and seventies also saw villains slowly morphing into gangsters and urban mafia dons.

Pran, interestingly switched to character roles. His role of a cynical outsider in cult film “Upkaar” put his career into a different lane altogether. Following the success, Pran began toying with different character roles, and “Zanjeer” showcased his acting prowess by playing the role of a Pathan.

The roles which he assayed went up to the end of the millenium when he started refusing offers on health grounds. Despite this, filmmakers and producers continued to make a bee-line requesting a cameo, possibly because at one time the cast on the screen used to end with “and Pran.”

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