The real gentleman


April, 1998… Pran Krishan Sikand, who was recuperating from a heart attack, looked frail and frightened after his first visit to a hospital.

He fretted about having committed dates to Priyadarshan, a man he’d yet to see, for a film for which he had taken an advance. “I’ve assured Priyadarshan that I won’t leave this world without doing at least one film with him,” he asserted.

In a career spanning over six decades, the Padma Bhushan awardee and Dadasaheb Phalke Award winner appeared in over 350 films. And he left the world only 15 years later, on July 12, 2013, at the age of 93.

Quintessential bad man

Pran’s reel life journey started with a ‘bad man’ role in a Punjabi film, Yamla Jat (1940), an offer that he almost passed up because he thought the stranger who’d introduced himself as Wali Mohammed Wali one late night in Lahore was inebriated when he’d offered him a role in the movie he was scripting. “So, instead of wasting my time rushing off to a studio, I just dashed off to my photography shop as usual the next morning,” he reminisced.

But destiny wanted Pran in front of the camera, not behind it. So, the following Saturday, he bumped into Wali again at Plaza theatre and got an earful. This time Wali insisted on taking his address and arrived the next morning to cart him off to the studio to meet his boss Dalsukh M Pancholi. “I was signed on a salary of Rs 30 and was free to work in my shop if I didn’t have a shoot,” he revealed.

Had the Partition not happened, Pran might have made Lahore his home, having done 22 films there from 1942-46. But in 1947, frightened by the communal tensions, he sent his wife and son to Indore. As his son’s first birthday neared, his wife insisted he join them or she’d cancel the celebrations.

So, with just a small suitcase he reached Indore on August 11. The next day there was bloodshed in Lahore and he never went back. Instead, he moved to Mumbai and after five jobless months, bagged four films — Ziddi, Apradhi, Grahasti and Putli — in a week and never looked back. With films like Madumati, Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai and Dil Diya Dard Liya, he became the man everyone loved to hate.

According to a survey done in UP, Punjab and Maharashtra, not a single school or college-going student was named Pran. “That’s understandable. You wouldn’t want to call your child Raavan, would you?” he laughed.

It didn’t bother him till his own daughter one day asked him why he couldn’t do some decent roles for a change. The ‘change’ happened with Upkar. When Manoj Kumar, who had earlier given him the role of a Kahar Singh in the patriotic Shaheed, returned with another ‘different’ offer, Pran grabbed it.

Before Upkar’s release, Pran was greeted with hoots of “badmash”. After the film released, he arrived at Om Prakash’s daughter’s wedding to discover he had to walk 400 metres to the mandap. Expecting to be torn apart, he stepped out of his car gingerly and was surprised by the deafening silence. Someone whispered, “Give Malang chacha some space,” and respectfully, the crowd parted. Bad had turned good.

Image makeover

That’s how it was for the next 40 years, as Pran made his mark in positive character roles, including that of Sher Khan. During the filming of Zanjeer, Pran was the star and when Amitabh Bachchan arrived at the film’s premiere in Kolkata, he was greeted by angry crowds who wanted to see their ‘hero’ Pran. “The next morning, they had a new hero and never again did the janta ask him, ‘Where’s our hero?’” Pran smiled.

However, even today, Zanjeer is remembered as much for its angry, young Inspector Vijay as it is for his Pathan dost (friend) Sher Khan and their qawwali, Yaari hai imaan mera. Four decades later, 27-year-old Ram Charan, who has stepped into Bachchan’s shoes in he Zanjeer remake, still remembers the scene where Sher Khan visits the police station and Vijay kicks the chair over.

Early this year, during a conversation with Sanjay Dutt during the shoot of Policegiri in Hyderabad, I wondered how he felt reliving the iconic Sher Khan in the Zanjeer remake. Dutt admitted it was tough measuring up to the standards Pran had set, and the expectations he raised.

Zanjeer opens on September 8 and I know many will remember Pran and ask themselves, “Where’s our hero?”

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