If there ever was a villain I always felt like rooting for, it was Pran. I could never really watch him being bashed up by the hero, even if that hero was Amitabh Bacchan. I am not sure if that's a good thing to say of an actor who strives to live the part, but was I glad when Pran slipped into character roles in the latter part of his career. But, who can hate a man with a face and forbearance that exudes quiet dignity and sheer refinement? Or forget performances like the one in Zanzeer to that ode to friendship 'Yaari hain imaan mera yaar Meri zindagi'!
Born Pran Krishan Sikand in Old Delhi's Ballimaran, an address that has been home to our very own Ghalib, a young Pran knew no want. He was born into a wealthy Punjabi family and his father was a civil engineer contracted by the Government. His father’s job took the family all around the country on a transferable job and a young Pran in and out of various schools. On completing his matriculation, Pran set out as an apprentice to pursue a career in photography. And, so he bagged his very first role in theatre; the stage - a local performance of Ramleela in Shimla, the role - Sita. His Ram was played by Madan Puri, an accomplished actor of later years and brother of the famous Amrish Puri.
It was an auspicious start to an illustrious career.
His first role on the silver screen was that of a villain in a Punjabi film ‘Yamla Jat’ in 1940. It was two more years before he got to play a romantic hero in his first Hindi film, ‘Khandaan’. Noor Jehan who was a child artist in ‘Yamla Jat’ was his heroine in his Hindi debut.
Between 1942-1946, Pran acted in 20 odd films based out of Lahore. These were released by 1947 and he saw great success with most of them becoming box office hits. Then came the partition and with it his career took a turn, albeit after a lull. The hero of the pre-partition era turned into the 'villain of the millennium' in post independence India. This would indeed be a title awarded to him later at the turn of the millennium!
It must be noted that Pran was cast as a foil and rival to young heroes like Shammi Kapoor, Dharmendra and Joy Mukherjee, even though by their time he was in his 40s. A trim and fit 40, unlike many of his heroes!
By the 1950s Pran's star value saw him being cast in a variety of roles and his being sort after by directors like IS Johar, Kalidas, Shakhti Samanta, Bimal Roy- a veritable club of Bollywood who's who. His craft kept him in the business through the 60s and 70s, even when younger stars from Rajendra Kumar to Dilip Kumar were being criticized for their unfit physique and jaded performances.
This was also the period when Pran, the villain experimented with his funny bone and added a vein of comedy to his negative roles. And this slowly lead to Pran reinventing himself as a character actor. What a master stroke it was, in a career that spanned more than 4 decades!
However, legend goes that by the late 70s most of Hindi filmdom could not afford his price. So, the offers started dwindling and the roles became select.
By the 90s, the veteran actor was physically unable to work long hours and began opting out of work. The only time he relaxed this decision was to help the flagging business of friend and colleague Amitabh Bacchan, by acting in his home production ‘Tere Mere Sapne’.
Awards and accolades always followed him and he had no dearth of acknowledgement. From national awards to lifetime achievement awards, he probably has one of every conceived award on his shelf.
He was known to be a gentleman and an artiste.
Pran Krishan Sikand passed away after a prolonged illness and an illustrious career on 12th July 2013, in Mumbai.