He played such familiar villains as the evil landowner in 1958’s “Madhumati,” who caused the titular heroine to leap to her death, and the bandit in 1960’s “Jis desh mein Ganga behati hai.”
He was so realistically bad that many Indians assumed he was so in real life too. The actor was aware of this and in 1971’s “Guddi,” set in the world of Bombay cinema, he played himself and was shown as a charming man who gives the watch off his wrist just because a co-star likes it.
Pran played other characters too, most famously essaying a comic role in “Victoria No. 203” as one of two cabbies who witness a murder.
Born Pran Krishan Shikand in a landowning family in Old Delhi, he was discovered in a shop chewing betel leaves and persuaded to play a villain in Punjabi pic “Yamla Jat” in 1940. His family didn’t like his excursion into films, but after acting in a dozen Punjabi films he set off for Bombay anyway during the Partition of India in 1947.
In more than 350 films spanning over five decades he played not only the villains but also the lead (“Khandaan,” 1942) and noble characters as in 1967’s “Upkar” and 1973’s “Zanjeer.”
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Pran was an integral part of Hindi blockbusters from “Madhumati” to “Don,” holding his own opposite top stars of the ’50s like Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor and Dev Anand as well as 1970s stars like Manoj Kumar, Amitabh Bachchan and Jaya Bhaduri.
Unlike most Bollywood stars, he didn’t usually sing and dance although there were exceptions in “Upkar” and “Zanjeer” when songs were picturized on him.
In Bunny Reuben’s biography “… and Pran,” the actor says, “I constantly thought of, and incorporated, mannerisms into every new character I was to depict in each of the films I had signed. I also had to have a new voice, new make-up, new gait, I did not want to repeat my actions.”
His last outing was in 2007’s “Dosh.”
Winner of several Indian awards from Filmfare magazine, he was given the Padma Bhushan, one of the Indian government’s top laurels in 2001, as well as the Dada Saheb Phalke Award in May.
Survivors include his wife, Shukla Shikand, and three children.