villains of Hindi cinema, he appeared in over 350 films in his life. A look at Pran's life over the span of years:
First stint with films
His career initially started with a chance meeting with the writer, Wali Mohammad Wali, who worked for Dalsukh Pancholi in Lahore in the forties.
It led to Pran getting his first role as a villain in Dalsukh Pancholi’s Punjabi film Yamla Jat (1940), which proved to be a big hit that year.
Later he worked in other films like Chaudhary and Khajanchi, following which Pancholi cast him in Khandaan in 1942. It was the first Hindi movie in which Pran became a hero, opposite Noor Jehan, who had earlier acted with him as a child artist.
After having acted in 22 films as the lead hero from 1942-46 in Lahore, his career hit a dead-end of sorts due to the partition in 1947.
After moving to Bombay he got a role in Bombay Talkies’ Ziddi, in which he worked along Dev Anand and Kamini Kaushal. Within a week of Ziddi’s success, he signed three more films, Grihasti, Apradhi and Wali Mohammad’s Putli.
Post-independence, Pran's first successful film was Badi Behan (1949).
In the 1950s and 60s he was regularly offered the role of the main villain or a negative character in films with Dilip Kumar, Dev Anand and Raj Kapoor as lead heroes.
He worked in several Bollywood biggies of the time like Azaad, Madhumati, Devdas, Dil Diya Dard Liya, Ram Aur Shyam, Ziddi (1948), Munimji (1955), Jab Pyar Kisise Hota Hai (1961), Chori Chori, Jagte Raho, Chhalia and Jis Desh Men Ganga Behti Hai.
At the same time, movies with him as a lead hero were hits too.
He proved his versatility in the 50s by playing the swashbuckling pirate in Sindbad the Sailor (1952) and Daughter of Sindbad (1958).
Besides, he also worked in action thrillers like Azad (1955), historicals such as Aan (1952) and Raj Tilak (1958), movies themed on social issues such as Baradari (1955) and light romances like Munimji (1955) and Asha (1957).
The big sixties
Interestingly, in the sixties and early seventies, despite him being in his forties, he was always in demand.
He played pivotal roles with Shammi Kapoor, Joy Mukherjee, Rajendra Kumar and Dharmendra.
In this period, Dilip Kumar and Raj Kapoor’s careers as heroes started to decline but Pran’s association with Dev Anand which began in 1948 continued even during the 70s and the 80s with Johny Mera Naam, Yeh Gulistan Hamara, Joshila, Warrant and Des Pardes.
During the late 1960s, with Manoj Kumar’s Upkaar (1967), he turned towards positive roles.
Later, Kumar cast Pran in pivotal roles in his films where Manoj played leading roles like Shaheed, Purab Aur Pachhim, Be-Imaan, Sanyasi, Dus Numbri and Patthar Ke Sanam.
During this period, Pran also acted in a few Bengali films, beginning with Ashim Banerjee’s Sonai Dighe with Joy Mukherjee.
After playing many roles including those of a supporting actor to those of being a lead hero, he reinvented himself as a character actor from being the main villain, like before.
From 1967 till 1997, he became a well-known character actor with films such as Humjoli, Parichay, Aankhon Aankhon Mein, Jheel Ke Us Paar, Zinda Dil, Hatyara, Chor Ho To Aisa, Dhan Daulat, Jaanwar (1983), Raaj Tilak, Bewafai, Imaandaar, Sanam Bewafa, 1942: A Love Story and Tere Mere Sapne.
In the 1970s, Pran was offered the role of a leading man in films like Dharma (1973), Ek Kunwari Ek Kunwara, Jangal Mein Mangal, Rahu Ketu.
Although he is famous as a villain, he always had a significant role in comedy films starring Kishore Kumar and Mehmood Ali in films like Sadhu Aur Shaitaan, Lakhon Me Ek, Naya Andaz, Bewaqoof, Ek Raaz, Jaal Saz, Half Ticket and Man-Mauji.
Seventies, eighties and later...
Pran occasionally accepted the role of a bad man in the 70s, 80s and 90s.
He played villain only in 13 films from 1971 like Maryada, Naya Zamana, Jawan Muhabat, Aan Baan, Yeh Gulistan Hamara, Gaddar, Andhaa Kanoon, Duniya and Insaaf Kaun Karega.
In the late nineties, Pran started rejecting film offers citing age-related problems. But in the nineties, when Amitabh Bachchan was going through a bad patch in his career, he requested Pran to do roles in his home productions Mrityudaata and Tere Mere Sapne.
Pran made an exception for Bachchan by acting in them.
Post 2000, he made a few guest appearances and largely turned into a recluse.
Among filmmakers, Prakash Mehra cast Pran in nine of his directorial ventures including Zanjeer, Jwalamukhi, Sharaabi, Muqaddar Ka Faisla and Jaadugar while Manmohan Desai roped him in for Chhalia, Bluff Master, Dharam Veer, Naseeb, Amar Akbar Anthony.
Later, Subhash Ghai cast him in Vishwanath, Karz and Krodhi.
Some lesser known facts about Pran:
• Pran was academically gifted, especially in mathematics.
• Initially, he wanted to become a professional photographer. So, he joined a lensman in Delhi as an apprentice.
• In 2010, he was named among CNN’s Top 25 Asian actors of all time.
• He also has his own football team, Bombay Dynamos Football Club.
• At the peak of his career in the 1969-1982, he was paid more than his co-stars who played lead hero of the films like Vinod Khanna, Amitabh Bachchan, Shatrughan Sinha, Navin Nishchol, Randhir Kapoor and Rishi Kapoor.
• The only lead hero to be paid much higher than Pran was Rajesh Khanna in the 1970s and 80s and as budget would over-shoot they were not brought together from 1966-1982 in solo lead hero films of Rajesh Khanna.
• He recommended newcomer Amitabh Bachchan to Prakash Mehra for the character of Vijay in Zanjeer, which was earlier, offered to Dev Anand and Dharmendra but was rejected by them.