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Music has made him immortal

Pradeep Kumar was not known for his histrionic skills. But his films were super hits. How? V. GANGADHAR analyses in this tribute to the actor who passed away recently.

Pradeep in the the block buster, ``Tum Mere Ho''.

OVER THE past two or three years, I had been attempting to interview Pradeep Kumar, a successful hero in the Hindi films during 1950s and 60s. But he was seldom in Mumbai, preferring to be in Kolkata, undergoing treatment for a number of ailments. 76-year old Pradeep Kumar died Saturday last in a Kolkata nursing home.

How then, does one remember Pradeep Kumar? Great historical characters, talented heroines, wonderful music. And Pradeep Kumar. He was in some of the biggest box office hits in Hindi films, though critics had questioned his own contribution for such successes. From the mid-1960s, Rajendra Kumar came to be known as `Jubilee' Kumar

This mantle would have suited Pradeep Kumar during the earlier decade.

`Anarkali', `Nagin' and `Taj Mahal' were super hits, able to draw audiences when shown on television even today. `Aarti', `Bahu Begum', `Noor Jehan' also did well.

Pradeep Kumar worked in the same era as the great trio of heroes of the Indian screen, Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor and Dev Anand. Ashok Kumar belonged to an earlier generation. Yet Pradeep Kumar could never be bracketed with the top three.

Despite the huge successes of some of his films, he could only be considered as a second line hero, like Bharat Bhushan. The third category of heroes consisted of actors like Mahipal, Trilok Kapoor who excelled in mythological films.

Pradeep Kumar who began his career with a couple of Bengali films before moving over to Bombay was no doubt a `handsome' man, an essential quality among our heroes. But his face was not so mobile and able to express emotions. It was a sort of `passive' handsomeness. He was uneasy in emotional roles.

How then did he become succeessful and remain a hero for nearly 20 years? Pradeep Kumar was lucky to land roles which did not need much of histrionic abilities. Sometimes, he played great characters from history (Prince Salim in

``Anarkali'', Emperor Shah Jahan in "Taj Mahal'', yet another Prince in ``Nagin'') whose roles were more or less ornamental and did not call for much acting talents.

``Anandmath'', one of his early films was a stirring tale of our freedom struggle where historical events mattered more than acting skills. Certain other factors helped to establish Pradeep Kumar. In the world of Hindi cinema, starting from ``Baiju Bawara'' quite a few films turned out to be successful because of their music score. Pradeep Kumar was extraordinarily lucky in this spect. C. Ramchandra ("Anarkali''), Hemant Kumar (``Nagin''), Roshan (``Taj Mahal'') produced music scores which are popular to this day. In ``Nagin'', the music director used a clay violin to create the music from a been, used by the Indian snake charmers. Pradeep Kumar, for the best part of the film which had as many snkas stars, was blowing the been and making the audiences nod in appreciation.

If ``Nagin'' was a musical super hit, so was ``Anarkali''. Lata Mangeshkar was at her musical best, vibing perfectly with her one-time favourite music director C. Ramchandra. Hemant Kumar's rich, languorous voice admirably suited personality of Prince Salim played by Pradeep Kumar. Playing historical characters came easy to him and he carried off roles in ``Noorjehan'', ``Bahu Begum'', ``Rajghat,'' ``Patrani'' and ``Durga Nandini'' with ease. ``Bahu Begum'' and `Noorejehan'' had music scores by the excellent melody-maker, Roshan.

Pradeep Kumar was helped by the fact that leading heroines were prepared to work with him, in the process, stealing the acting honours from the hero.

That, of course, did not call for much effort! Meena Kumari starred with Pradeep in five or six films, so did Vyjayantimala (``Sitara'', ``Anjan'' and so on). He was paired with Nargis in two films, ``Adaalat'' and ``Raat aur din''.

The second, where Nargis played a double role, was her last film. The beauteous Madhubala shared honours with him in ``Rajghat'' and Geeta Bali was more lively than he was in ``Anandmath''.

Most of these films were successful at the box office, mainly because of the presence of outstanding heroines and the lilting music scores.

Pradeep Kumar, once out of the heavy costumes and ponderous dialogue of historical films, was a bit uneasy in films with social themes.

But in ``Aarti'', the presence of Meena Kumari and Ashok Kumar as co-stars and a rich music score by Roshan helped and the film became a hit. He tried his hand playing hero in a thriller, ``Police'' but it flopped.

With the advent of a new generation of romantic and action heroes, Pradeep Kumar's luck ran out. There was not much demand for historical films. But he was game enough to continue as a character actor, handling roles of the elder brother, the father and the occasional villain!

Yet, we shall remember Pradeep Kumar's movies mainly for their unforgettable songs.

He may be an ``also ran'' kind of hero, but was important 0during a particular era in Hindi films when well made historical films clicked in a big way.

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