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The good bad man

Bollywood is suddenly remembering Pran... in verse.



Amitabh Bachchan releasing the book "... and Pran: A Biography" as Pran looks on.

HE WAS the most wicked man on the Hindi screen, taking villainy to a different, varied height, though in real life was supposedly the epitome of geniality and gentleness both for the home and the outside world. So much so that it is wrongly incurred that so strong was the impact of his evil deeds that "for over three decades after Independence, almost no male child was named Pran. It was no more than a myth perpetuated by the actor's publicists if he ever needed one in his long, successful career span. Indeed, no other character-artiste (with the lone exception of Ashok Kumar) has played such a long innings at the box-office and been hated after every show for at least those three decades after independence." And this is precisely what seasoned biographer, Bunny Reuben has tried to depict by chronicling the life and times of Pran through this meandering, repetitive, laboured work which has the word `sponsorship' pasted on every page. Nothing objectionable if the book had been marketed with that label. Therefore, while lacking in a really in-depth analysis of the man, "... and Pran: A Biography" by Bunny Reuben, published by Harper Collins India, with a foreword by Amitabh Bachchan seeks to portray Pran through his filmography. A wholesome life at that till ill health literally forced him to hang his wigs, and hide the make-up kit away. Unwillingly, one would think considering the picture of the committed, dedicated and disciplined actor that emerges from the long account.

Punjabi beginning

Paradoxically, Pran was a not-too-willing villain when he first applied greasepaint for Dilsukh Pancholi's Punjabi hit Yamala Jat in Lahore while still working at a photo shop in 1940. Partition brought with it the pain and agony of not only physical migration, but a professional one as well. A drought of sorts, the impact of which started to disappear with Bombay Talkies' Ziddi, starring Dev Anand and Kamini Kaushal in 1948. However, by this time Pran had already essayed many roles in at least two dozen films. The wheel of misfortune in the intervening period was to create a lasting impression, and, perhaps, from that came the grist and material for thegreatest negative role performer of the Indian screen. For the records, from 1940 (Yamala Jat with Noorjehan, Anjana, M. Ismail) to 2002 (Tum Jiyo Hazaron Saal co-starring Sandeep Khosla, Raageshwari, Tanuja), Pran has acted in 350 films accounting for as many varied get-ups. Most of them in Hindi. Unfortunately, the genuine appreciation of outstanding work began to trickle in (the book, however, contains a long list of 60 awards, of which are the three Filmfare trophies, only one of which - for his performance in Be-imaan - he declined, for just but controversial reasons) only at the fag end of a satisfying professional journey. Bunny Reuben's 446-page attempt priced at Rs.500 gives the impression that Pran's life has been an open book with no hidden dark chapters to account for.

A good-hearted `gentleman' who perfected the art of playing the `bad man' with great panache! All this seems implausible, but this is the tragedy with all `sponsored' books. Yet the sea of material contained in this hagiography of Pran is worth its weight in rare memorabilia.

SURESH KOHLI

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