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India's Legendary Actor Pran Dies at 93

Pran - P - 2013
Getty Images
Pran Krishan Sikand

The star appeared in more than 350 Hindi movies during a prolific career dating back to the 1940s.

NEW DELHI (AP) -- India's legendary actor Pran, who played some of Bollywood's most memorable villains in a career that spanned six decades, died of pneumonia at a Mumbai hospital Friday, his doctor said. He was 93.

Pran acted in more than 350 Hindi movies in a prolific career dating back to the 1940s. He played a vast range of roles -- hero, villain and character actor -- but was best known for his bad guys, earning the honorific "Villain of the Millennium."

Pran Krishan Sikand, popularly known as Pran, was hospitalized more than two weeks ago at Mumbai's Lilavati Hospital and died Friday, said his doctor, Sanjeev Mehta.

"Indian cinema has lost an icon," tweeted Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

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In May, an ailing Pran was presented with the Dadasaheb Phalke Award, the Indian government's highest honor for cinema, at his Mumbai home by Information and Broadcasting minister Manish Tewari.

Pran also received several other prestigious awards, including Filmfare magazine's Lifetime Achievement Award in 1997 and the "Villain of the Millennium" by Stardust magazine three years later.

Pran began acting as a hero in hit 1940s films like Khandaan (Family) and Aurat (Woman). In a career that lasted into the 1990s, he became most famous for his roles as a villain in movies such as Bari Behen (Elder Sister), Azaad (A Free Man), Jis Desh Men Ganga Behti Hai (A Country Where the Ganges River Flows), Half Ticket, and Johnny Mera Naam (Johnny Is My Name).

Pran is especially remembered for his supporting role as a villain-turned-hero in 1973's smash hit Zanjeer (Shackles). The appeal of Pran, whose menacing eyes made him appear as the most dreaded villain on the Hindi cinema screen, drew audiences to Zanjeer, which helped a young Amitabh Bachchan become India's biggest film star. After reportedly recommending Bachchan for the part, Pran would team with the superstar more than a dozen films.

Tributes streamed over Twitter as fans and film stars remembered their favorite lines and roles by Pran, who overcame his average height to famously stand up to the six-foot-two (1.88-meter) Bachchan in Zanjeer.

Bachchan tweeted: "A gentleman, most collaborative colleague. Another magnificent pillar of the film industry falls."

Pran is survived by his widow, two sons and a daughter. His cremation will take place Saturday in Mumbai, India's financial and entertainment capital, the Press Trust of India news agency said.

The New Delhi-born son of a civil engineer, Pran wanted to become a professional photographer. However, a chance meeting with writer Wali Mohammad Wali in Lahore, now in Pakistan, led to his first role opposite actress Ranjhana in a Punjabi film, Yamla Jat, in 1940. He acted in several films produced in Lahore before shifting to Mumbai after the partition of India in 1947 by British colonialists.

He never wanted to live in Mumbai, but he couldn't return to Lahore after partition, his daughter, Pinky Bhalla, said in an interview with Rediff.com, an Indian portal.

"He had to start all over again, and it was quite a struggle," she said.

Pran persevered, and a year after partition he got a role in Ziddi (Haughty) with Dev Anand and Kamini Kaushal as lead actors.

Pran never looked back. In 1960, he looked every inch a bandit in a beloved portrayal in Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai, a Raj Kapoor film about the mass surrender of bandits.

Pran played a villain in several hit movies opposite Bollywood's top actors, including Kapoor, Dilip Kumar and Dev Anand. He also earned acclaim for roles in smaller Bengali-language films.

He spoke so little about his work at home that his daughter didn't even know he was famous until she was older, Bhalla said.

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Bhalla recalled that her father did not want a party on his 90th birthday three years ago, but the family invited a large number of friends and relatives anyway. Pran relented and was overjoyed to see so many guests, she said in the interview.

"He told my brother, 'Now I will be 100, and then out,'" she said.

Pran possessed a special kind of magic that allowed him to captivate filmgoers as a villain, recalled Bachchan in a foreword to the biography And Pran by film journalist Bunny Reuben.

"Onscreen villainy is a thankless job," Bachchan wrote, "which Pran accepted and carried out with such a degree of perfection that he became the actor the entire nation loved to hate."