When ‘Millennium Villain’ Pran Shocked Audiences As He Played A Noble Soul In Manoj Kumar’s Upkar
It was once said that mothers would not name their newborn sons Pran lest they turn out to be the villain on screen. Still known as the quintessential villain of hindi cinema, Pran’s name became synonymous with a villain in movies from the 1950s through the 1980s. So much so that when he was dubbed “villain of the millennium” by a popular film magazine in the year 2000, he kissed him happily. The aura of his personality was such that audiences knew that if Pran was in the movie, he would do no good, so when he played a positive role for a change, audiences were stunned.
This first happened in 1967 when Pran played a rather positive role in Manoj Kumar’s Upkar. Based on Lal Bahadur Shastri’s slogan “Jai Jawan Jai Kisan”, Upkar was a propaganda film that highlighted the sacrifices of farmers and soldiers and their role in nation building. This was shortly after the 1965 Indo-Pakistani War and Shastri’s death in 1966. The country needed something to rally behind and Upkar fit the bill. Here, Pran played Mangal chacha, the confidante and moral compass of Bharat (Manoj Kumar), who is his guiding light. Audiences watching today may not understand the importance of Pran playing this role, but at the time, it was the most unexpected role he could have played, and yet audiences loved for it.
With movies like Madhumati, Jis Desh Men Ganga Behti Hai, Kashmir Ki Kali among many others, Pran had established himself as the go-to villain. Pran was well aware of the power of his on-screen name, so even in the credits his name would appear at the end of the cast list as “…and Pran” in large bold print so the audience would know what was waiting for them.
In Upkar, we see Pran singing “Kasme vaade pyaar wafa sab…” and sympathizing with the man who may have been deceived by society a few times. As he sings the line ‘Duniya vale tera ban ke, tera hi dil todenge…’, you understand his cynicism, but appreciate how he supports Bharat despite his personal reservations. His fight for Bharat against the evil Charandas (played by Madan Puri) to the end was something Pran had never done on screen before.
Upkar isn’t exactly a movie that would connect with an audience in 2022. It’s over the top, and every emotion is dialed in to the max, but it’s completely obvious why a movie like this would work then. The closest analogy we have to that today is the kind of Akshay Kumar patriotism that works for the larger population of moviegoers.
In his later years, Pran played many roles that could not simply be categorized as good or evil – like Zanjeer, Amar Akbar Anthony, Don among others. In fact, his appearance in Hrishikesh Mukherjee’ Guddi, which was a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the world of cinema, gave audiences a taste of the difference between his reel and his real self.
Upkar was a big step in the life of an actor who would eventually be known as the greatest villain of all time in Hindi cinema, and his legacy is stronger thanks to characters like Mangal chacha who disrupted the expectations of the cinephile audience.
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