Josephine Mull had once said, "Playing Shakespeare is very tiring. You never get to sit down, unless you are a king."
Pradeep Kumar was a fortunate actor. He was the first choice to play prince/king in numerous Hindi films. His talwar-cut moustache, broad shoulders, receding-into-his-temples coiffure, peaches-and-honey complexion, and regal bearing made him fit the role of an amorous aristocrat like a made-to-order crown.
Pradeep was the kind who could smoke a hookah with the same élan as while puffing State Express cigarettes when he played the modern lover.
Born to orthodox brahmin parents in West Bengal, Pradeep bided his time till he was 17 years old before he announced his decision to pursue an acting career. Despite his father's disapproval, Pradeep began acting on stage. During one of his performances, renowned filmmaker Debaki Bose spotted him and cast him in a Bengali film, Alaknanda (1947).
Pradeep Kumar's famous songs
Zindagi pyar ki do char
Aa neel gagan tale
Lata Mangeshkar, Hemant Kumar
Tere dwar khada ek jogi
Yeh vaada karo chaand
Mohammad Rafi, Lata Mangeshkar
Zameen se hume aasman
Mohammad Rafi, Asha Bhosle
Mujhko tum jo mil gaye
Hemant Kumar, Geeta Dutt
Yeh kissne geet chheda
Meri Surat Teri Aankhen
Mukesh, Suman Kalyanpur
Ab kya misaal doon
Jo vaada kiya
Mohammad Rafi, Lata Mangeshkar
Dil jo na keh saka
|Jis dil mein basa tha||Saheli||Mukesh|
|Hum intezaar karenge||Bahu Begum||Mohammad Rafi|
Raat aur din deeya jale
Raat Aur Din
Encouraged, Pradeep moved to Mumbai and found a job in the bustling Filmistan Studio. He brushed up on his Hindi and learnt Urdu in a bid to make an impression in his first Hindi film, Anand Math (1952). The film, set in the 18th century, had strong nationalistic overtones and co-starred Prithviraj Kapoor and Geeta Bali. The Vande Mataram number from this film became a cult success.
In the next two years, Pradeep's career escalated to the top with two hugely successful musical hits -- the Bina Rai-starrer Anarkali (1953) and the Vyjayanthimala-starrer Nagin (1954). While Anarkali revolved around the eternally popular legend of Mughal prince Salim's passionate affair with a commoner Anarkali, Nagin was a reed-slim romance between two lovers belonging to rival snake-catching tribes.
The songs of both films (Nagin had as many as 12) had audiences transfixed. Pradeep's lessons in fencing for Anarkali and his gamble of letting a python play on his wrist for Nagin paid off.
Pradeep's regal demeanour won him legions of fans. He went on a signing spree (in 1956, he had 10 releases) and inked deals with V Shantaram (Subah Ka Tara) and Raj Kapoor (Jagte Raho).
All the top-notch heroines of the 1950s -- Nimmi (Jayshree), Nargis (Adalat), Nutan (Heer), Meena Kumari (Bandhan) -- were paired with Pradeep.
After Rajhath (1956), the actor tried desperately to make a hit pair with the beauteous Madhubala. They did as many as five other films together --- Yahudi Ki Ladki (1957), Gateway Of India (1957), Police (1958), Mahlon Ke Khwaab (1960) and Passport (1961), but Pradeep's efforts were in vain.
His films with lucky mascot Vyjayanthimala (including his home production Ek Jhalak) did not enjoy even a fraction of the success of Nagin. But his pairing with Bina Rai seemed to have stilled the wings of time. This teaming salvaged Pradeep's career from the late-1950s dip, first with Ghunghat (1960) and more decisively with Taj Mahal (1963). Even a decade after Anarkali, Pradeep could evoke a regal aura while playing love-struck Mughal royalty. Roshan's dulcet duet, Paon chhu lene do toh and Jo vaada kiya from Taj Mahal, like an unforgettable promise, continue to haunt radio listeners even today.
Pradeep's career got a further fillip with Rajshri's social, Aarti. Meena Kumari and Pradeep played lovers who bond together because of their common desire to serve the poor. But their love story comes under a cloud when a rich, unscrupulous doctor (played by the late Ashok Kumar) is irretrievably drawn towards Meena Kumari. Aarti's success ensured that Pradeep and Meena worked unceasingly in a series of films. Pradeep once said, "Meena and I made a fine pair and worked very well together, but her husband did not like our friendship."
Pradeep Kumar's landmark films
|1963||Taj Mahal||Bina Rai|
|1965||Bheegi Raat||Meena Kumari|
The first Meena-Pradeep film to release on the heels of Aarti was Kidar Sharma's Chitralekha (1964). Pradeep played the hedonistic Samanta Beejgupta in this period film set in the Gupta period. Despite lavish production values, the stolid support of veteran Ashok Kumar and exquisite penmanship by Sharma and Sahir, the film collapsed at the box office. Kalidas's love triangle Bheegi Raat, which featured the tried triangle of Ashok Kumar, Meena Kumari and Pradeep once again, was an average success. But M Sadiq's Muslim socials Bahu Begum (Ashok Kumar again) and Noorjehan, both released in the same year, spelt the death knell for the team.
Pradeep, who had not signed a single film with the new breed of successful heroines of the 1960s like Sadhana, Saira Banu and Sharmila Tagore, suddenly found himself without a rudder.
In 1969, Pradeep saw a glimpse of success once again with Sambandh, albeit in a character role. Ironically, Ajoy Biswas, the director of Sambandh, who had provided him with a short burst of fame, caused him a lot of heartburn too. Biswas had a short-lived and unhappy marriage with Pradeep Kumar's actress daughter, Bina.
Pradeep's princely persona and impeccable Urdu was relegated to the pages of history for the next decade and more. But the onscreen prince was destined to play an emperor in Kamal Amrohi's Razia Sultan (1983).
The semi-retired Pradeep played the emperor as only he could -- forcefully. After all, he had played blue-blooded characters all his life. He lived a life removed from the spotlight for the next 18 years and died a quiet death on October 28, 2001, at the age of 76.