Prem Adib: The man who symbolised Ram for many devotees

On the actor’s 99th birth anniversary, we look back at his most famous role as Ram in several mythological films from the 1940s and 1950s.

Sonal Pandya

Prem Adib, the actor who shot to fame for playing Lord Ram many times, was born Shiv Prasad Adib on 10 August 1917 to a Kashmiri Pandit family in Awadh, Uttar Pradesh. He landed in Mumbai in the mid-1930s and got his break with a small role in Mohan Sinha’s Romantic India (1936). It was Sinha who gave him his screen name, Prem Adib.

Adib slowly began getting more roles. He was noticed for his work in Minerva Movietone’s Khan Bahadur (1937) and Divorce (1938) with Sohrab Modi. Adib got his first lead role in Industrial India (1938) opposite Shobhana Samarth, who would go on to play Sita to his Ram in the mythological films directed by Vijay Bhatt.

Prem Adib joined Prakash Pictures at a monthly salary of Rs700. The studio was run by Vijay Bhatt and his brother Shankar Bhatt, and stars like Samarth, Durga Khote, Jayant, Ratnamala, Sardar Akhtar and Shirin Banu frequently acted in its films. But it was Bharat Milap (1942) that completely changed things for the actor.

It was in Bharat Milap that Prem Adib played Ram on screen for the first time, but it wouldn’t be the last. He played the lord in eight films from Bharat Milap (1942) to Ram Bhakt Vibhishan (1958).

Filmmaker Vijay Bhatt was known for his faithful adaptations of the Ramayan and he made more films based on the epic with Ram Rajya (1943) and Ram Baan (1948). Despite Bharat Milap focusing on younger brother Bharat and his undying loyalty to the older Ram, Adib and Samarth were idolised for the portrayals of Ram and Sita; their likenesses appeared on calendars and posters all around the country.

Despite his protests to fans not to worship him as Ram, men and women believed Adib's presence would solve their problems and bless their homes. In a Ram temple at Udaipur, an idol was created in the image of his character in Ram Rajya. It is said that Prem Adib gave up non-vegetarian food and cigarette smoking during the filming of Ram Rajya.

Bhatt’s Ram Rajya had the distinction of being the only Indian talkie that Mahatma Gandhi saw. The only other film Gandhi saw was Mission To Moscow (1943), a Hollywood film based on the US ambassador’s experiences in the then Soviet Union.

Gandhi saw Ram Rajya on a Monday, the day he observed a vow of silence, and there are many disputed claims as to what he really thought of it as he wasn’t really fond of the medium. The film completed 100 days at the theatres.

Adib also acted in other popular mythologicals and played Krishna in Subhadra (1946). But he is also remembered for his roles in films like Anokhi Ada (1948) with Naseem Banu, Hamari Manzil (1949) with Nirupa Roy, and Bholi (1949) with Geeta Bali. He also ventured into film production with Prem Adib Pictures and made feature films like Dehaati (1937), Kasam (1947) and Ram Vivah (1949), which he also wrote and directed.

After two successful decades in the film industry, Prem Adib died suddenly of brain haemorrhage on 25 December 1959 after he returned home from a party. A few films like Bhakt Raj (1960) and Angulimala (1960) released after his death.