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The celebrated roles of Pradeep Kumar: Death anniversary special

On the actor’s 16th death anniversary today (27 October), we remember some of his well-known performances and characters from films like Anarkali (1953) and Taj Mahal (1963).

Sonal Pandya

A leading romantic hero of the 1950s, Pradeep Kumar cut a dashing figure in the black and white era. He was paired opposite top heroines of the age, from Meena Kumari to Nargis.

But Pradeep Kumar began his career in films as an assistant cameraman at the age of 19 at Aurora Studios in Calcutta. Watching the actors on the sets, he was keen to begin acting himself.

He got his chance through filmmaker Debaki Bose and was chosen for his films Krishna Leela (1946) and Alaknanda (1947), where he was credited as Sital Batabyal, his original name.

Pradeep Kumar moved from Calcutta to Bombay and got his first Hindi film, Anand Math (1952), from Sashadhar Mukherjee's Filmistan. His co-stars were Prithviraj Kapoor and Geeta Bali. Thereon, Pradeep Kumar worked steadily in the film industry until the 1990s.

Pradeep Kumar was often cast as a royal in a number of period dramas and romances. He also attempted noir and sci-films in Detective (1958) and Wahan Ke Log (1967), respectively, and moved to paternal roles in the latter part of his career. He died on 27 October 2001.

Here are some of his notable film roles.

1. Anarkali (1953)

Before Dilip Kumar’s iconic turn as Salim in Mughal-e-Azam (1960), it was Pradeep Kumar who played the rebellious son of the Mughal emperor Akbar (Mubarak). Salim falls in love with the beauteous Anarkali (Bina Rai), a court dancer, and defies his powerful father. The film, directed by Nandlal Jaswantlal, showed the romance between a royal and a commoner. Anarkali was one of the top films of the year with the chartbusting music of C Ramchandra which produced such classic hits as ‘Ye Zindagi Usiki Hai’ sung by Lata Mangeshkar. Based on the strength of his regal turn in Anarkali, Pradeep Kumar was cast again in other period films like Shirin Farhad (1955) and Raj Hath (1956).

2. Nagin (1954)

Impressed by his role as Shahzada Salim, director Nandlal Jaswantlal cast Pradeep Kumar in his next film, the fantasy love story Nagin (1954). Pradeep Kumar (as Sanatan) and Vyjayanthimala (as Mala) play the children of two warring Adivasi tribal chiefs who fall in love. The two overcome their combative parents and a persistent suitor in Prabir (Jeevan) who wants Mala’s hand in marriage. Once again, Nagin’s music captured the fancy of listeners like Anarkali. Hemant Kumar’s unique compositions from ‘Man Dole Mera Tan Dole’ to ‘Mera Dil Ye Pukare Aaja’ were hits.

3. Ghunghat (1960)

An adaptation of Rabindranath Tagore's Noukadubi by director Ramanand Sagar, the multi-starrer Ghunghat (1960) also featured Bharat Bhushan, Leela Chitnis, Bina Rai and Asha Parekh. Pradeep Kumar, as a supporting hero, was cast opposite the much-younger Parekh in the film, but it was his Anarkali co-star Bina Rai who received the Filmfare award for best actress. Like most of his hit films, the score by Ravi was memorable with songs like ‘Laage Na Mora Jiya’ and ‘Mori Chham Chham Baaje Payaliya’.

4. Aarti (1962)

In the melodramatic Aarti (1962), Pradeep Kumar, as Deepak, saves the already engaged Aarti (Meena Kumari) from drowning and wins her away from her fiancé, Prakash (Ashok Kumar). But even after Deepak and Aarti are married, Prakash continues to wreak havoc in their lives. As the earnest Deepak, Pradeep Kumar provided good contrast towards his rival Prakash’s manipulative ways. Pradeep Kumar often acted in love triangles with co-star Ashok Kumar in films like Rakhi (1962), Meri Surat Teri Ankhen (1963) and Bheegi Raat (1965) and frequently appeared with Meena Kumari as well.

5. Taj Mahal (1963)

Pradeep Kumar and Bina Rai stepped back into period costumes with M Sadiq’s Taj Mahal (1963), but this time they were seen in resplendent colour in another historical love story. Pradeep Kumar, once again playing a regal prince, was Khurram (later Shahjahan) who falls for Bina Rai’s Arjumand (later Mumtaz Mahal). As they make plans for their future, courtiers around them want the couple separated. Roshan’s Filmfare award-winning score from ‘Jo Wada Kiya Wo’ to ‘Jo Baat Tujh Mein Hai’ were more in demand than the actual film.

6. Chitralekha (1964)

The trio from Aarti (1962) —  Pradeep Kumar, Meena Kumari and Ashok Kumar — reunited for Kidar Sharma’s Chitralekha (1964). The film was a remake of Sharma’s own hit which was released in 1941. Critics and audiences felt the artistes were miscast in their role. Pradeep Kumar as the Mauryan commander-in-chief Aryaputr Samant Bijgupt is captivated by court dancer Chitralekha (Meena Kumari), but external forces, including yogi Kumargiri (Ashok Kumar), strive to keep them apart. However, the cast, especially Pradeep Kumar and Meena Kumari, committed to their roles and tried to bring the director’s vision alive.

7. Sambandh (1969)

After many of his films as leading man failed at the box office, Pradeep Kumar moved into character roles with Sambandh (1969) directed by Ajay Bishwas. He played a dissolute patriarch who abandons his wife and young son Manav to go to Calcutta. Years later, his son Manav (Deb Mukherji) grows up and reconnects with his father and mother for a short and tragic reunion.

8. Khatta Meetha (1978)

In the Indian remake of the Hollywood film Yours, Mine And Ours (1968), Basu Chatterjee’s Khatta Meetha put the spotlight on Bombay's Parsi community and showed a widower Homi (Ashok Kumar) and widow Nargis (Pearl Padamsee), both with children of their own, planning to marry. Pradeep Kumar played the disapproving father of Zarine (Bindiya Goswami), the young woman who loves Nargis’s son Firoze (Rakesh Roshan).