Character may almost be called the most effective means of persuasion.
It’s tough not being the hero. Ask Pran Sikand. The iconic Hindi film actor raised villainy to a high art over hundreds of films, practically monopolising that job. Pran lied, cheated, murdered, raped and stole in countless craftily-performed roles. His screen presence and grating voice filled film-goers with such terror, the name ‘Pran’ became synonymous with evil. As with Osama post 9/11, people stopped naming their new-borns after the actor.
Pran was a brilliant character artist and a consummate professional. With no apologies to the talented Aamir Khan, Pran is the original perfectionist in Hindi cinema. He would spend days with art directors and make-up artists — usually over scotch and cigarettes — going over granular details of his role, costumes, wigs and make-up.
Then he would go beyond the garb and find subtle mannerisms to sharpen his villainy. In Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai , he played a dreaded dacoit, Raaka, who constantly rubbed a finger across his throat, bringing out his deep-seated fear of the noose.
Whatever the complexities and challenges of a role, film-makers were confident that Pran could prepare well and pull it off. Most times, he did. He was safe as a government bond.
For this, Pran was often abused in public by people who thought him to be a real-life bad man. Some of his female co-stars feared for their modesty around him. This is unfortunate since Pran in real life is said to be everything a villain is not — an impeccably-mannered gentleman, loyal friend, courteous to his fans, never one to impose his views, and criminally modest despite his phenomenal success.
This brings us to Rahul Dravid. On Friday, he retires his blue jersey. Like Pran, Dravid is cricket's quintessential character artist. His career has thrown complex challenges at him. He had to take on roles others didn't dare to. This often meant making fundamental changes to his game, and leaving his comfort zone.
Each time, he has simply rolled up his sleeves and got down to work. Score quickly? No problem. Bat all day? No problem. Keep wickets? No problem. Bowl a few overs? No problem. Open the batting? No problem. If all else fails, go to Dravid.
Commitment To The Cause
The phase where Dravid kept wickets is particularly praiseworthy. The likes of Gilchrist and Sangakkara had made big-scoring wicket-keepers fashionable at the time, and India didn't have one.
Wicket-keeping is a physically draining job. But Dravid took it on. He didn't like it, but he did it for the team. He also sacrificed his No. 3 slot, thus giving up the possibility of making big scores. All for the team.
The results, however, were tremendous. In the 66 ODIs he was India's first-choice keeper, Dravid made 1974 runs at 42.91, nearly three points more than his overall average. His keeping itself tended to be safe, occasionally spectacular, and rarely bad. In that period of three years, he averaged better than Gilchrist, Sangakkara, Boucher, Stewart — even Flower.
Dravid pulled this off by practising harder and becoming fitter. His keeping skills improved, his batting went off the charts. He shed the slow-scorer label, becoming one of the finest finishers in the game — something he remained till the time of his unfortunate axing. For his commitment to the team, he deserved better treatment.
Commitment is something the film industry associates with Pran. He researched his roles thoroughly, never arrived late for work, and didn't leave the sets no matter how arduous the shot. There's an incident which helps us understand this.
On the sets of a film, one day Pran seemed unusually reserved and in low spirits. But he went on about his work and wrapped up the shot. At the end of the day, he was asked what was bothering him. Pran revealed he was disturbed since a sibling had passed away that day. Not minding his loss, he had turned up for work because taking leave would have resulted in losses for the producer.
Then there was Pran's discomfort for song-and-dance sequences. Zanjeer  was a landmark film in Indian cinema. The director-producer of the film, Prakash Mehra, was in a fix. Stars like Raaj Kumar and Dharmendra had refused the film and his financers were about to back out because Mehra had cast the unheralded Amitabh Bachchan as hero.
It all came down to the muhurat shot — which happened to be the famous song Yaari Hai Imaan song. Pran played a pathan, Sher Khan. Despite his apprehensions — and an injured hip — Pran sang and danced with vigour and a hanky in each hand. Yaari Hai Imaan became one of the highlights of the film, and the film one of the highlights of the 1970s.
You could equate Pran's discomfort with dancing and Dravid's with scoring quickly — both hold great entertainment value. His lowest moment as a batsman may have been that game in Mumbai against Bangladesh, where he made 1 run in 21 balls and walked off to boos.
People wondered if his dour defending would give way to attacking stroke-play. In no time, it did. The next year, he would make 1761 runs in ODIs, with destructive innings like the ones in Taunton in the World Cup, and in Hyderabad against New Zealand. No batsman has made more than 1600 in a year since.
Despite these tall feats, Pran and Dravid have rarely had the spotlight on themselves. Pran, a first-rate supporting actor, set the mood for heroes like Amitabh to steal the show. Dravid's career, too, is on similar lines. He sets up the story, but somebody else delivers the climax. Even his biggest knocks — Taunton and Hyderabad — were put in the shade by Ganguly and Tendulkar.
But there are those who who fancy old-fashioned ideas like hard-work, ethical behaviour, principles, being well-mannered, showing up on time, and committing till the end. To them, Pran and Dravid will be the heroes, the nice guys who came first.