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Memorable films

KN Singh


Upperstall profile by: Karan Bali aka TheThirdMan

KN Singh was a popular actor and, in fact, the top villain of the Hindi film Industry from the late 1930s till the mid 1950s till he was overtaken by Pran. He was best known for playing exremely sophisticated villains, suited-booted and all.

Krishna Niranjan Singh was born in 1908 in Dehra Dun in a family of lawyers. But KN Singh was not inetrested in law. Particularly, after he saw his father take up the case of a killer and successfully defend him. He toyed with joining the Indian army for a while before a visit to Calcutta to see an ailing sister changed his life forever.

In Calcutta, KN Singh met Prithviraj Kapoor. Prithviraj helped KN Singh with getting started in the film line. Singh met Debaki Bose through Prithviraj and played the role of a doctor in Sunehra Sansar (1936). When a nervous Singh tried running away from the screening of the rushes, Debaki Bose caught him by the hand and told him, "Don't ever run away from things. You have to face facts." Singh's fears were unfounded. His work was much appreciated once the rushes were screen. He was well on his screen journey now.

KN Singh did 4 more films in Calcutta. In Hawai Daku, his second film, for the first and last time in his life he played the hero! He also played roles in the New Theatres films Vidyapati (1937), again being directed by Bose and Anath Ashram (1937) where as the villain he experienced his first 'screen death'. After Milap (1937), in which he did the role of a prosecuting attorney, AR Kardar brought Singh to Bombay. There he did his major breakthough film with Kardar, Baghban (1938). Singh considers Baghban where he played an evil-minded engineer who woos the heroine as his greatest role ever. Recalling the role he once said, "It was a villain's role but not the violence in it was not physical but subtly mental. I didn't have to flex my muscles bur had to do a lot of intellectual gymnastics."

In Bombay, KN Singh stayed at Matunga where good friend Prithviraj also lived as did KL Saigal when he came to Bombay to work at Ranjit Movietone. Singh played a villain to Prithviraj's hero in films like Ek Raat (1942), the directorial debut of WZ Ahmed and Ishara (1943) where he played Prithviraj's stern father even though he was younger than him! Other important films of KN Singh in the 1940s were Jwar Bhata (1944) where Dilip Kumar made his debut, Draupadi (1944) directed by Baburao Patel and starring Sushila Rani Patel where he played Duryodhan, the Nazir - Swarnalata starrer Laila Majnu (1945), Saigal's last film, Parwana (1947) and Raj Kapoo's Barsaat (1949), playing Bholu, a man so ugly that no girl wanted to marry him! Recalling an incident in Laila Majnu where he played Laila's father, he had to slap Nazir playing Majnu. Nazir insisted for the authenticity of the scene he be slapped properly. KN obliged keeping Nazir out of work for two days! Two of KN Singh's best films came in the same year- 1951; Raj Kapoor's Awaara and Guru Dutt's Baazi. Of course, he was the villain in both. Both were urban films looking at the underbelly of the city. But KN Singh's roles were as different as chalk and cheese. In Awaara he played a street thug while he was the sophisticated villain - a respected man who runs a gambling den in Baazi. KN Singh was particularly fond of his role in Baazi, ranking it with the Baghban role. An interesting aside to Awaara is that the film was released and extremely popular in Russia as Bradyaga meaning vagabond. Of all the cast members, it was KN Singh who did his own dubbing in Russian!

By the mid 1950s KN Singh was overtaken by Pran as the premier villain of the Hindi film industry. Still there were films where Singh continued to make his mark as the good old sophisticated villain in films like Milap (1955), Chalti ka Naam Gaadi (1958) and Howrah Bridge (1958). There were also films like Funtoosh (1956), CID (1956), Mehlon ke Khwab (1960) and Chhabili (1960) where he played against type and carried off sympathetic roles most effectively.

By the 1970s KN Singh was playing small cameos in films. And as he grew older, his eyesight became severely impaired and in the last part of his life, he was practically blind.

He passed away in Mumbai in 2000 at the ripe old age of 91, having left behind a legacy of more than 200 films and several immortal performances.

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