Contrary to his name Prem (Love), his persona exuded hatred, lecherousness and intrigue galore on the silver screen. But for his brilliant portrayals of villainous characters, who would have recognized the heroic renderings of such megastars as Amitabh, Rajesh Khanna, Shatrughan or Dharmendra?
Prem Chopra, the archetypal bad man was born in Lahore (in undivided India) and brought up at Shimla. His father wished him to be a medico but early in age, Chopra Jr realised that his destiny lay elsewhere. He vigorously pursued performing arts in College and graduated from Panjab University.
A Bachelor's degree was able to fetch him a job at Times of India in the late 50's at Bombay. As he had an inbuilt flair for acting, he never stopped visiting studios and presenting his credentials to known producers of those times. But goddess luck eluded him, till he got a break in Chaudhary Karnail Singh (1962) -- a Punjabi film set in pre-partition times. Prem Chopra proved his mettle as an actor. The film was a success and it won a National Award and gave Chopra the much-needed break. He could impress a few people in the industry and offers started spilling over to him.
Yet another commendable performance in a Punjabi film Sapni (1963) followed. In those early days someone rightly directed him to go for villainous roles. And there has no looking back ever since. He became the cold blooded demon of Bollywood – the typical villain, who could deceive, kill, rape or maim with an ease, with which an ordinary mortal goes about his daily chores. Spine chilling roles in Hindi films such as Woh Kaun Thi(1964), Shaheed (1965), Sikand-re-Azam (1965), Teesri Manzil(1966) and Purab Aur Passchim (1970) etc followed.
But it was only after the runaway success of Manoj Kumar's Upkaar (1967) that he had the confidence to bid adieu to TOI. With commendable performances in Kati Patang (1970), Himmat (1970), Gora Aur Kaala (1972), and Bobby (1973) -- Prem was shining like a star, albeit in a different realm. In the realm of evildom, where crime is a profession and the will of 'Satan' reigns supreme. Prem Chopra justified each and every aspect of the role of a villain. From wearing his white 'head to toe' dress to kill and murmuring threats in his low bass and nasal 'signature voice', Prem Chopra became a quintessential brand of vice. Not to forget the imitable tinge of humour, he would add to his blood curdling mannerisms. 'Master of innovation', Chopra would add a new element to each role and never really allowed himself to go out of vogue. Seventies and eighties were his heydays and a period of prolific filmmaking. Jheel Ke Us Paar (1973), Dream Girl (1977), Phaandebaaz (1978), Desh Pardesh (1978) Kala Pathar (1979), Ram Balram (1980), Kranti (1981), Naseeb (1981), Andha Kanoon (1983), Nagina (1986), Hukumat (1987), Majboor (1990) – there hardly was a flick in this time period, when the 'loving' Chopra didn't give the 'hero and his dame' a run for their money for almost two thirds of the reel and much to the relief of the audience eventually to be overpowered in the climactic scenes of last fifteen minutes. A veteran of over 400 hundred films, he continues to act till date. What would have Hindi cinema been without Prem Chopra – a day without light or more appropriately -- a night without darkness?
An extremely articulate and well-read man, Prem Chopra admires the acting skills of Marlon Brando and Dilip Kumar. Quite unlike what he would have done on the screen, Prem Chopra married Uma in 1969 and has been a caring and loving husband ever since. He is a proud father of three charming daughters -- Rakita, Punita and Prerana.
The celebrated author of the famous line 'Prem naam hai mera...Prem Chopra' has been decorated with Filmfare Award, Indira Gandhi Priya Darshini Award, Ashoka Award, Punjab Kala Sangram Award, besides many others.
May god give a long life to this man -- who is as much detested on screen, as he is adored off it!
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