The ace villain of Hindi Cinema, Prem Chopra completed 60 years in the film industry. One of the finest villains of all times, one would be surprised to know that Prem Chopra wanted to be a leading man. However, fate had other plans for him. Despite having a soft voice and diction, there was something very sinister about him as a villain.
Born in Lahore in September 1935, his family moved to Shimla after the partition. Being from a large family, Prem Chopra was the third of six children. His father was a Government servant and wanted Prem to be a Doctor or join the Indian Administrative Service. While in college, he was very active in dramatics and after his graduation, he left for Bombay for making a career in the movies. He used to visit film producers and show them his portfolio. However, the response was not very encouraging. To survive in the fast paced life of Bombay, he took up a job in the newspaper “The Times of India”. He was in charge of increasing the circulation of the newspaper in the Eastern part of India and to tour about 20 days a month. However, Prem Chopra would complete the 20 day work in 12 days and spend the rest of the time visiting movie producers and film studios.
One day, while traveling by the suburban train in Bombay, a rank stranger approached him and and asked if he was interested in joining films. Prem Chopra said yes and this is how he signed his first film, a Punjabi movie called “Chaudhari Karnail Singh”. The movie was a big hit and Prem Chopra started getting offers for other films too. He however did not quit his job at the Times of India and continued working in hit movies like “Woh Kaun Thi?”, “Shaheed”, and “Teesri Manzil”.Prem did not consider acting as a full-time profession in the early 1960s, but he kept trying to get roles in films due to his passion for acting. In the movie “Shaheed” he played a positive role of the revolutionary, Sukhdev.
After the movie “Upkaar” in 1967, he quit The Times of India to concentrate solely on acting. Since 1967, Prem Chopra was the leading villain in the movies. His most successful movies were with the superstar Rajesh Khanna. The duo of Prem Chopra and Rajesh Khanna acted in 19 films together and 15 of them were box office hits, and they were very close friends in real life till Khanna’s death. Prem quoted in an interview “Rajesh Khanna and I were considered a lucky pair and distributors used to tell Rajesh Khanna that we don’t care who your heroine is, all we want to know is whether Prem Chopra is in the film.”
Prem Chopra has mouthed some very unique dialogues which are still very popular. In the 1990’s he started playing a comic villain and was often the second fiddle to the main villains. He took up positive character roles from 1996 and started getting more positive roles from 2005. His screen space got reduced in the films after 2005. He did make his presence felt in some movies like “Bunty Aur Babli” and “Rocket Sing – Salesman of the Year” where he played the hero Ranbir Singh’s principled Grandfather.
When asked how he could continue so long in a cinematic career, he quoted “Although I came to be a hero, my films as a leading man flopped. Which was good in a way because a whole new world opened in front of me. There were so many more roles I could do. When I established myself as a villain it could continue for years.”
At 82, the actor is still busy making films. He will be seen next in “Udanchhoo”, which releases in January 2018.