Remembered for his villainous acts in films such as Johny Mera Naam, Dharmatma, and Karz, Prem Nath is also recalled for his memorable positive roles in Roti Kapda Aur Makaan, Kalicharan, Bobby, Shor, Desh Premee, and more. However, the versatile actor began his career in the late 40s as a lead and played key roles in films like Ajit, Aag, Barsaat, Naujawan, Badal, and Aan, posing as a strong competition to the then superstars.
Associated with Prithvi Theatre of Prithviraj Kapoor from its initial years (later becoming a part of the family), Prem Nath was the elder brother of actors Rajendra Nath and Narendra Nath, and one of the first heroes with a great physique playing the macho-man on the screen (also fondly recalled by Dharmendra as an inspiration).
He later married actress Bina Rai and also produced films, before getting disillusioned with his film career in the late-50s. The thinking actor even travelled to the Himalayas for his spiritual quest, made a documentary on Kailash Parbat, and also wrote books titled Tears of The Heart and Shradhanjali in that period, before making a powerful and surprising comeback in 1970.
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On the other hand, the youngest among the Anand brothers, Vijay Anand (Goldie), is known for revolutionising Hindi cinema through his novel and powerful directorial skills, the art of story-telling, and song picturisations. Starting his career with Nau Do Gyarah in 1957, he later directed cinematic gems such as Kala Bazaar, Tere Ghar Ke Samne, Guide, Teesri Manzil, Johny Mera Naam, Jewel Thief, and Tere Mere Sapne. He transformed the way dramas, thrillers, and even light comedies were conceptualised in Hindi Cinema.
Also fond of acting, Vijay performed in a few of his films and other projects too, including a detective TV serial in the ‘90s. Today, the visionary is more remembered for his exceptional crime thriller movies that also remain an inspiration for many of the present well-known directors, like Sriram Raghavan.
Coming to the link between the two regarding discovering and rediscovering each other, it’s not a widely known fact that in reality, Prem Nath had discovered a young talent as an actor-director back in the year 1954, when he was one of the three judges at a college dramatic competition. The two other judges were Ramanand Sagar and Kidar Sharma. The play that won the first prize was titled Rehearsal directed by a young Vijay Anand, becoming an early step towards his first directorial venture in 1957.
In the later years, though the veterans worked together in Teesri Manzil released in 1966, their fond relationship got pleasantly revived when the tables turned and the discoverer Prem Nath, was rediscovered by his own discovery Vijay Anand in his trendsetting film Johny Mera Naam released in 1970.
The highly entertaining and well-made crime thriller became a stepping stone, opening an entirely new and significant chapter in the career of Prem Nath. And a disappointed, or rather out of sight actor, went on to contribute in many mega-hits of Hindi Cinema, thoroughly enjoying his long successful second innings till the mid-80s.
Incidentally, the film proved to be a milestone in the career of Padma Khanna, too, shocking the viewers in her song Husn ke lakhon rang enacted along with Prem Nath. Johny Mera Naam also won the only Filmfare award for the multi-talented I. S. Johar for his hilarious triple comic act.
Showcasing the unparalleled journey, Nath’s son Monty made a documentary on his father titled Amar Prem Nath — Last of the Titans in the year 1995, which got aired on Doordarshan. In his interview, Monty revealed that Vijay Anand originally wished Prem Nath to do the role of the lost brother in Johny Mera Naam, later played by Pran. But he was somehow given the negative character instead that made him fully charged, assuming the film to be his comeback project for sure.
Monty also shared his father’s firm belief in astrology and how he confidently told Dev Anand that the film releasing on Nath’s birthday would certainly be a big hit, benefitting all. The veteran Pran also remembered the prophecy made by the spiritually inclined seeker in the documentary.
Eventually, Johny Mera Naam did witness the same, becoming one of the most loved, acclaimed, and inspiring creations of Hindi cinema, rediscovering a new and fearless Prem Nath. That’s exactly how destiny plans unexpected paybacks in our lives, putting us back on track to experience the blessed energy.
(The writer is a critic-columnist, an explorer of cinema and author of ‘Did You Know’ series on Hindi films also active at bobbytalkscinema.com)