Remembering K N Singh, a classy character actor and one of the iconic villains in Hindi cinema, on his 19th death anniversary today.

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Remembering K N Singh, a classy character actor and one of the iconic villains in Hindi cinema, on his 19th death anniversary today.

Krishan Niranjan Sigh, better known as K N Singh, was the top villain of the Hindi film industry from the late 1930s till the mid-1950s until he was taken over by Pran. He played the polished, sophisticated villain in nearly all his 250-odd films. He was always immaculate in his dress — a suit, overcoat, hat, and cigarette completed his villainish get-up.

He broke the image of the stereotypical villain in popular Indian cinema. Unlike the conventional baddie — with his tough looks, loud and nasty talk, and horrible laugh — he always maintained a poised, cultured and soft exterior.

Every time Singh entered the screen, it was clear that he was up to no good. And he did not have to rave or rant, use abusive language or wear garish clothes to achieve this menacing effect. One penetrating look, a couple of hissed-out commands and everyone on the scene would cringe. It was the moment of the villain.

K N Singh was never tutored in the art of acting. Singh was born into a family of lawyers from the north Indian town of Dehradun, in the beautiful Doon valley. He was discovered by the actor Prithviraj Kapoor in Calcutta in the 1930s. The film-maker Debaki Bose offered him the role of a doctor in Sunhera Sansar (1935) and that successful debut was followed by Raj Kapoor’s Barsaat (1949) and Awara (1951).

By the late 1950s, his distinct style and underplayed performance made him one of the highest paid villains in Indian cinema. Whether it was Guru Dutt’s Baazi (1951), Shakti Samant’s Howrah Bridge (1958) or Vijay Anand’s Teesri Manzil (1966), Singh sent shivers down people’s spines.

Through most of the 40s and 50s, K.N. Singh epitomized the character of a villain on the Hindi movie screen. That, like everything else, was on his own terms. He would decide how villainous or how mean his character would be. No one dared speak to him disrespectfully, on screen or off. Awara, Barsaat, Baaz, Baazi, Jaal and Howrah Bridge were some of the well-known movies of the day in which he starred.

His last films were Ajooba and Kaalia in which Amitabh Bachchan played the lead role.

Known for his roaring voice and expressive eyes K N Singh passed away on January 31, 2000.

Celebrating Cinema

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