Krishan Niranjan Singh (1 September 1908 – 31 January 2000), known as K. N. Singh in Indian cinema, was a prominent villain and character actor. He appeared in over 200 Hindi films over a long career stretching from 1936 to the late 1980s.
The son of Chandi Prasad Singh, an erstwhile Indian prince and a prominent criminal lawyer, K.N. Singh was a sportsman who once dreamt of being in the army. Born in Dehradun, Singh was expected to follow in the footsteps of his father and become a lawyer. However, his father’s skillful defence, which saved an obviously guilty man from the gallows, turned him away from the profession.
Turning his energy to sports, K.N. Singh came to excel in Javelin throw and Shot Put. He was selected to represent India in the 1936 Berlin Olympics before circumstances compelled him to go to Calcutta to attend on his ailing sister. There he met his family friend Prithviraj Kapoor, who introduced him to director Debaki Bose, who offered him a debut role in his film Sunehra Sansar (1936).
K.N. Singh enjoyed limited success until the release of Baghban (1938), in which he played the antagonist. Baghban was a golden jubilee hit, establishing Singh as one of the leading villains of the era.
Through the 1940s and 1950s, Singh appeared in several iconic movies of the era, including Sikandar (1941), Jwar Bhata (1944) (Dilip Kumar’s film debut), Humayun (1945), Awara (1951), Jaal (1952), CID (1956), Howrah Bridge (1958), Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi (1958), Amrapali (1966) and An Evening in Paris (1967).
His suave style, baritone voice and menacing eyes became legendary so much so that on one occasion (in his own words) “Even off-screen I was a bad man. One day on my way back from shooting, I had to deliver an envelope at an address given to me by my friend. I pressed the doorbell and, from the moving curtains, I could see a woman hurrying to open the door. When she saw me standing in front of her, she screamed out in fright and ran inside leaving the door open.”
As an actor, Singh’s thirst for learning was legendary. For example, he studied the style and mannerisms of carriage riders to prepare for the role of a horse carriage driver in Inspector (1956).
Singh played prominent roles in movies like Jhoota Kahin Ka (1970), Haathi Mere Saathi (1971) and Mere Jeevan Saathi (1972). His last prominent role was in the 1973 film Loafer.
With advancing years, Singh became less active, particularly from the mid 1970s onwards. Many of his roles from the late 1970s onwards were mere cameo appearances, arranged with the sole purpose of ensuring that actors turned up on time- such was his stature that actors would never turn up late when K.N. Singh was in the sets. His last appearance was in Woh Din Aayega (1986).
K.N. Singh was the eldest among 6 siblings: a sister and five brothers. His marriage with Chandravati Singh did not produce any children, and so the two adopted Pushkar, the son of his brother Bikram (who was once the editor of Filmfare magazine) as their son.
K.N. Singh turned completely blind in his last years. He died in Mumbai on 31 January 2000 aged 91 was survived by his adopted son Pushkar, who is a producer of television serials.