Nazir holds two Guinness World Records: for playing the lead role in a record 725 films, and for playing opposite the same heroine in 130 films (with Sheela). He also holds two other acting records; for acting opposite eighty heroines and for acting in lead roles in thirty nine films which were released in a single year (1979).
Nazir was born in Chirayinkeezhu in the princely state of Travancore (now part of Kerala), to Akkode Shahul Hamid and Asuma Beevi on April 7, 1926. He has two brothers Prem Nawas, Ashraf and six sisters, Sulekha, Aleefa, Aneesa, Umaiba, Sunaisa and Suhara. His mother died when he was very young, and his father remarried a woman of the same name. He completed his formal education from Kadinamkulam Lower Primary School, Sri Chithiravilasam School, SD College, Alappuzha, and SB College, Changanassery. By the time he completed his education, he had become an experienced drama artist. It was on the sets of his second movie, Visappinte Vili (1952), that Abdul Khader was renamed Prem Nazir by Thikkurussi Sukumaran Nair.
Prem Nazir had his acting debut as Shylock in the play The Merchant of Venice (1951), when he was a student at SB College, Changanacherry. He won the best actor award for this role in the play directed by Sheppard. His first film was Marumakal (1952), directed by S. K. Chari and produced by Paul Kallungal. He was credited Abdul Khader itself in this film. He got his career break with Visappinte Vili (1952), his second film, made for K&K Combines (Udaya Studio) by Telegu director Mohan Rao. Prem Nazir started his career when drama was the most popular visual medium and film making at its infancy. He started acting for the Excel Productions (Udaya Studio) and most of his films were for the Udaya and Merryland Studios.
With the arrival of Nazir, there was a new screen personality, a new debonair actor who could be the heart throb of the youth. Prem Nazir acquired the halo of a romantic hero and a loyal following. His tear-jerkers were very popular with women audiences and soon made him a darling of the masses. He soon became the first real star of Malayalam cinema. Another factor that helped Prem Nazir's instant rise – as it had the rise of his contemporaries in other regional film industries – was the continuing reign of mythologicals and devotionals. Costumed musicals, filmed start-to-finish within the confines of a studio, contributed their own. All such films for a long period kept him before his fans, nourished his romantic image and provided him unlimited scope for rehearsing and refining his talent in playing diverse roles. Since the bulk of South Indian cinema was theatrical visually and aurally, Prem Nazir's stage background and his extraordinary command of Malayalam helped him win the hearts of his audience.
In the late 1950s, Nazir drew attention by playing movies with themes based on social and religious injustices in the society. From 1956 to 1976, Prem Nazir rode high at the crest of a tidal wave of popularity and also gave his best to Malayalam cinema. Nazir catapulted to the row of the finest actors of India with the film Iruttinte Athmavu (1967). Playing a demented youth – Velayadhan, Prem Nazir discovered his prowess as a dramatic actor of great intensity. Many critics have evaluated this role as his masterpiece, and as one of the finest onscreen performances ever. Written by M. T. Vasudevan Nair, the film provided Malayalam cinema with a new direction; that of the low-budget film. One could see a lot of the pre-occupations of the scenarist, who carried the touches of human relationships through all of his subsequent films whether as screenplay writer or director. In spite of its large number of studio shots and overall theatricality, the film was so culturally rich that many of the episodes would become archetypes for future Malayalam film makers dealing with family drama. It depicted the story of an imbecile (finely portrayed by Prem Nazir) in a joint family with remarkable sensitivity and seriousness of purpose.
During his peak time, Nazir gave life to many characters and enjoyed a wide popularity among all sects of the society. He has played historical characters based on Vadakkan Pattukal. Aromalunni, Kannappanunni, Thacholi Ambu and Padayottam are some major films in this genre. Although the actor faced criticism for playing such roles as his physique was least suited for it, he still enjoyed a huge fan following among the audiences. He was well known for his roles as Hindu deities like Rama, Krishna and Ayyappa. In his movies, Nazir was well known for playing the eternal romantic hero and the good guy who would bash up the villains without remorse.
Even though Nazir could not regenerate after the mid-1970s, he maintained his superstardom till the beginning of the 1980s. In 1979, 39 of his films got released; a record. He also holds the record for having acted in the most leading roles – about 700 films (with 85 heroines; another record). Another record is for the most enduring screen team along with actress Sheela. They played opposite each other in 130 movies by 1975. Although Sheela is known as the lucky mascot of Prem Nazir, his movies with other heroines like Jayabharathi and Sharada were also big successes at box office. Prem Nazir pairing with comedian Adoor Bhasi was a sure-fire laugh riot. The void left by this duo is yet to be occupied. Nazir's association with playback singer K. J. Yesudas was perfect for the audience. Even today many consider the Nazir – Yesudas combination of song sequences remains the best ever on screen. He is quite popularly described as Nithyaharithanayakan (The Evergreen Hero), which do justice to the fact that he was acting as the hero in his elder years as well. Senior Malayalam cine actress Kaviyoor Ponnamma has revealed that Prem Nazir was a very good singer, and had training in Carnatic music.
By the beginning of the 1980s, Nazir himself moved into supporting roles. He mostly played supporting roles with the then super stars Jayan, Sukumaran, Shankar and Soman. In 1981, he played a major supporting role in Mohan's Vida Parayum Munpe that earned him the Kerala State Special Jury Award. This shift, from a super romantic hero to character roles, gave him many powerful characters during the mid-1980s. His last completed film was A. T. Abu's Dhwani (1989), in which he co-starred with Jayaram. His last release was Priyadarshan's Kadathanadan Ambadi (1990), in which he co-starred with Mohanlal. In one of his last interviews, he had expressed a desire to direct a film with Mammootty and Mohanlal in the lead.
Two popular film genres initiated by Prem Nazir are the C.I.D series and the Vadakkanpattu series. The former is a group of investigative films in which Nazir played James Bond like protagonists. In most of these movies Nazir teamed with Adoor Bhasi, a famed comedy actor who would accompany Nazir characters in investigations. These hit mainstream popularity with the trendsetter Lanka Dahanam and are perhaps the single most popular movie series in Malayalam film history. The waves created by this movie series continue in Malayalam cinema, arguably to this day. It has inspired numerous adaptations and similar series like for example popular CBI series with Mammootty in the lead and a satirical CID series of Mohanlal-Sreenivasan team. Other inspired films are C.I.D Unnikrishnan starring Jayaram and C.I.D Moosa with Dileep in the lead.
Another popular film series starring Nazir was a series of movies based on Vadakanpaattu which are part of the traditional folklore of Kerala. These are tales of martial warriors spread over generations through folk songs. Although the series may have been initiated by Sathyan's title role in Thacholi Othenan, the trend was continued long after his demise with Nazir in the lead, playing various other characters from Vadakkanpattu. Nazir later teamed with other actors like Jayan, Shankar, Mammootty, Jayaram and Mohanlal in later films of this category.
Prem Nazir was married to Habeeba Beevi and they have three daughters viz. Laila (married to Engineer Rashid of Trivandrum & settled at Calicut), Rasiya (married to Mr.Hashim, Businessman from Kannur & settled at Chennai) – both elder to Shanavas. The youngest daughter is Rita (married to Doctor Sharafuddin of Punalur & settled at Muscat). Shanavas's wife Ayisha Malaysia is the daughter of the eldest sister of Prem Nazir Late Suleikha Beevi. Prem Nazir's son Shanavas acted in few films as well but could not succeed like his father. Third generation of Prem Nazir, Shanavas's son Shameer Khan, acted in a Malayalam film Uppukandam Brothers Back in Action.
Prem Nazir's younger brother Prem Nawas (Abdul Wahab) also acted in a few films. Although he was the first in the family to begin acting in movies, he later began producing films – Agniputhri, Thulaavarsham, Poojakku Edukatha Pookkal, Neethi and Keni to name a few. Prem Nawas's only son, Prem Kishore has also had a stint with the industry by acting in two Malayalam films – Vacation and Thaskaraputran. Prem Nawas has the distinction of acting in the first ever colour film made in Malayalam – Kandam Vechu Kottu.
Prem Nazir was a teetotaller. He tried his hand in politics and had joined the Congress Party but he never contested elections. He was also a social reformer and with a helping mentality to others. He helped with money to some public needs in and around Chirayinkeezhu. e.g.:- Koonthalloor School (On his memory this school is named after him Prem Nazir Memorial Government Higher Secondary School), Chirainkeezhu Hospital, Palakunnu Library etc. He donated an elephant in the Sarkara Devi Temple, Chirayinkil. Nazir also wrote a book on the film characters he played, ‘Enne Thediyethiya Kathapatrangal’.
Prem Nazir died on 16 January 1989 at a hospital in Madras. He was being treated for peptic ulcer complicated by viral fever and measles.
Prem Nazir won his only Kerala State Film Award in 1981; he won a Special Jury Award for the supporting role he played in the film Vida Parayum Munbe. He was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 1983 by the President of India in recognition of distinguished services of a high order to the nation in his field (acting). The Prem Nazir Award was initiated in his memory, in 1992, for excellence in contributions to the Malayalam cinema Industry. He has also held the position of National Film Award jury in 1985.
Prem Nazir is known to be the most influential and trendsetting lead actor in Malayalam. He is known for his amazing longevity in that he was active during the peak years of other iconic Malayalam superstars like Sathyan and Jayan acting alongside them in 1960s and 1970s respectively. Nazir who began his movie career in the early 1950s, later acted alongside popular future stars like Shankar, Mammootty & Mohanlal by the 1980s. He was a mainstream superstar in Malayalam for over three-and-a-half decades (a world record)from the late 1950s to late 1980s. He also has an unofficial recognition of playing a campus character while in his late fifties. Prem Nazir has the distinction of acting with the same heroine Sheela in over 100 films.
Nazir is generally considered the ultimate romantic hero in Malayalam cinema due to his extraordinary handsomeness and ease of acting in romantic roles particularly in romantic song sequences. His song sequences combined with the lyrics of Vayalar, tunes of Devarajan and voice of K.J. Yesudas produced what is called the golden era of Malayalam film songs. Prem Nazir has also appeared in the highest number of dual roles (more than 33) in Malayalam films, and perhaps in world cinema.
- Kunjali Marakkar (1966 ).... Antonio/Narayanan Nair
- Thirichadi (1968)...Kuttappan/Venu.
- Rahasyam (1969) ...Babu/K.K.Nair.
- Kalpana (1970)...Surendran/Jayadevan.
- Makane Ninakku Vendi (1971)...Sam, Thomachan
- Aromalunni (1972)...Kunjiraman/Aromalunni.
- Postmane Kananilla(1972)...Ramu/Ramu`s father.
- Football Champion (1973)...Vijayan/ Thakil Veerachami
- Thacholi Marumakan Chandu (1974)...Othenan/Chandu.
- Paathiravum Pakal Velichavum(1974).../...
- Kottaram Vilkanundu(1975)...Murali/...
- Aaranyakaantam(1975)...Unnikrishnan/Duplicate Unni.
- Ajayanum Vijayanum(1976)...Ajayan/Vijayan.
- Chennaya Valarthiya Kutty(1976)...Sreeni/Maranchadi.
- Kadathanaattu Maakkam(1978)...Nambeeshan/Kannan.
- Vijayanum Veeranum(1979)...Vijayan/Veeran.
- Post Mortem(1982)...Vikariyachan/C.I.of Police.
- Marupacha (1982)... PremKumar, Premchandran
- Ente Katha (1983)...Sreekumar/Sankar
- Justice Raja(1983)...Justice Raja/Son of Raja.
Anubhavangal Paalichakal (Experiences and Failures) (1971) – The story of persecutions and suffering of communists in the early days of modern Kerala. Nazir played one of the heroes alongside Sathyan.
Iruttinte Athmavu (The Soul of Darkness) (1966) – Nazir played the mentally challenged Bhrantan Velayudhan in this film based on the classic novel by M. T. Vasudevan Nair.
C.I.D. Nazir (1971) - A investigative series by P. Venu
Padayottam (The Campaign) (1982) – Its story was inspired by Alexandre Dumas classic novel The Count of Monte Cristo and the treatment of the film was inspired by that of Ben-Hur.
Vida Parayum Munpe (Before saying Good Bye) (1981) – Nazir received a special jury award for this film in the 1981 Kerala State Film Award.
Ayalvasi Oru Daridravasi (Neighbour The Pauper!) (1986) – A comedy film by Priyadarshan, Nazir performed as a middle-aged father.
Dhwani (The Sound) (1988) – This was his last completed film. The film was a hit due to several factors like the excellent performances by Prem Nazir, Jayaram, Shobhana, Suresh Gopi, Thilakan, and the everlasting music by maestro Naushad Ali.
Ningalenne Communistakki (You Made Me a Communist) – The 1970 film was based on the drama of the same name by Thoppil Bhasi.
Odeyil Ninnu (From the Gutter) – The 1966 film was based on the novel of the same name by P. Kesavadev.
Nadhi (The River) (1969), Adimakal (1969), Kallichellamma (1969)
Triveni(1970), Thurakkaatha Vaathil[The Door Never Opens] (1970)
Vilayku Vangiya Veena(1971)
Maya (1972), Aaradi Manninte Janmi[The Land lord of 6 feet Earth] (1972)
Pani Theeratha Veedu[The House never completes](1973), Interview (1973)
Nagarame Nanni[Thanks to the City] (1967)
Paathiravum Pakal Velichavum[Midnight & Daylight] (1974)
Seemantha Puthran[The First Son] (1976), Themmadi Velappan [Idiot Velappan](1976), Amruthavahini (1976)
Vishukkani (1977), Randu Lokam (1977)
Snehathinte Mukhangal[The Faces of Love] (1978)
Asthamikkatha Pakalukal[The Days never Ends] (1981)
- Ernakulam Junction(1971)
- Amme Narayana(1984)