An evergreen actor, a stylish star and a passionate filmmaker. Rauf Ahmed remembers the legend that was Dev Anand
THE FIRST vision of the incredible Dev Anand is a glint of timelessness in his eyes. The man never believed in time. “The way you feel never changes,” he’d say with a wink, “the way I feel today is no different from the way I felt at 16. I still feel the throb of my teens.”
Past laurels didn’t mean much. “Yesterdays were beautiful. Whatever I had to gain from them, I have. I don’t want to linger there. It implies stagnation. Yesterdays are best left to the historians.” That was the perennial Dev dictum. The attitude apparently worked. He left six generations of heroes behind. With the sheer strength of his presence, he rose above box-office labels and statistics. (“You can’t evaluate your life in terms of money. Your experiences matter. The process of making a film drives me, not the logistics.”) He wooed five generations of film buffs with his tested brand of heroics.
His drive, dynamism and youthful zeal made him more comfortable with the younger lot in the industry, than his own ‘antiquated’ contemporaries. He found them valuable relics to be revered but “uninspiring to interact with”. It made him plough a lone furrow at times, but he wouldn’t be bothered. “I don’t mind being a loner if that gives me the space to grow inwardly. If you wait for people to join you and walk with you, you’ll be stranded.”
This attitude kept him abreast of the times, leaving behind those who called him a fluke of destiny, a nonactor who thrived on style. Ironically, the style inspired successive generations of actors from Rajesh Khanna to Aamir Khan. For all the criticism heaped on his stylised, ‘unrealistic’ acting, Dev has left behind a far more impressive body of work than most of his colleagues.
The Dev Anand filmography includes a fascinating array of films such as Baazi, Taxi Driver, Kala Pani, Hum Dono, Guide, Hare Rama Hare Krishna and Tere Mere Sapne among others. It includes some of Bollywood’s breeziest romantic musicals —Paying Guest, Tere Ghar Ke Saamne, Kala Bazar, Johnny Mera Naam and Jewel Thief. He was among the first Bollywood heroes to play the anti-hero in the Guru Dutt-directedJaal. “I wanted to play such life-like characters because they allowed more shades in the characterisation, but it was felt that it’d go against my accepted image. Years later, I played a role with negative shades in Guide. It’s remembered among my best.” It needed guts to make a film like Guide in the ’60s, which boldly projected adultery.
Dev introduced some of the finest talents to the industry and nurtured those who needed backing, like the classy SD Burman. He introduced Sahir Ludhianvi to films and gave RD Burman his biggest break in Hare Rama Hare Krishna, when his conservative father SD declined to touch the film because of its bold concept. RD’s cult number Dum Maaro Dum was path-breaking. Making SD’s long-time assistant Jaidev a full-fledged composer in Hum Dono was a masterstroke. A chartbuster from the film, Main Zindagi Ka Saath Nibhata Chala Gaya, became Dev’s theme song in real life.
He backed path-breaking directors of the calibre of Guru Dutt and Raj Khosla, in the 1950s and the ’60s. However, it was his association with his talented writerdirector brother Vijay (Goldie) Anand that brought out the best in him, both as an actor and producer. Guide exemplified the class the two could achieve in tandem.
Prior to films, he censored letters the jawans wrote to their wives, to earn a living
In one of those vulnerable moments of nostalgia, Dev traced his antecedents to a family of thinkers. “I acquired my ability to think from my father and gentleness from my mother.” His elder brother Chetan Anand, “the darling of the family” as he described him, sat for his ICS exam and later took up a job as an English teacher at the Doon School, Dehradun. After graduating, Dharam Dev Pishorimal Anand had landed in Bombay in July 1943 by the Frontier Mail, in search of a career. Chetan introduced him to his close friend Raja Rao, the famous novelist, with whom Dev lived for a while. His neighbour in Malabar Hill was actor Motilal, the ‘actor’ of the time. Dev recalled watching him drive out every morning in his limousine. (“Running into Motilal on the stairs gave me a heady feeling.”) Raja Rao introduced Dev to KA Abbas, who took him to Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA) and Balraj Sahni. Impressed by his good looks, Sahni gave him a role in Zubeida, a play he was directing.
Theatre, however, didn’t make ends meet. So he took up work as a military censor, censoring letters written by army jawans. Recalling the experience, he once said, “I used to chuckle reading the letters jawans wrote to their wives. What fascinated me most was the fan letters they wrote to film stars.” In a way, it kindled in him the dream of being among the stars. “I was convinced that I wanted to make it as an actor.”
Then one day he got to know that Baburao Pai of Prabhat Cinema, Pune, was on the lookout for a new face. “I gatecrashed his office at Famous Studio. He liked me and sent me to his director PL Santoshi (Rajkumar Santoshi’s father). For the screen test, I spoke a few lines from Zubeida. That was it.”
His debut, Hum Ek Hain (1945) that advocated Hindu- Muslim unity, was a box-office disaster, maybe beca use it ran against the mood of the times. Dev said can didly, “I was embarrassed looking at myself on screen. My performance was juvenile. I knew I was capable of doing much better.” He did that and much more to leave behind an incredible legacy, one almost impossible to recreate.
Dev Anand was unique in whatever he did. After a long chat with him at his Pali Hill office five years ago, he was walking me to the lift. I told him he was looking different. “Am I looking good? Tell me that first,” he said with a wink. I said, “Very good.” “Yesterday, I was looking at myself in the mirror, and thought, ‘Dev, you need a makeover. You need to rock!’ That was it.” And he lau gh – ed. I can still hear the ring of that laughter in my subconscious; as vibrant as his films, and the music in them.
Ahmed is a senior film journalist and former editor of Filmfare and Screen
‘The day Suraiya said no to me, I cried’
I FIRST met Suraiya on the sets of Jeet, where we were teamed for the first time. She was the reigning queen and I was trying to find my foothold in the industry, but there was instant chemistry… and we fell in love. I remember getting off the train at Churchgate and walking along Marine Drive to Krishna Mahal where she lived. A huge crowd would line the road waiting for a glimpse of Suraiya. We would sit in the living room far apart and talk. Though her mother seemed to accept our relationship, her grandmother kept a hawk’s eye on us. Since it was almost impossible to meet freely off the sets those days, we would write love letters to each other. Though we wanted to get married, Suraiya was scared of her domineering grandmother. When they realised it was not easy to break our determination, vested interests encouraged by Suraiya’s grandmother came in to make things difficult for us. The magazines of the time, especially BK Karanjia’s Movie Times,had a field day at our expense. Intimidated by the situation and her grandmother’s diktat, one day Suraiya said ‘no’ to me. I was shattered. That night, I went home and cried on my brother Chetan’s shoulder. Looking back, I think whatever happened was for the best.
(Dev Anand shared his memories of Suraiya with Rauf Ahmed)