In Praise of Dev Anand, India’s Gregory Peck. R.I.P!

Dev anand main Earlier this week, Dev Anand, a well known veteran Bollywood actor passed away. He was over 88 years old and he died because of cardiac complications. I was one of his biggest fans, something I share with my father who could at one point name every movie, recite every dialogue and talk about Dev Anand’s movies forever. He saw so many of his movies that I fell in love with them.

As a young writer in India, when being part of Newsmen Features, I got a chance to meet Mr. Anand. It was a wonderful conversation and he treated me – somewhat of a rookie writer – with a lot of respect and kindness. In my one and only interaction, he proved to be a gentleman and a star. I came back to Delhi and wrote about him in a column, that was widely circulated. That was almost two decades ago. At the time, Mr. Anand was a spritely 70.

Last night I emailed my mentor Mukesh Khosla who runs Newsmen Features, a New Delhi-based news agency and editorial service. We went down the memory lane. He dug up my article from his archives and sent it along. I share with you the article (written with many Indian colloquialisms and spellings intact), more as a celebration of Mr. Anand’s life and not as his obituary. For me, he will always be forever young.

Despite 70‑odd summers, Dev Anand is still the everyman’s hero. A man’s man and a woman’s dream. Almost half a century after his entry into films, video cassettes of his old hits are still being snapped up by teenagers who have never seen a better romantic hero than him. In fact at 70, Dev Anand looks as if he could play a couple of sets of tennis, pack a pint, look at the time and say, ” How about a three‑kilometer jog……?”

 

In a business that feeds on youth and beauty, Dev Anand has turned the tables. Even as he clocks his half century in films, the magic has not waned. Neither has his zest. At 70, when many of his contemporaries have walked into their golden sunsets, Dev Anand continues. His Gangster, a sequel to the sixties’hit Jewel Thief, is ready for release.

Even now he is planning the films he’d like to make. More so, the kind of films he’d like to act in. Which is what makes Dev Anand stand out in the crowded pages of Bollywood history. Today, all his old movies get snapped up by teenagers who swoon over his handsome profile. Sure, there are many more stars who will survive generations but Dev Anand will be remembered as the last of the vanishing breed of Don Juans. The last of the romantics.

His 100‑odd films’ log in around 50 years, ranges from huge box office hits to those only a film historian would know. As an undercover cop in CID, he took what could have been a cold, humourless character and made him into a heart‑stealing rogue with his charm, his wit and that devilish, arched eyebrow. In the golden era, was India’s answer to Hollywood’s Gregory Peck, whom he copied with a heart‑warming brazenness. But then his brand of acting has always placed him on a pedestal high above the others.

Ever since he made his debut in 1945 with Prabhat’s Hum Ek Hain, he has epitomised the smooth, suave and city‑slick urbanite. Bringing in an aura of westernisation into his personality he became the first real superstar of the Indian industry.

Throughout his 50‑year‑long career Dev Anand has chosen to let his mannerisms take precedence over his acting abilities. He was no heir to a film personality but a street‑smart kid who made it big on his own. Audiences began loving him for his slickness and good looks. He was the purveyor of high fashion in th country though many called him too Westernised. But his buttoned‑up collar shirts, colourful scarfs and caps made him a trendsetter for the popular Indian urbanite. His baggies and moccasins have inspired generations.

Unlike many other stars there is more gloss to him than gore. He is the man who gave us hits like Nau Do Gyarah, CID, Kala Bazar, Tere Ghar Ke Samne, Jewel Thief, Tere Mere Sapne, Guide and Johnny Mera Naam. Anyone who says that he was just a dandy and never an actor, would surely change his opinion after watching Hum Bhi Insaan Hain, Afsar, Patita and Bombay Ka Babu. And to say nothing of his double role in Hum Duno.

However, despite the flashes, today what remains is the image of a star. Never mind a masterpiece like Guide. But then the obvious question which follows Guide is, why weren’t there any more Guide[s] from Navketan? Says Anand, ” Guide was a milestone in the Indian film industry. One of the first movies to be done in style. It was a once‑in‑a‑lifetime picture. You must understand that you cannot make that kind of a movie everyday. You can beat the previous masterpiece, but Guide is so difficult to beat.” H still feels a bit let down by the initial response Guide got. ” When Guide opened, it never got a very enthusiastic response. But now it’s a critical landmark. A perfect amalgam of all the factors which make a good movie. One day I’ll repeat that success.”

One day? You blink as you look at the 70‑year‑old `young man.’ He’s planning for his next decade and the kind of films he’d like to make. More so, the kind of films he’d like to act in. That makes the man into a persona: he comes across as lively and as bubbly as a teenager.

Dev Anand is wearing a starched white shirt which he keeps fussing with. A St. Michael’s sweater is casually thrown across his shoulders. His Burtini shoes polished to a high gloss and he is pacing up and down the rosewood‑panelled floor of his Pali Hill penthouse. He is the perfect picture of a very successful man. His demographic profile contains the characteristics of everyman: cricket, politics and an eye for beauty. After spending almost half a century under the scorching arclights, Dev Anand can sit easy with the fact that he is the last of the romantics.

An aging Lothario, Anand in real life is a far cry from what he appears in reel life. In fact, if you saw him on the street and didn’t know who he was, you would miss him. A perfect guy‑next‑ door, his on‑screen sensuality would have been bypassed had life taken the normal course. After a stint at college he started working as a clerk in a government department. Life should have followed the well‑travelled route after that but not for him. He ended up in a place altogether alien to his world, transforming the what’s‑his‑name‑man into Dev Anand, the heartthrob of millions for decades.

Sure, there are many more male stars who will also survive generations, but Anand will stand out. And that despite the fact that in his time he did not possess the high voltage grin and sexy clean‑cut looks of Shammi Kapoor [of old], nor did he have the baby‑boy lost eyes of Raj Kapoor. Nor the histrionics of Dilip Kumar. But what he had was the charm and charisma which, despite 70‑odd summers, still makes him an everyman’s hero. A man’s man and a woman’s dream and now the grand ‘young’ old man of the film industry.

Old? At 70, the man looks as if he could play a couple of sets of tennis, pack a pint, look at the time and say, “How about a three‑kilometere jog? ” It’s on‑screen that he has aged, choosing to play his age [which even by the wildest guesstimate cannot exceed 50]. In Sau Crore he played an investigating officer and in Hum Naujawan, he was the guru of a street gang‑ turned‑straight. Now his forthcoming movie Gambler, a sequel to Jewel Thief and has Anu Aggarwal in it.

How does he explain the recent debacles which have come out of the Navketan stable? Sau Crore, Hum Naujawan, Awal Number and Sach ka Bol Bala are dismissible ventures when compared to his earlier efforts like Hum Dono, Hare Rama Hare Krishna and Guide which would survive generations together. Says he, ” It’s difficult to analyse. In fact, how do you gauge a hit? In terms of commercial success or critical acclaim? Maybe a blend of both these factors.”

Without skipping a beat he adds, ” It’s just destiny that the audiences did not appreciate some of my later movies.” But he strongly feels he does not need to justify his actions. Dev Anand as a person and a moviemaker doesn’t dwell on the past. He lives for today and plans for tomorrow. Says he: ” If I am satisfied with a movie, I give it to the world and forget about it. For me consequences are unimportant. I work on new ideas, new concepts. For me dwelling on the past is a waste of time.”

At a time when most actors go round unshaven and T‑shirted, Dev Anand aggrandizes his characters, ennobling them with the kind of romanticism you rarely find on screen anymore. Today, all his old movies are a delight of all video buffs. Even kids and teenagers swoon over his handsome profile. That shows the extent of his popularity which is already into the fourth generation. If Shammi Kapoor is loved for his ‘Yahoo’ image, Dev Anand is worshipped for being the man other men want to be, the man women love falling in love with.

Today, Dev Anand lives by his own set of ethics. A man who will fight for what he believes in, a dreamer who is never deluded by what’s not possible. He unabashedly admits it when he says, ” I have lived the life of a non‑entity on the streets of Bombay. I am proud that I am a totally self‑made. The only thing I knew was that I was never going to compromise.”

The most enduring facet of Dev Anand’s personality is his eye for beauty. Many of the most beautiful actress have bloomed under the eye of this die‑hard romantic. Rehana Khurshid [his first lading lady], Suraiya, Nargis, Madhubala, Kalpana Kartik [former wife], Geeta Bali, Waheeda Rehman, Sadhana, Hema Malini, Nutan, Zeenat Aman, Tina Munim, Ektaa and his recent discoveries ‑‑ Fatima Sheikh and Ananya‑‑all of them have fallen for his dashing smile and that legendary twinkle.

In all his movies, there is his sensitive treatment of the leading ladies. There are hardly any serious tragedies or complications. His romantic interpretations constitute gifts, flowers and mutual electricity. Says Anand, ” For me, whenever a female character appears on the screen, she brings out the sensitive side of the story.” Another characteristic of Dev Anand is his will to scout for new talent. In fact, he has given the industry some of the most beautiful women who have captured millions of hearts. But in the end they just move away in different directions. ” The challenge to cast newcomers and see them accepted by the industry is what fuels me to go for untried young people. There is no greater triumph than that.”

He is so consumed by his work that he does not seem to be bothered by what goes on around him. Says he: ” I have to isolate myself and I have to reinforce myself from within. It’s a tough job but I wouldn’t swap it for anything else.” By nature he is a gambler of sorts. ” You cannot win if you play safe. For me life is a one big gamble. Win some, lose some,” he says.

Currently he is working on his newest venture Gambler which, if industry pundits are to be believed, has all the trappings of a big hit. It incorporats love and violence against the backdrop of power and corruption. Says Anand, “I have so much work to do that I do not have the time. You have to make the most of it.”

One would tend to agree with him. With the constant ringing of the telephone, busy schedules and endless editing sessions, the man seems to be a dynamo, a bundle of energy. Yet, he manages to find time to maintain his legendary `physique’ and appreciate beauty. Indeed, Dev Anand is the last priest of beauty. Last of the vanishing breed of Don Juans. The last of the romantics.

Excerpts from my interview with Dev Anand where he talks about movies, romance and his leading ladies

On his continued love affair with the film medium:

I have never analyzed myself. And why should I? I have never had time to analyze myself. I have just been making pictures. I have never gauged as to why I continue. I think people are the force behind me. There must be something in my work or my personality which people like. And that is one of the reasons I carry on endlessly.

On his recent spate of failures:

I made all my recent movies with the same verve and enthusiasm as I did earlier. It just happened that they didn’t click with the audience. Simply put, the audience didn’t appreciate them. It’s futile analyzing the success or failure of my movies, because many factors contribute to the ultimate film. But failure or success does not mean anything. It’s no big deal. However, at times it does affect me because you start feeling: ` What the hell. I have worked so hard and given people something new and they just chuck it away’. But then you come out of it. People with weak hearts succumb to such shocks. I think what makes me different from others is attitude. My attitude is to do it and leave it to the audience to decide. And then maybe take a shot again, with a new theme, a new story, a new movie.

On why he continuous making films:

The kind of sophistication I put in my work, I am assured that atleast 45 per cent of the audience is bound to like it. So, all I am trying to do is to capture the remaining 55 per cent who can make a film a hit or a flop. However if the majority does not like it, the film cannot be a hit. But I will keep on trying.

On romance as the pivot of his movies:

People like to see a romance. Unless you make an outstanding thriller which can make audiences shudder…or shock them, you cannot run a movie without romance. I personally think if you have a streak of romance woven in the picture, it makes it more interesting. Even in the lives of the most evil of people there is a bit of romance. I try to capitalise on this emotion. Unless you just oppose the relationships, there is no fun in the story. Without romance, films become dry, one‑track narratives.

On New heroines:

I do not look at a girl and then write a script. But instead I go out with a certain character in my mind and try to find the girl closest to my character. If the girl I choose fits into the pattern of my story, she automatically becomes the most beautiful girl in the world. She develops an image‑‑the image of a star.

On beauty:

For me there is no such thing as great beauty or ugliness. I like to cast people in their moulds. For me a person who suits the character is the most beautiful person in the world.

On what he looks for in his heroines:

I look for the ingredients that are there in the basic character of mystery. I look for the demands of the character I have conceived. If I need a dark, ugly, unattractive girl as my heroine I would go looking for her, because for that particular role she is the most beautiful person.

On the thrill of making movies:

I feel that motion picture‑making is the biggest thrill of all. I think conceiving an idea in one line‑‑maybe from a newspaper headline or a thought provoked by a book or a conversation with somebody‑‑from that time to translating it onto 14,000 feet of celluloid, that is the biggest thrill of all. Very tough but extremely exciting. It becomes even more thrilling when you give it to the world and the world appreciates it. Doing it all alone gives you a feeling of complete satisfaction.

On casting newcomers:

I think it is a great feeling to give people breaks. I have given the industry some great actresses and actors. So, I take it as my way of paying the dues to the industry which has given me so much. It is a personal contribution to movie business.

On why he loves making movies:

The very concept of movie‑making is very exciting. It’s not a static medium. It’s not a tabletop artform, but instead, it is so fluid that you can experiment with it a lot. There is a tremendous movement of the mind when you are creating a film.

On heroines breaking away from the Navketan banner:

Girls like Zeenat Aman and Tina Munim are exceptional actresses. After the release of my movies they became famous and were grabbed by the industry. It happens all the time. With success they move away in different directions in terms of assignments. Then I start looking for somebody new. It’s an unending cycle. But I am not averse to using my heroines again. I have done it before and if my script demands it I will do it again.

On the changes in the industry from his time to now:

Times have changed. There is more restlessness, more violence and more disturbance in society. It has rubbed off on films also. In the last decade‑and‑a‑half, violence and action have taken precedence over romance. It has changed the entire genre of films. Earlier movies had basic ethereal qualities which made them so alluring. But it is a cycle and we are most likely to come out of it soon.

On movies which insult the intelligence of a moviegoer:

I think, illogicality, unfortunately, is sometimes accepted by the audience. If it is accepted once, it leads to more illogical movies. A lot of trash is accepted by the fans which is very unfortunate. This search for things larger then life is what makes the audience accept these blatant things in movies. Sometimes crude and illogical sequences go down with the audience and are accepted. The fact is movies are being tailor‑made for the galleries, especially for the front benchers who accept these things. And the fact remains that front benchers are a major part of the box‑office. So you really cannot blame the producers for appeasing the galleries. It is an expensive business where a lot is at stake. Frankly speaking, it is a very sad reflection on our cinema. Gone are the days when movies were easy flowing romantic dramas. Today they are difficult ventures, even more difficult to understand.

On Dev Anand‑based movies:

Earlier personality‑based movies were appreciated. And most of the pictures I got were for Dev Anand the star, not the actor. So, in most of my earlier movies I was seen carrying the entire film on my shoulders. In the 50s and 60s, Dev Anand was the epicentre of the movie and that was that.

My thanks to Newsmen Features for letting me republish this piece.

A letter from Om

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