The news of Dev Anand’s death caught me unawares. Sure, he was 88 (or as someone said he turned 22 for the fourth time) but I could never imagine Dev Anand to be dead. He was “full of life” as everyone said during the last few days while paying him tributes. Somehow, I feel even his orbituary cannot be mournful; it has to be celebratory in its tone.
I had previously done a write up for The New Indian Express on Navketan Films when it completed 60 years (Forver Young Navketan
). But then, there are so many ways of seeing a persona like Dev sahab
. To be frank, Dev Anand is not my topmost favourite actor –a slot I’ve always reserved for Dilip Kumar (followed by Amitabh Bachchan and Aamir Khan).
My first glimpses of Dev Anand were rather forgettable for I saw some of his tawdry pictures from the late 1980s. But sense dawned in and once I starting watching the older works of this actor, I was bowled over. The long lasting impression I carried of him was the way he serenaded his heroines or the way they wooed him over the voices of Lata, Asha, Rafi and later Kishore. He had more than one girl vying for his love in his movies, even if it was a cabaret dancer for a short while. She got her two-minute glory by casting those playful glances at him, which he returned with greater fervour, always in the most stylish of attires. He was the first debonair I could think of, modelled along the lines of a Hollywood hero.
His autobiography Romancing with Life is perhaps one of the most candid memoirs I have ever read. The book is as stylish as he is and reveals quite a lot about his relationships with his co-stars and colleagues. Suraiyya, Kalpana Karthik, Madhubala, Waheeda Rehman, Vyjayantimala , Nutan , Sadhna, Nanda, Simi Garewal, Tanuja, Hema Malini, Zeenat Aman and Mumtaz –all were his leading ladies . His romance with Suraiyya is what legendary ballads are made of. He had an eye for talent and it’s no surprise that he launched and guided a number of them in his career.
Baazi, CID, Tere Ghar Ke Saamne – I had seen them all and decided that he was meant for light roles. But then one day I saw his classic Guide and I instantly fell in love with his work and his character. Never before had I seen a character so human – full of the good, the bad, the humorous, the tragic and an eagerness to live life to its fullest. He was like me, a human being, and not a hero. For once I saw a film character which was not filmi in that sense. And to think that he did it when he was at his peak as an urban style icon! Playing a wandering swami was not in sync with his existing image and yet he could pull it off without much ado. This one movie was enough to place him on the high pedestal of cinema. But he did not long to stay there and rest on his laurels. There was Jewel Thief which I undoubtedly feel is one of the greatest suspense dramas ever on the cine screen. He was our answer to James Bond for once. he followed it up with Tere Mere Sapne and Johny Mera Naam.
Perhaps his mistake was his decision to direct his films by himself. Ever since he parted ways with Vijay Anand, the quality of his movies took a beating (Hare Rama Hare Krishna being the sole exception). His another mistake was his insistence to play the lead in every film. He refused to appear in the title track of Farah Khan’s Om Shanti Om for a bit of dance, supposedly because he never wanted to appear in any film where he was not the lead!
Dev Anand had amazing songs picturized on him. He himself had a fine taste for music. As I got into the bus after doing a bit of shopping on the day he passed away, the radio played his song Abhi na Jao Chod kar. I closed my eyes and lost myself. I woke up and found that the bus had come to a halt and so had the song. Dev saab was no more or perhaps I was wrong. His romance with death had begun.