A reminisce on this veteran actor who truly romanced life
“Main zindagi ka saath nibhaata chala gaya, Har fiqr ko dhuyein mein udhaata chala gaya…”
I must have been eight when I first saw Dev Anand smoking unabashedly on ‘Chitrahaar’.
Years later, it was the same swagger that floored me as we walked into his study for an interview that was slotted for half an hour, but went on for four! It so happened that I was researching a special documentary on music director SD Burman, which would certainly have been incomplete without the inputs of Dev Anand – the man who convinced Burmanda to stay on in Bombay after his initial disillusionment with the film world. As a music composer for Anand’s banner Navketan, he worked on all his films – from ‘Afsar’ in 1950, to ‘Tere Mere Sapne’ in 1971.
When I called the landline number to fix an appointment with Dev Anand, a gruff voice guided me to another number, which turned out to be that of Dev Saab’s man-Friday-cum-fan-cum-‘ADC’, Mohan Churiwala. Mohanji informed me of their schedule to leave for Croatia, and the impossibility of meeting. Profuse begging and pleading from my side led to the same gruff voice suggesting in the background, “Aadhe ghante ke liye bula lo” (she can have half an hour). I was at Dev Saab’s Pali Hill bungalow at the stipulated time, where Mohanji led me into a study bathed in the warm light of dusk. There he was! Buried under and literally hidden behind books, Dev Anand was sitting on a small ottoman, reviewing a tome on Croatia. “Do you know any song that Burmanda sang?” he asked abruptly. I rattled off a couple after which he said, “Let’s sit and talk about Sachinda.”
That half an hour began at 4pm and after the most amazing cupcakes and three cups of tea, Dev Saab sat up startled at 9pm! “Oh, it’s dinner time!” he exclaimed. And then insisted that my cameraperson and I dine with him. It was not just Dev Saab who lost track of time. I am sure those who have met him would agree that Dev Anand was Bollywood’s original motormouth. Hi style of delivering dialogues was pretty much indicative of the boundless energy and joie de vivre with which Anand lived his life. Not only was he happy reminiscing about times gone by, he was eager to translate every life lesson onto celluloid – which is why Dev Saab’s films were always ahead of their times – whether it was the hugely popular ‘Hare Rama Hare Krishna’ or the colossal flop ‘Mr Prime Minister’. Anand’s critics may have liked to accuse him of being caught in an eternal time warp – but that was the essence of Dev Anand, evergreen in mind and spirit. And he had that rare quality of being aware of his shortfalls; even when his films were not doing well, the struggle was not to make box-office successes, but in wanting to strike a chord with the current generation, his target audience. He thought like them, even if some of them weren’t aware of his stature in Hindi cinema.
Dev Saab was so warm-hearted and full of love, it was unbelievable! I met him in Mumbai a year after my son was born, and was sharply reprimanded for being without him – because Dev Saab wanted to hold my baby! That statement did make me emotional. On reaching home in Delhi, his gift for my son – with the most heart-warming note of blessing had already arrived. He would constantly keep telling me, “The youth and children are our future. Don’t you ever clip your son’s wings!”
Dev Saab made engaging conversation, whether he was reminiscing or ruminating. One evening when I dropped by for amazing coffee and even better conversation, Dev Saab began recollecting how he was once mistaken for an actual taxi driver while shooting for a film of the same name. “We had stopped outside Taj Mahal Hotel to pick up Sheila Ramani who played a club dancer called Sylvie in the movie. An American jumped in and directed me to take him to the red light area. It took me a few minutes to convince him that we were shooting a film, following which the apologetic guy got off,” he narrated. He similarly recalled how he saw a real-life woman hippie, and that inspired him to write the character of Janice, immortalized by Zeenat Aman. Dev Saab would get most excited and become almost child-like when narrating a new idea he had in mind for a film or story. My mother, then a teacher, pressured me into taking her to meet her childhood idol. Dev Saab came up with a story idea on the state of education in our country within ten minutes of meeting her. The next day he called me up to bring my mother along soon, to discuss the first draft of the story with her!
That energy and enthusiasm was unreal for a man of over 80. Dev Saab wrote his entire autobiography with a fountain pen and gave it to Mohanji to type, just because he needed to be able to ‘write as fast as the thoughts come’. He could only achieve this by actually writing it out! The glee with which he narrated the concept of ‘When Heartbeats Are The Same’ absolutely convinced me that the film would do well. He even had a story for a contemporary sequel to ‘Hare Rama Hare Krishna’ ready, with a leading heroine slated to play the lead. But eventually, life caught up with him. Or, as Jackie Shroff told me after Dev Saab had passed away, “Life couldn’t cope with his passion” •