Dev Anand: The star who shone like few others
A tribute to the evergreen superstar Dev Anand on his 97th birth anniversary
Circa 2010. A few hours before he arrived to grace a function at the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) in Pune, I called up Dev Anand. Can he find some time to visit the newspaper office in the same city where I was working at that time, I asked with some hesitation. Responding to my request in his famously lively manner, the evergreen superstar asked me to pick him up from the FTII premises after his speech was over.
When the 87-year-old star spoke inside the FTII auditorium that evening, everybody present heard him in silence. There was that occasional cheer when he criticised our national obsession with the Oscars.
So what if Dev saab had been guilty of unleashing terrible films such as Censor and Mr Prime Minister in the long last phase of his career? The audience chose to remember him as the stylish hero with rapid-fire dialogue delivery and twinkling eyes who lip-synched to great songs and romanced his heroines during his days at the peak.
The legend’s acting career had begun before India became an independent nation. Having debuted in PL Santoshi’s Hum Ek Hain in 1946, he had gone on to become one of the three superheroes of his time, the other two being Dilip Kumar and Raj Kapoor.
Some would say that Dev saab was more of a star than an actor. Often compared to Gregory Peck because of his looks, his irresistible appeal shone on the big screen and attracted followers nationwide. His charm sold his films. He was the quintessential ladies' man with a huge male following, too.
Dev saab played a variety of characters in his six-decade-long career, which questioned the theory that he was an actor with limitations. In Baazi (1951) helmed by Guru Dutt, he is a gambler who gets into trouble for a crime committed by someone else. In Raj Khosla’s CID (1956), he is a cop investigating a case of murder. In Amarjeet’s Teen Devian (1965), he is a poet who falls in love with three women.
In Vijay Anand’s Johny Mera Naam (1970), he is a CID officer who masquerades as different people to solve cases. And in Guide, his first film in colour directed by Vijay Anand and released in 1965, he is the protagonist who earns a living by taking tourists to historic sites.
Dev Anand nurtured a dream deep within. He wanted to make a sequel to Hare Rama Hare Krishna, a breakthrough film with an anti-drug message that he had acted in, written, directed and produced in 1971. The film had turned Zeenat Aman into the quintessential Westernised star of the kind Bollywood had been waiting for. Sadly, his wish would remain unfulfilled.
The story of Dev saab’s films would remain incomplete without the subplot of beautiful songs. Which song from his films was his favourite, one remembers asking him. “Phoolan key rang sey from Prem Pujari,” he chirped. Five decades after the release of Prem Pujari, that is a song every Dev Anand fan hums even today.
While leaving the newspaper office premises that day, he had extracted a promise. He wanted me to visit him at his farmhouse in Mahabaleshwar. “It is a beautiful place. You will love it, young man. Please, please come,” he had said.
Time flew. That visit didn’t materialise. What lived on within me is that last memory of him in which he stepped out of the office and was instantly surrounded by dozens of fans from the neighbourhood. The car took a long time to wriggle out of the lane inside which it had been parked. The hysteria in the neighbourhood was a reminder that stardom for a rare few never dies.