Remembering Dev Anand on his 96th birthday: Dev Anand as I knew him 

He was unstoppable. Dev Anand was at a peak all his life where everything and everyone seemed a speck

Dev Anand
Dev Anand

Subhash K Jha/IANS

He was unstoppable. Dev Anand was at a peak all his life where everything and everyone seemed a speck. So many memories and so much of the life-force squeezed into one large microscopic view of the entire universe that it became impossible to tell the dancer apart from the dance.

When he died it was a shock because....well, some things are never meant to end. He was undoubtedly the youngest actor I knew in Bollywood. His spirit was indefatigable. And he was the most easy-going superstar cinema has ever known.

So what if none of his later films worked? Dev Saab didn’t make films to make money. He made them because he had to. No two ways about it. His films were not evaluated by cinematic yardsticks. They were looked upon as works that represent an institution rather than works of cinema per se.

Repetition was death to Dev Saab. In his typically exuberant way, he once told me, “It is such an exhilarating experience to let the creative process flow through you. When you are falling back on a remake or remix how are you being creative? I’d never do a remake. All my films are original. A man moves on physically and emotionally. When you remake a film how are you doing it justice or even guaranteeing its success? The audience that saw the original is not the same that will see the remake. A remake is an easy way out.

Instead of tapping your own creativity you simply tap into another person’s creativity. How can you think of doing something that’s been done already? I can never do it. Today people remember my ‘Guide’ and ‘Hare Rama Hare Krishna’ as vividly as they did when it was made. So why remake them? I’d never remake Hollywood films either. They are filled with gimmicks these days. Go back to the grand Hollywood era of the 1950s of the great makers and stars….where are they now?”

“It’s Dev Anand, you’ve got to be indulgent,” I was told by the resident editor in Mumbai of a daily after his last film ‘Love At Times Square’ had been released. The problem was, how to make an omelette without breaking eggs? “We here have strict instructions to do the review only if it’s favourable,” I was warned.

I did the needful. I would’ve ripped ‘Love At Times Square’ piece by piece if it was made by anyone else. Not Dev Saab, for crying out loud! He’s such a sweetheart. No one would think of breaking his heart even in their wildest dreams.

“How can I say no to him?” says Raakhee one of Dev Anand’s biggest fans. Not just her, but her entire family—old mom and dad included—were huge Dev Anand fans.

Unquestioningly, this otherwise-fastidious actress said yes to anything he offered her. And the same goes for every actor he approached, from Rekha who starred in the tour de ‘farce’ Censor (playing the censor chief, inspired by Asha Parekh who headed the censor board back then) to Salman Khan who took up a guitar and strummed away on stage in ‘Love At Times Square’ because... well... Dev Saab asked him to.

Perhaps the fact that Dev Anand symbolized the most dazzling bastion of Hindi cinema had something to do with our collective caution about his feelings. It didn’t matter if this man… no, this institution ….no longer functioned creatively or even coherently in his last 15 years. What mattered was he was the guy who made the nation swoon by wooing Nutan in ‘Tere Ghar Ke Samne’, Waheeda Rehman in ‘Guide’ and Hema Malini in ‘Johnny Mera Naam’.

Flamboyant, debonair, mischievous and romantic, Dev Anand’s personality is best manifested in the song he sang in ‘Hum Dono’. Main zindagi ka saath nibhata chala gaya; har fiqr ko dhuen mein udata chala gaya….

Hema Malini recalled,“My mother was a huge fan of Dev Saab, so I grew up hearing his name and watching his films. How was I to know I’d one day go on to do many films with him? I started my career with one legendary actor Raj Kapoor, then I quickly did ‘JohnnyMera Naam’ with Dev Saab. You can imagine how nervous I was. I was so young and he was a huge star. But he never made me feel like a newcomer. Both Dev and his brother Vijay Anand who directed ‘Johnny Mera Naam’ took such good care of me. I remember we shot the film’s cable-car sequence for the song wada to nibhaya at Rajgir in Bihar. The crowds got unwieldy. Dev Saab looked after me. The film was a runaway hit, my first blockbuster.

We were signed for several films together. I had the privilege of being directed by all the three brothers Chetan, Dev and Vijay Anand. But I didn’t get a chance to be directed by Dev Saab until very late in ‘Shareef Badmaash’. He was a perfectionist. He would be the first on the sets with that trademark stick in his hand. I asked him why he carried that chhadi with him. He told me it was to prod those who wasted his time.

Dev Saab was always on the move. He was so restless, and he didn’t appreciate people around him who couldn’t keep pace with him. Watching him at work was like taking a vitamin tablet. He could convince me to do any role. I agreed to do a guest appearance in ‘Tere Mere Sapne’ because of Dev Saab and Vijay Anand Saab. Working with Dev Saab was always a pleasure. He was a very learned man and he was so articulate. He spoke very beautiful English. He was a real hero. He wanted to launch my younger daughter Ahana. He would keep asking. But she wasn’t interested.”

Added Asha Parekh, “We did a superhit ‘Jab Pyar Kissise Hota Hai’ together. Dev Saab was so full of beans; he made me feel like a has-been even at that young age. He could never sit still. He’d be all over the place, ‘Asha, do this, do that. Don’t stand there. Go go go…’ The clock never stopped for him. Working with him was like being on an express train. The journey was relentless and exhilarating. We went on to do two other films ‘Mahal’ and ‘Kahin Aur Chal’. The latter didn’t do well. But I still remember a sequence that Dev Saab performed on the beach.

It was a very emotional scene and he swam through it. Dev Saab was such a huge star that people didn’t give him enough credit as an actor. He was very stylish. But he was also a brilliant actor. His clothes, hairstyle, the way he talked and waked exuded glamour and uniqueness. And he was a complete film person. Actor, director, writer, producer….He lived breathed ate and slept cinema. Today I see that kind of passion only in Aamir Khan. Dev Saab’s enthusiasm infected everyone he worked with.”

Vyjanthimala who did the iconic ‘Jewel Thief’ with Dev Saab called herself the female Dev Anand. “He was a bundle of energy. I first met him on the sets of ‘Amar Deep’, a really handsome man with impeccable manners. And yes tall, ha ha. I needed a tall hero. During my time I was supposed to be a tall heroine and I really craved to work with a hero who could be well-matched with me. Dev came along at the right time. And he was well-read educated cultured and erudite. I went on to do a far more successful film ‘Jewel Thief’ with him.

I don’t know what magic worked for that film. But our pairing is remembered to this day for Jewel Thief. I had shared some very good times with Dev and his brother Goldie during ‘Jewel Thief’. We shot in the outdoors of Gangtok. That was fun. Then there was that song Hothon pe aisi baat which required inhuman amounts of stamina and energy from me. I think the fact that I was working with Dev Saab gave me that energy and stamina. I remember after we finished shooting this song, Dev Saab clapped. He was a very generous co-star. And a very stylish man. He was very particular about camera angles and wanted to be captured in the best possible way on screen. He took great care over his appearance. I think he defined celluloid heroism.”

The ethereal Waheeda Rehman almost didn’t do her most iconic film ‘Guide’. The director didn’t want her!

Reminiscing about ‘Dev’ from Bangalore, Waheedaji laughs throatily, “Guide is not just my most iconic film. It is alsoDev’s most celebrated work. Yes, you can act as shocked as you like. But the fact is I almost didn’t do ‘Guide’. Hua yun ke, shuroo mein director Raj Khosla the. Raj Khosla and I had a difference of opinion during an early film. I never worked with him after that. And I wasn’t willing to change that for ‘Guide’ or any other film.

But you know how persuasive Dev was. He called up said, ‘Come on, Waheeda. Let bygone be bygones. Everyone makes mistakes.” But I refused to budge. I asked Dev why his brother Goldie (Vijay Anand) wasn’t directing. But Goldie was busy with ‘Tere Ghar Ke Samne’. Eventually Raj Khosla was replaced by Chetan Anand. But he didn’t want me! I laughed. Yeh to achcha hua. One director I didn’t want and the other director didn’t want me. I think Chetan Saab wanted Priya Rajvanshji. But Dev was adamant. They needed a dancer. And Priyaji couldn’t dance. Eventually Goldie directed ‘Guide’. That’s how I got ‘Guide’. The rest, you know. It’s a film I’m very proud of.”

Waheedaji did seven films with Dev Anand. “So you can imagine our comfort level. In fact my very first film in Hindi CID was with DevAnand. I was a big fan of Dev Anand and Madhubala. So can you imagine my excitement and nervousness at doing a film with him? On the very day on the sets when I called him ‘Dev Saab’ he turned around and said ‘No no, call me Dev’. I couldn’t bring myself to call him by his first name, that wasn’t my upbringing. So I suggested I call him ‘Anandji’.

He glared at me and said, ‘Do I look like a schoolteacher to you?’ The next day when I called him ‘Dev Saab’ he looked around as though he didn’t know whom I was addressing. I had to finally call him ‘Dev’. And ‘Dev’ he remained until the end.”

Dev Saab had told me Waheeda was his favourite actress. She laughs pleasurably, “That was nice of him. We did share a very easy and warm working relationship. When he turned director with ‘Prem Pujari’ I was in the film, of course. But without meaning any disrespect to him I’d like to say that as the years went by Dev’s script sense went more and more haywire. I think he got too involved with himself. Dev was a very good producer. But he needed to look out for better scripts.”

The lovely actress says she wasn’t much in touch with Dev Saab in his later years. “I got married and left for Bangalore. Then one day I got a call from Dev inviting me to the premier of the colorized version of ‘Hum Dono’. I excused myself saying I had a prior engagement. Dev asked me, ‘How many films have you done with me?’ I said seven. Then he asked how many of these are for the Navketan. I said, three. He retorted, ‘Then Navketan is like your home banner. How can you not be here for such a big moment for Navketan? Cancel your other engagement, and be there.’ Unfortunately I couldn’t be there. So I couldn’t meet him one last time.”

Perhaps the leading lady Dev Saab was closest to was Zeenat Aman. They worked very closely together and shared much more than a professional relationship.

“I will be eternally indebted to Dev Saab,” says Zeenat emotionally on Sunday morning as she woke up to a barrage of missed calls and messages informing her that Dev Anand the iconic star who was to a large extent an architect of her career, is no more.

Sighs Zeenat, “What does one say about a man who meant so much to one’s career? Dev Saab was indefatigable. To the end he continued to believe in what he did. Do you know, I was on the way out of the country with my mother to join my stepfather in Germany when I got that call from Dev Saab’s office to do ‘Hare Rama Hare Hare Krishna’. Technically this wasn’t my first film. I was already a Miss Asia winner and a model when I was offered O P Ralhan’s ‘Hulchal’. To Ralhan Saab’s credit he knew ‘Hulchal’ was not the right launch-pad for me. So he put me on to Dev Saab for ‘Hare Rama Hare Krishna’.”

That’s where Zeenat’s stardom began.

Says the actress, “It wasn’t as though the role fell into my lap. I got to play Janice in ‘Hare Rama Hare Krishna’ came to me almost by default. Not too many established actresses wanted to play Dev Saab’s sister, especially when Mumtaz had already been signed to play the romantic lead. Tanuja had almost been finalized, and then she opted out. That’s where I came in. Through O P Ralhan Saab I got in touch with Amarjeet, an associate of Dev Saab at Navketan.”

Luckily for Zeenat the audition for ‘Hare Rama Hare Krishna’ worked like a dream. “My audition was at Filmistan. I went with my mother. I was fortunate to get to do my audition in English, unheard of during those days. I was signed almost immediately and we left for Kathmandu for the shooting. We shot the film at one stretch, again unheard-of in those days. I didn’t have to stress over my role. The atmosphere was super-conducive to creativity. I just had to watch Dev Saab and get charged about giving my best.”

Zeenat admits she couldn’t have hoped for a better launch. “It was indeed a dream launch. And yes, there was indeed a fear that nothing to follow would match up.”

Zeenat and Dev Anand went to do a series of films through the 1970s. “But the transition from playing siblings in ‘Hare Rama Hare Krishna’ to the romantic lead was gradual and smooth. He made it happen that way since he wrote the films himself. In our next film together ‘Heera Panna’ Dev Saab’s romantic lead was Raakhee. Throughout the film his heart went out to her while I remained the other woman.

In our next film together ‘Ishq Ishq Ishq’ we played the proper kosher romantic lead. Thereafter we went on to do a series of films like ‘Warrant’, ‘Kalabaz’, ‘Darling Darling’ and ‘Prem Shastra’, some successful some not-so-successful. C’est la vie (That’s life). But I tell you, each film with Dev Saab was a learning experience.”

Zeenat admits she learnt a lot from Dev Anand. “He believed completely in what he did. And he didn’t just talk. He actually put his money where his mouth was. He made his films with complete conviction. He was never afraid to fail. I learnt to be courageous in my career decision through my association with Dev Saab.”

I once asked Dev Saab who was his favorite discovery and he promptly replied, “It’s very difficult to say. There’s something in the personality, face and carriage that hold my attention in a newcomer.”

It couldn’t be easy being Dev Anand… not when you are a one-man army with no backup. Whether it was a film set or his living room I think Dev Saab was a complete loner. But he wasn’t lonely. He liked to be on his own. Every waking hour he was either reading, thinking or planning a film.

He once told me, “I am a loner. But I am not lonely. I live in a world of my own. My world is inside me. I feel a great creative freedom.”

Extremely gregarious and yet completely and supremely alone, that was Dev Anand. No matter how little you knew him,Dev Saab always had a warm greeting for you. Each time we talked he greeted me with enormous affection. “Ah, the man who writes about all of us from Patna! How do you do it?” He had asked me more than once.

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Published: 26 Sep 2019, 3:09 PM