The Eternal Dev Anand
Nafrat karne walon ke seene mein pyaar bhar doon, aarey meain woh parvana hu pathar ko moom kar doon, this song from one of his biggest hits, Johny Mera Naam aptly fits his affable personality. Or any other of the tens of racy songs from any old Dev Anand movie because he lived life with a charming smile, and one can only hope that’s how he must have bowed out, emulating the feat of his late father, Pishori Mal Anand when he had felt the mortal world—after a meal. He charmed everyone with his winsome smile, never spoke ill of anyone, enjoying enormous good in the complex, complicated world of cinema, creating a special style and niche for himself. He had his detractors. He was vulnerable to criticism, as any human would be but it is doubtful if he had any enemies and haters.
For the records, in a career spanning six decades and at least four generations he starred, beginning with Prabhat Studios Hum Ek Hain (1946) and culminating with the September 2011 release of Chargesheet, he had worked in 111 movies of which 33 were produced under his Navketan banner which was launched with Afsar (1949) co-starring Suraiya by which time he had already starred in ten films. Of these five: Afsar (50), Aandhiyan (52), Taxi Driver, the company’s first big hit (54), Funtoosh (56) and Jaaneman (76) were directed by elder brother, Chetan; and six by younger brother, Vijay (Goldie) Anand—Nau Do Gyrah (57), Kala Bazaar (60), Hum Dono (61) though publicist Amarjeet’s name featured in the credit titles as Director, Tere Ghar ke Samne (63), Guide (65) and Jewel Thief (67); one—Baazi (51) by Guru Dutt; two—Kala Pani (58) and Shareef Badmash (73) by Raj Khosla; one each Humsafar (53) by A N Banerji and House No 44 (55) by Mandi Burman, and the remaining eighteen by the star himself beginning with the ambitious Prem Pujari (70). Not many know that before these he had ghost directed Teen Deviyan (65) and Gambler (though it was released later in 1971). Box office performance wise 80 per cent of these films were flops.
Dev Anand was born with a diehard spirit and relentless energy. An incorrigible optimism, a frugal eater and one-Scotch drinker in his middle years, he had so modified his personality that left him with no time but to think, breathe, drink, eat, sleep cinema. The ultimate epitome of on-screen romance, off it discretion was the better part of valour as he maintained a respectable distance from his leading ladies until first Zaheeda, then Zahira, then Mumtaz and ultimately Zeenat Aman swept him off his feet. Perhaps the last named the only one after Suraiya who left him brooding for months. And with her the romance also went out of Navketan films.
Today Shahrukh Khan is regarded the harbinger of the negative hero syndrome, and Salman Khan who introduced the concept of shirtless hero. But then Dev Anand had done with it all decades ago. Not just taking off the shirt for a sequence the way Salman is now doing, and others are emulating him. Dev Anand did it with relish all through the film. In film after film, and not with a puffed up chest, or six pack stomach. He essay every conceivable kind of negative role. Almost all early Navketan films dealt with the marginalised, the urban lower strata of society tackling want and unemployment and he brought alive the plight of the young who turned to crime.
That’s how he established instant rapport with the audiences, making him more popular than the tragedienne Dilip Kumar, or the tramp that Raj Kapoor successfully traded in the Chaplinisque fashion. The youth identified with him, he seemed to speak their language, portray their feelings and emotions, albeit in a trendsetting style. For everything he did in his films became the sort of style statement that could not be emulated by any of his successors nor could they draw the cheers and whistles that resounded in the auditoriums. His puff, colored-up buttoned shirts, the swagger, the angular walk, dialogue delivery, the gay abandon with which he walked through the frames mouthing those immortal melodies, of triumphs or sorrows, the manner in which he wooed his heroines, his trendy jackets. But then, unfortunately, he became a prisoner of his own image, forgetting he had transcended generations and time, and it was time to change. Unfortunately, he was always diminished as an actor while Raj and Dilip went away with the laurels. In this era of unserious, fickle media reporting and commenting no one paused to seriously analyse the variety he brought to the characters he portrayed. One Guide will suffice in terms of the range of his performance in a single film. No other producer, in the past or present, has shown the kind of daring he did by going to Hollywood 46 years ago or attempting such a bold theme.
He was like a possessed explorer, a traditionalist yet modern, a social activist trying to draw attention to burning issues of our time but through entertaining romance and music. Unfortunately, music in his later films became a casualty because he could not find replacements for composers like Burmanda or Pancham, lyricists like Sahir Ludhianvi, Hasrat Jaipuri, Shailendra, Neeraj or Anand Bakshi who could put across emotions that could be conveyed through. Yet, it must be said that he did not have the kind of ear for music which his brothers had otherwise he wouldn’t have initially rejected Burmanda’s composition of the eternally popular Kanton se kheench ke yeh aanchal, tod ke bandan bandhi payal in Guide. That’s why emotions quietly went out of the window and hit music made a quiet exit from Navketan films.
Dev Anand did not live by the erroneously proclaimed Mein zindagi ka saath nibhata chala gaya, har fiqar ko dhuan mein udata chala gaya in Hum Dono for he did not puff away his sorrows, nor drowned them in drums of alcohol. He actually lived by one of his forgotten songs Chahe koi khush ho chahe galiyan hazaar de, mastram banke zindagi guzaar de through Kishore Kumar’s immortal voice in Taxi Driver. And that’s precisely what he did. When Raj Kapoor died, when others had been shedding crocodile tears, he said: “For me Raj Kapoor is not dead for he will live through his films.” One can say the same about Dev Anand for he always used to tell: “Not now, but someday seeing my films again everybody would say, this guy was trying to say something in his films.”
By Suresh Kohli