They don't make men like Dev Anand anymore – the clichéd way of expression is perhaps truer for him than for most actors in Indian showbiz. One could dial his landline number and he would pick up the call and drawl, "Who's calling?" – it was as easy as that to contact a man who was nothing less than one of the living legends!
When we met for the first time, in far-off 1997, he strode around a rather small desk to shake hands – it was a strong grip that showed a genuine happiness in adding a new acquaintance.
He then said, "Well, we are friends now. You can drop by anytime for a cup of tea and a chat. But something very important and urgent has come up. I need to go to the laboratory in town for my new film Main Solah Baras Ki. Listen, let's do one thing. You tell me the time and day and we will meet for an interview then instead of today!"
After we had confirmed a new appointment, he came down two floors to see me off, being alongside me in the beginning and half a flight ahead when I reached the ground floor! As I walked out of Anand, I felt an extra spring in my step – though my interview had not happened!
This was the effect Dev Anand, then 74 years old, had on people! My last meeting with him was equally memorable: in the midst of a crowd of media persons and friends, clicking his pictures or wishing him luck at the premiere of the colorized version of Hum Dono, he stopped when I went forward. "Let me know when your story is appearing!" he reminded me about the recent interview I had done with him, and walked past.
That show ended well past two in the night, but Dev-saab (as he was affectionately known) was there to see off the last of his guests (including major stars) before he exited the venue! The conventional word "energetic" seemed too tepid a word to describe this human dynamo!
Devdutt Peshaurimal Anand was a super-achiever from day one. His father was a lawyer, a scholar and linguist, and his elder brother Chetan Anand was an all-rounder. Dev Anand completed his B.A. Honours in English and wished to do his Masters, but could not because at that point, his father had financial constraints. Ambitious to the core, he told his dad (who wanted him to take up a job in a bank) not to worry about him and that he would find his own way. "I was ambitious, I wanted to be somebody!" he explained years later.
From his arrival in Mumbai in July 1943 to his first shot for his debut film Hum Ek Hain, which was canned in Pune's Prabhat Studios exactly two years later, Dev did a lot of theater, worked as the censor for letters by World War II soldiers to their kith and kin and mingled with names like K.A. Abbas and Balraj Sahni. Chetan had meanwhile arrived in Mumbai, made the arty Neecha Nagar that won international acclaim but flopped, and was trying to get another break.
Hum Ek Hain flopped, and so did Dev's next two films, Birha Ki Raat and Aage Badho. And then came the turnaround with Ashok Kumar's Ziddi, which was a huge hit. It began another association that was to last for almost four decades – Kishore Kumar was his playback voice in the film – and till Sacche Ka Bol Bala in 1989, two years after Kishore's death!
Dev was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 2001 and Indian cinema's greatest honour, the Dadasaheb Phalke award in 2003. In 2007, he wrote his autobiography for Penguin, a straight-from-the-heart tome named 'Romancing With Life'. He was also one of the earliest Indian names to act in English films – the English Guide was made before the Hindi hit, and he later acted in The Evil Within with Zeenat Aman.
Dev had an unerring ear for music in his movies, though after S.D. Burman's death in 1975, his inspiration seemed to die out and he could score only intermittently (Jaaneman, Des Pardes). However, at the age of 82, he did what seemed magical – he wrote (and vocally rapped) the theme song of his film, Mr Prime Minister, simultaneously in Hindi and English versions, with the same meanings intact in both!
And then obviously, he was the man who presented new talents galore to cinema.
Dev Anand was Columbus to so many new or untapped talents, beginning, surprisingly, with his elder brother Chetan Anand, who had to find his footing again after the flopping of Neecha Nagar. With the advance money he got for two films, Dev and Chetan started their own banner, Navketan, and got Chetan to direct Afsar, which released in 1951. He later had younger brother Vijay Anand script Chetan's Taxi Driver and then helm Nau Do Gyarah (1957). Both brothers went on to make an immense name in their field, albeit in contrasting kinds of cinema.
Dev then tried his hand at writing and also launched himself as a director with Prem Pujari (1970). Next up was his son Suneil Anand, whom he introduced as actor in Maiu Tere Liye and Anand Aur Anand.
Outside his own family, Dev was to mentor a bevy of talents. Lyricist Sahir Ludhianvi, who had started out with Azaadi Ki Raah Par in 1947 got his true break in Baazi (1951), a film way ahead of its times that also changed Geeta Roy (later Dutt)'s image from a bhajan singer in films to a top name in modern playback. The film introduced Dev's friend, Guru Dutt, as a director, a promise made by Dev and Guru to each other at a street-side Pune cafe that the man who made it first would help give a break to the other.
The trend continued throughout Dev's career, right up to the youngsters he introduced as lead actors and also composers in his latest films. There were many others behind the scenes as well, in fields like cinematography, art direction, editing, sound and more.
Amit Khanna, a production man in Navketan, was among Dev's standout protégés – he not only wrote lyrics for some Navketan films but also turned producer with Dev's backing in Manpasand. Amarjeet, a Navketan assistant, went on to produce films like Teen Devian, Duniya, Gambler and Prem Shastra, forming almost a sister banner. Raj Khosla's talent was first noticed by Dev Anand, who helped him get a break as director in Milap and as producer in Bambai Ka Babu, both starring Dev.
Zeenat Aman's breakthrough as Dev's sister in Hare Rama Hare Krishna (and later as his screen beloved in five more films), Tina Munim (now Ambani)'s break in Des Pardes, Jackie Shroff's introduction as the villain's sidekick in Swami Dada and Shatrughan Sinha first signing Prem Pujari in the cameo of a Pakistani solider were among his standout discoveries on-screen along with Richa Sharma (later Sanjay Dutt's wife) and Tabu, both in Hum Naujawan.
The Dev Anand philosophy
Dev had an unshakeable funda – look ahead at all times. In the '80s and beyond, he did not act in or make a single hit, but always maintained that for him, it was all about the sheer joy of writing, directing and acting. "If the people like what I am charged about making, great, otherwise, I just move on!" Newspaper headlines and incidents reported on television inspired him, and he would say, "When I wake up each morning, I know that I am going to learn a few new things before going to bed that night!"
The indefatigable actor was planning to write more books too. "My principle was the same – my book should make the reader want to turn to the next page!" he said.
But reminiscences as a rule were anathema to the man who was a part of the Great Triumvirate of Hindi cinema – Raj Kapoor and Dilip Kumar being the other two. As he once put it, "As a creative artiste, I have been acting, making films, writing, globe-trotting and more. Acting in movies has never been just a 9 to 6 job for me. I have risked my earnings and put them back into the film industry. I have made 36 films, 80 per cent of which have made money, and invested in this studio. But yesterdays are best left to historians, though they have played a beautiful role in my life. If I remained there, I would stagnate. I love being with youngsters rather than my generation. The mind must progress!"
And who knew that better than young, young Dev Anand?