Dev Anand, born in 1923, formed the renowned Bollywood trio, the Trimurti, with Dilip Kumar and Raj Kapoor, renowned for their golden era films and heartfelt songs.
Dev Anand (Dharamdev Pishorimal Anand) born on 26 September 1923 in Gurdaspur in Punjab would have been 100 if he were alive. He along with Dilip Kumar and Raj Kapoor formed the Trimurti of Bollywood that ruled the silver screen in 1950s & 1960s; their films remind us of what a golden era it was; hundreds of their songs still touch our hearts. All three had a distinct fan following and mostly acted in a distinct genre of films and created a distinct niche for themselves. All three had connection with that part of undivided India which is now Pakistan; Raj Kapoor and Dilip Kumar were born in Peshawar, while Dev obtained his bachelor’s degree in English literature from Govt College in Lahore in British India. By far, he was the most educated and most stylish Indian film star of his time; he dressed well but in his own way; carried off bright shirts with high neck collars, colourful scarves and dozens of caps with panache, looked handsome and urbane. He wasn’t cut out for rural background and rustic characters as Dilip portrayed in Ganga Jamuna, Gopi & Sagina Mahato or Raj Kapoor in Teesri Kasam. Most of his characters, even grey ones like in Kala Bazar, Baazi & Jaal & are city bread. Though he did one film with Dilip Kumar, Insaniyat, he told me, playing the role of a mustachioed dacoit wasn’t a pleasant experience; it was out of his comfort zone.
Though he acted with several directors, the best in him as an actor was brought out only by his younger brother, Vijay Anand, fondly called Goldie Anand. Superhit films like Kala Bazar, Tere Ghar Ke Samne, Guide, Jewel Thief, Johney Mera Naam, Tere Mere Sapne are living examples of their collaboration. Like other actors, Dev also evolved over the years but he wasn’t a method actor like Dilip Kumar or Amitabh Bachchan and never gave up his trade mark goofy walk and deep dialogue delivery with a tilt in his neck and his unorthodox dress sense. From the serious performance’s point of view, Kala Pani, Bombai Ka Babu, Guide, Hum Dono, Jewel Thief and Tere Mere Sapane stand out. He liked to be considered a star than an actor and wasn’t apologetic about it. He told me that for very few roles one has to dig deep and prepare, in most of the films; it’s the star who carries the film on his shoulders as people come to see their favourite star. In this sense, he was like the Southern legends: NTR, MGR & Rajinikanth who enjoyed huge fan following, but Dev didn’t have thousands of fan clubs like them.
Millions of women loved and adored him; in his films there are no hugs, no smooching, no display of flesh, still they convey tender feelings of love, care and affection through his immortal, romantic songs. Abhi na jao chhod kar of Hum Dono is arguably the most romantic song of Hindi films. When Dev announces to the whole world: Sau saal pahle mujhe tumse payyar tha, aaj bhi hai aur kal bhi rahega; Tere ghar ke samane ek ghar banaunga; Aankho hi ankhon mei isara ho gaya; Pal bhar ke liye koi hamei pyar kaar le, he sounds so genuine and trustworthy.
I recollect in the late 1960s, we used to jump the boundary wall of our Ganga Nath Jha hostel of Allahabad University to see Dev Anand’s Kala Pani in Laksmi Talkies in the last show and swayed in the front row when Nalini Jaywant was shown singing: Nazar lagi Raja tore bungale pe. We sang loudly unmindful of the audience in the hall when Dev, dressed in a sherwani with Kashmiri cap sang, Hum bekhudi mein tumko pukare chale gaye, sagar mein zindagi ko utare chale gaye. The song of Dev Anand’s Teen Devian which used to be on the lips of university students was: Khwab ho tum ya koi hasina, kaun ho tum batalao. As luck will have it, some three decades later, my idol, the evergreen Dev Anand, who according to his girlfriend Suraiya resembled the Hollywood film star Gregory Peck, was at my 19th floor pent ouse in Chicago in Jan 2002 (Consul General’s official residence) in flesh and blood. And what struck me most was his unfailing courtesy, humility, informality, friendliness, indefatigable energy and joi de vivre. He met me with unmistakable warmth as if he had known me for ages. It was minus 30 degrees Centigrade outside and Dev Saab had travelled for 22 hours from Bombay via London yet he showed no signs of fatigue or jet lag. While giving a glass of red wine when I asked him if he would like to seat down, he quipped: “No, I am perfectly fine!” So, 81-year-old Dev was on his feet for the next two hours.
What a magnetic pull Dev had vis-a-vis his female fans was underlined by an amusing incident in Chicago. After hosting a dinner in his honour, I urged a prominent businessman of the Indian Diaspora to host a reception in Dev Anand’s honour and he enthusiastically agreed. He invited over 100 guests, more than half were women who lined up to have a photo opp with the Chief Guest,.When it was the turn of a middle aged ,somewhat matronly ,woman she put her arms around the neck of Slim n delicate Dev and virtually crushed him in an tight and huskily muttered,” Dev Saab, I have been dreaming of you every night for the last 25 years!” I winked at her husband who was standing just behind her and whispered,” whom have you married? You thought she was sleeping with you but she was dreaming of Dev Anand! ”He gave a sheepish Smile.
Dev had flown from India to attend the film festival: Unforgettable classics of Bollywood which I had organized in collaboration with Gene Siskel Film Centre in Chicago in which his film Guide was screened. Next year, he returned with his film: Love at Time Square which has no signs of greatness like Guide and with thick rimmed glasses, Dev had a pale resemblance to his dashing and debonair Bollywood persona. This wasn’t much of a film but out of respect for Dev, I got its screening organized by the Indian American community. They also hosted a reception for him at the International House of Chicago University. Till date, he remains the only Indian film personality who has been so honoured at the International House of the Chicago University.
When the long engagements were over, while dropping him at the hotel at 23.00 hrs, I asked him, if I could take him anywhere else. He thought for a moment and quipped, “take me to a place where I might have never gone,” I thought for a while and told Dev, “Ok. Let us go,” and we drove to the iconic hotel, the House of Blues. When we entered the hall at around 11.30 PM, the music was at the loudest. I walked up to the manager and requested him if he could make a brief announcement about the legendary film star from Bollywood. Bursting with energy, Dev had no patience to wait for such an announcement, he stepped on the stage, grabbed a mic and announced, “Ladies and gentlemen, I am Dev! Dev Anand from Bombay.”In our diplomatic career we meet many Indian celebrities abroad, they appear quite normal and well behaved. But when we meet them back home in India, they turn aloof, indifferent and barely able to recollect our meetings while they were in the countries of our posting. Dev Anand was an exception, he was exceptionally charming and courteous abroad as well as in India. Several years later his biography “Romancing Life” was being released at Taj Mansingh in Delhi. Getting a wind from somewhere, the publisher invited me and my wife to the event. There were nearly 400 guests jostling in the Darwar e Khas in the basement of the hotel. I and my wife were standing on the ground floor in one corner amongst around 100 guests. Suddenly, the front door was flung open and there appeared a frail looking Dev with a tilt in his body.
Lo and behold, he walked straight to me and my wife and gushed, “What a pleasure to meet you here, Surendra! Come on, let’s go” and dismissing our protestations he took us to his suite and chatted with us for over 15 minutes while his fans and admirers waited downstairs. He had sent me a hand written note when I was in Kenya after his visit to Chicago.
Dev liked his role as a director more than as an actor. Perhaps the most successful film directed by him was Prem Pujari which had several gem of songs penned by Gopal Das Niraj: Rangeela Re, Sokhiyon mein ghola jaye thoda sa shabab (sound like a chemistry formula) ,Phoolon ke rang se . Niraj also gave very evocative songs in Tere Mere sapane: Jaise Radha ne mala japi shyam ki…Hey mene kasam li, Jeewan ki bagiya. But Shailendra was the king of songs in Dev’s films:
Musafir tu jayega kahan? While Goldie directed his most memorable films, Dada S.D. Burman gave music in most of his hit films.Dev like Raj Kapoor had a very keen ear for music , his films contain some of the most hummable and memorable songs which also reflect his personality. Khoya Khoya Chaand remains unforgettable for generations. Some two decades back, Shashi Kapoor reportedly said, “I was clean bowled by this song when I was a teenager and this will still be sung long after I have gone.” How true! Har fiqar ko dhuyen me udata chala gaya reflects Dev’s life’s philosophy. He never looked back and was always engrossed in his plans for future.
When I asked him what’s was the secret of his energy, he disarmingly said, “When I am in my office in front of my computer screen, I cut myself off from everything going outside. I am in the thick of my thoughts readying myself to conquer new horizons.”
They don’t make people like Dev Anand anymore! Dev Anands don’t die.
Surendra Kumar is a former Ambassador of India.