Without doubt Dev Anand was the first superstar of India. An actor whose style and mannerisms influenced not only his contemporaries, but also generations that followed. He was ahead of his time in every sense of the word, and had he been alive, he would have turned 100 on Tuesday.
It is not at all surprising that his innumerable fans have organized numerous functions to mark his memory, and so far as cinegoers go, he shall always be there, looking at Bollywood from up in the skies. An icon like no one has ever been, Dev Anand was incomparable and the multiple aspects of his personality were reflected, both in the cinema he stood for and the life he lived.
There are innumerable anecdotes about the superstar who remained conscious of his image and his vast fan following, that when he knew that he was going, he chose to be away in London, so that his fans could only remember him as they had always, and not as an old man, with little hair on his head and, whose end had finally come. It would have been unimaginable for his admirers to see him other than his flamboyant self. A legend whose mannerisms were deeply etched in their minds and hearts.
Dev Anand always knew that style was his essence, and he became a superstar in an era which was also dominated, other than him, by both Dilip Kumar and Raj Kapoor. He wore full sleeve shirts buttoned up till the neck since he knew that at some stage, his neck muscles would start sagging and therefore he should do something about that beforehand. The buttoned-up shirt became a style statement like his puffed hair and his attire in numerous films. He knew that the camera could impact the appearance and make a person appear fatter than one was. Therefore, he always managed to keep fully fit, unlike many of his co-actors.
There is no Dev Anand film, other than “Guide” where he is shown dying. This was not his way of looking at things. When the last scenes of “Guide” were being filmed, he told his younger brother, Goldie, that he should change the ending, since death would affect his image. Goldie stood his ground and in chaste Punjabi, told the superstar, “Bhape is film wich te tainu marna hi hoyega (Brother, in this film, there was no alternative but for you but to die).”
When Kishore Kumar became a rage with the rise of Rajesh Khanna as another superstar, Dev Anand was not threatened. His good friend Kishore had, other than Rafi, been his on-screen voice since the 1950s and thus the transition was not required. I had the good fortune of meeting him on numerous occasions; he was my father’s classmate in Government College, Lahore but I first met him through my teacher and fellow Dipsite, Sydney Rebeiro.
During one such meeting, he recalled his numerous leading ladies, and promised to share his thoughts about them at a later stage. That stage never came, as each time one would meet him he was preoccupied and charged up with his new projects. It is well known that initially, Chetan Anand, his elder brother, was to direct, “Guide” but he insisted that he would not have Waheeda Rehman as the heroine since she was “unsuitable”. Dev put his foot down and replaced the director and Goldie did the honours.
At a time when Sachin Dev Burman, Dev Anand’s favourite composer, had a tiff with lyricist Sahir Ludhianvi after the release of Guru Dutt’s “Pyaasa”, he declined to provide music for “Hum Dono” if Sahir was there. The lyrics were an essential part of the script and Burman seeing Dev uncomfortable, suggested that his assistant Jaidev would be composing the music. Rest is history and all the songs became super hits.
However, Burman was back for “Guide” and continued to guide Dev Anand till his last breath. When Kishore Kumar was at his peak and “Gambler” was in the making, Burman on Dev’s suggestion, composed the music for “Dil Ek Shaayar Hai, Gham ek Nagma Hai” to be sung by Mohammad Rafi. But Kishore Kumar came to know and persuaded Burman to allow him to sing the immortal number.
Dev Anand’s popularity had no boundaries and when he was invited to the Press Club of India in the late 1980s, the attendance was unprecedented. The meeting went off very well and the next day, the coverage accorded to the actor in the national press was unbelievable. There were some interesting angles to the coverage. In two newspapers, the news editor had decided to put the Dev Anand report on page three. However, at night, the foreman at both the places, independent of each other, defied the news editor and shifted the report to the front page. Their logic was that how could Dev Saab be on the inside pages. Such was his fan following.
The actor was always full of life and energy and would criticise those who accused him of making “flop films” towards the end. He said that it was his money and his passion, so why should it make any difference to anyone. Incidentally, Dev Anand always referred to movies as motion pictures.
He had a political streak as well and opposed the Emergency when not many dared. Dev Anand’s religion was his films and his innumerable fans mattered to him the most. Between us.