Dev Anand: Star among stars
Ever since Free India’s first super star passed away late Saturday night, the media continues to feature Dev Anand in prime slots.
Many will correctly argue that the first super star of the Indian silver screen was Kundan Lal Saigal whose die hard fans till date refuse to acknowledge that here could be a better singer and actor than him. But fans breed on passion and emotion and that is how it is.
That is why I have safely placed Dev Sa’ab as free India’s first super star as Saigal ruled in the pre Independence era. The three super stars who followed him were Shammi Kapoor, Rajesh Khanna and Amitabh Bachchan. No one has attained the similar status ever since even though the three Khans are hugely successful.
I am not trying to make comparisons but Dev Anand along with Dilip Kumar and Raj Kapoor was part of the top trio who ruled the film industry for years together. His uniqueness was that he got to the top position without any patronage from those who ruled the country. I am certainly not suggesting that Dilip Kumar and Raj Kapoor would not have been India’s top actors had they not received patronage from those at the helm of affairs.
There can be no actor who has the range and sensitivity of Dilip Kumar and Raj Kapoor was destined to be the greatest showman of Bollywood. But it is a fact that the then governments of the day preferred to project them and did not show similar enthusiasm regarding Dev Sa’ab. However, this did not deter the dashing young man with a sloping walk and rapid-fire dialogue delivery with shades of Gregory Peck and Cary Grant from making his mark on his own.
Dev Anand was a highly creative person who enjoyed setting the style of the day. Young people copied his puff of hair in the fifties and his fully buttoned up shirt became a fashion statement. His long collars or special headgear especially the hat he wore for Jewel Thief was something everyone liked to emulate. His blue blazer in Johnny Mera Naam inspired students including myself to get one stitched. The man had magical qualities.
Dev Anand understood politics very well though he never delved in it. He let his work speak for itself and his movies till the seventies drew huge crowds. I recall that even if Prem Pujari was not such a big success, a friend and I bought the Rs 2.40 paisa balcony ticket for Alpna cinema for a whopping Rs 15 each.
Prem Pujari incidentally was perhaps Shatrughan Sinha’s first film and he played a role of a Pakistani Army officer. His motion pictures, as he liked to call movies, were trendsetters. Whether it was Guide, Tere Mere Sapne, Hare Rama Hare Krishna or Des Pardes, Dev Sa’ab was always ahead of times.
I do recall that Dev Anand showed immense courage when he came out openly against the emergency in 1977 when most other actors chose to remain silent. Subsequently, IS Johar, Pran and Shatrughan Sinha joined him in lodging their protest. He also stood with his close pal, Kishore Kumar when the latter’s songs were banned by All India Radio following his refusal to participate in the Geeton Bhari Shaam programme organized by a youth congress leader.
Dev Sa’ab was very stylized but he was never rude or arrogant even at the peak of his success. The way he conducted himself with great dignity, it showed that he came from a very good family background. His parents were part of the Arya Samaj movement which was immensely popular those days. He had the knack of relating with anyone who came in contact with him. He once told me that he would share a lot of interesting things with me and I should help him with a book.
“Come to Bombay and we will talk. You can stay either at Sun ‘n’ Sand or at my house in Juhu.” I regret that I never accepted his invitation but met him several times later.
As a student activist in the mid seventies, I organized a Navketan retrospective and along with some other fans we held the premiere of Bullet at Plaza. I wrote earlier too that Dev Sa’ab was very fond of his alma mater, Government College, Lahore. My father who was his age and his contemporary in the college used to recall how Dev Anand was a very stylish person even then.
My last meeting was when I had gone to interview him after his book, Romancing with Life was released. He was at the Taj, Man Singh along with his son, Suneil. Our meeting went on for nearly 90 minutes and he answered almost all my queries whether they were from the book or referred to areas he had not covered in his writing. He said that he had a lot to tell and he will in another book.
The only time I saw Dev Anand sad was when his younger borther Goldie died some years ago.
“He has left a young son who wants to be in films. I do not know but I will have to do something about it…,” is what he said.
“Goldie was a source of strength to me and though he chose to lead his life, he was the closest to me. I cannot believe that he has gone. He was so many years younger to me.”
Dev Anand is being cremated in all probability in London. One reason could be that he would never have wanted his fans to see that the star they adored was lying in a shriveled state with eyes closed. He after all is immortal for many of us and no other actor can perhaps ever take his place.
Good-bye Dev Sa’ab.