Mustering all the confidence in the world, Devdutt Piroshimal Anand gate-crashed into film financier Baburao Pai’s office in Mumbai and requested for a role in the films. The year was 1946 and that 23 years old Gurdaspur- born, English literature graduate from Lahore’s Government College got rewarded for that bold move with a first-class Deccan Queen ticket to go for audition at Prabhat Film Studio, Pune. After a week, he was employed in the studio on a princely salary of Rs.350 per month and was given a three year contract as a hero. Thus began a legendary film career of a man, who almost six decades later is still bubbling with same energy and enthusiasm, taking the crests and troughs of his career with that nonchalant, evergreen smile showing that famous gap in his teeth.
1949 Bombay Talkies – film Ziddi starring Dev Anand and Kamini Kaushal was his first real hit. The next year saw him start his own film production company under the banner of ‘Navketan Films’. Its first film Afsar – pairing him with his then sweetheart Suraiya flopped and so did their romance, as it couldn’t really stand up to the family pressures. It was in such circumstances, Dev Anand summoned his friend Guru Dutt to direct a film for him.
The Image Building:
The first meeting of Dev and Guru Dutt was filmi – through a botched up clothes delivery by a laundry- man! It was during Dev’s first film Hum Ek Hain and at that time, Guru Dutt was also doing a small role in that film. The two young men became good friends and promised each other that if anyone of them makes a film, he would give the other a chance to act or direct. So keeping his promise, Dev offered Guru Dutt the second Navketan film – Baazi to direct. That crime story was a big hit. When he started making his own films,Guru Dutt too repaid the friend’s debt by casting Dev in another crime thriller CID. These musical crime capers then defined success formula for Dev and also, established his screen image as a lovable rogue, who would always get reformed in the end through his innate goodness and through his lady- love’s influence. Kaala Paani, Kaala Bazar, Pocketmaar, Sharaabi, Roop Ki Raani Choron Ka Raja -- so many films then presented Dev in the same formula. His other image was that of an urbane romantic hero with a comic flair and films like Solvaa Saal, Asli Nakli, Maaya, Paying Guest and Tere Ghar Ke Saamne gave ample proof of his hold over that genre.
Even though he was never considered as an extra-ordinary actor, his chocolate Gregory Peck-like looks, his stylish mannerisms and even his funny- looking twisted neck- flail arm movements during song sequences made such an impact that in the 50s and 60s, Dev Anand was one of the top three superstars in Hindi films. The other two, Dilip Kumar – the eternal tragedy king and Raj Kapoor – the simpleton tramp had their own screen images.
To be frank, Dev’s movies had much more entertainment value and are still eminently watchable whereas the same cannot be said about the films of his more acclaimed contemporaries. Films like Bambai Ka Babu, Hum Dono, Guide and Tere Mere Sapne proved that he could act as well as anyone. But it has to be said that more often than not his histrionics were overshadowed by his populist mannerisms and by his happy- go – lucky image in general.
Great Sense Of Music:
His sense of music was excellent. His movies always provided fresh and innovative songs that sound so modern even today. Geeta Dutt’s Suno Gajar Kya Gaaye (Baazi), Asha Bhosle’s Reshami Ujala Hai (Jewel Thief), Lata Mangeshkar’s Kaaton Se Kheenchke Yeh Aanchal (Guide), Asha – Rafi’s Abhi Na Jaao Chhodkar (Hum Dono) and Lata – Kishore’s Hey Maine Kasam Li (Tere Mere Sapne) are notable examples of Dev’s talent of using songs to create some unforgettable audiovisual moments on screen. And who has forgotten Rafi’s Tu Kahan Yeh Bata (Tere Ghar Ke Saamne) and Kishore’s Maana Janaab Ne Pukara Nahi (Paying Guest)?
Whether it was S.D.Burman, Jaidev, R.D.Burman or Rajesh Roshan, Dev always succeeded in extracting some lively music from his composers and then, made it even more memorable with perfect song- picturisation – often aided in this by his brother Vijay Anand.
Another credit to him is the way he kept faith in Kishore Kumar’s playback singing ability, even in the days when no composer was ready to entrust the singer with any good tune. By keeping Kishore’s vocals for macho, robust songs and using Rafi’s voice for mellow, sentimental numbers, Dev Anand constantly egged on Kishore, paving way for a late yet great future.
The Latter Half Of Career:
With 1970 film Hare Rama Hare Krishna, he started directing his own films. That film on the life of Hippies then made a huge packet at the box office, with the song Dum Maaro Dum reaching a cult status.
When all his competitors from the Fifties and Sixties, lost way to new brigade of Rajesh Khanna and Amitabh Bacchan in the Seventies, Dev Anand still remained relevant with hits like Johny Mera Naam, Warrant, Amir Garib and Des Pardes. His fit as a fiddle figure and ever youthful attitude made sure that he never looked odd as a hero even with heroines half his age like Zeenat Aman, Hema Malini and Tina Munim.
From Eighties onwards, he lost the plot. His latter films like Lootmaar, Awwal Number, Sacche Ka Bolbaala, Censor and the likes were pure trash and in a way made him a subject of ridicule. The audience lost its appetite for his new films. The only commendable things about such projects were- his never- say- die spirit and his encouraging attitude in promoting newcomers. Still he kept working, telling us that his best was yet to come. Then one day, he just departed forever without giving any notice.
As the tributes keep pouring in, I remember Dev Anand that we all loved – the young and impish man with puffed up hair, who ran merrily through the vast fields in that quirky, jerky manner singing Khoya Khoya Chaand Khula Aasmaan! That lovable rogue with boyish grin, who set a million hearts aflutter! That’s the lasting impression of Dev Anand for me!