The one factor that defined Dev Anand was his stardom

I missed the first flood of Dev Anand obituaries because I was not sure I had anything to add. I knew him from the time I was a child and interacted with him frequently when I became a journalist. But I was not the world’s greatest Dev Anand fan. His finest hour came before I started watching Hindi movies and by the time I knew him in a journalistic capacity, he had stopped making films that were worth watching. So, I wasn’t sure that I had anything useful to add to the tributes that came gushing out.

So, why am I adding my two bits now?

Well, it’s because I think that many of the obituaries have missed the one factor that defined Dev Anand: his stardom. He was a star first and a human being second.

People who have interacted with movie stars will tell you that for most of them there is a distinction between their private and public lives. They choose what image they want to present to the outside world and conform to that image when they are in public. But when the curtain falls, when they go home in the evenings, they revert to being the people they really are. They don’t worry how their hair is combed. They wipe off the make-up. They get drunk. They play with their kids. They fight with their wives. They talk about their frustrations and let their real feelings flow.

Not Dev Anand. When it came to Dev, what you saw was what you got. There was no distinction between the man and the star.

I always thought that the difference between him and two major contemporaries – Dilip Kumar and Raj Kapoor – was that while his contemporaries were willing to let go and to settle down to old age, Dev clung on to the stardom of his youth. Raj Kapoor became a fat old man who cared more about direction than acting. Dilip Kumar used his talent to recast himself as a character-actor and was content to let the ravages of time show on his face.

But Dev was determined to cheat time. Even in his 70s, he continued to play the romantic lead. When nobody else would cast him as the hero – largely because he should have been playing the hero’s grandfather – he wrote his own scripts and made his own movies, all of which revolved around him. The distinguishing characteristic of any Dev Anand film was how the hero rarely left the screen even when the film would have benefitted from less Dev Anand and more plot. Within the film industry, they would say that Johnny Mera Naam, perhaps the biggest hit of Dev’s career, succeeded because the director (Dev’s brother, Goldie) managed to keep him off the screen for a crucial reel and a half.

What the critics didn’t get was that Dev did not hog the screen in a shameless effort to promote himself. He genuinely thought that he was irresistible and that audiences couldn’t get enough of him. On the rare occasions that he talked about his failures, his single-minded belief in himself always shone through. Discussing the failure of Ishq Ishq Ishq, his 70s bomb, he once said to me, in all seriousness, “The picture failed because audiences could not understand why a man like me could find Shabana Azmi attractive.”

Given that he was 30 years older than Shabana, it took considerable faith in oneself to attribute the commercial failure of what was really quite a stinker to the imagined ugliness of his heroine.

In almost everything Dev did, his concern for his image remained paramount. Look at the pictures of Dev Anand that the press is now filled with. In not one of these photos – many of them taken at the end of a long day or when he has stepped off an international flight – does he look at all dishevelled. His clothes are never creased. There is never even the hint of stubble. And not one hair is out of place.

Though it was a taboo subject which we could never discuss with him, there is no doubt that Dev Anand was Bollywood’s pioneer of cosmetic surgery. These days every star has a hair transplant, has Botox injected into his face and goes abroad to have the bags removed from under his eyes. But back in the days when plastic surgery was considered an outlandish procedure, Dev would disappear abroad for several weeks. When he returned, he would look much younger. I don’t know what he did to his hair. I don’t think it was a wig so I guess he had some kind of implantation done way before it became fashionable.

His contemporaries would joke about his vanity. “Dev Anand can never pass a mirror without stopping to look at himself,” a fellow star of that era told me. But because he cared about his appearance, his career outlasted all his contemporaries. Look at Dilip Kumar in Dastaan or Raj Kapoor in Mera Naam Joker and compare how they looked with Dev’s youthful appearance in Johnny Mera Naam (made around the same time) and you’ll see why, in visual terms at least, he remained the true star of that trio. Moreover, Dev went on to convincingly play the leading man for another ten years after Raj Kapoor became a whiskey-loving large person.

The visual obsession had parallels in the way in which Dev conducted himself in private and public. Catch stars in unguarded moments and they will reveal their true selves. But when it came to Dev, either there were no unguarded moments or there was no true self. He was never indiscreet. If he felt any frustrations or heartbreak, he rarely complained. He must have been jealous of some colleagues but he never once had a bad word to say about anyone.

The closest I got to seeing an unguarded side of Dev was after the release of Satyam Shivam Sundaram. By then, it was clear that Zeenat Aman had chosen her career over him. But Dev would not say anything bad about her. His only complaints were about the way in which Raj Kapoor had shot her in the movie. “You know Vir,” he said, sounding distressed, “there are some scenes where the camera lingers too long on the area below her neck.”

“You mean her breasts?”

“Yes, yes. It is not in good taste. The camera could have moved away quicker.”

“But Dev Saab, that’s the whole point of the movie. Zeenat Aman’s breasts are the real stars of the picture.”

“Yes, yes. But very wrong. I did not like it.”

Apart from that, I never once got anything out of him. He genuinely had no bitterness or rancour. It was, I guess, a function of the way in which he lived his life. If you are determined to deny your past, then how can you feel bitter about it?

My last formal interview with Dev was several years ago for a show I used to do on the old Star News, called Star Talk. You could tell that the unit treated him like a demi-god. Everyone wanted to shake his hand and Dev in turn seemed genuinely pleased to meet his fans. The only time he lost his good humour was during the first break in shooting when the make-up man rushed up to powder his nose and push his hair above his eyebrows. “DON’T TOUCH MY HAIR,” Dev shouted with such ferocity that the studio fell silent for several minutes.

But we forgave him his vanity as we forgave him those absurdly high collars and carefully draped scarves. I never believed that he was trying to hide plastic surgery scars. I thought that he was just self-conscious about the wrinkles on his neck, which contrasted sharply with the tautness of his facial skin.

By the end, as he made one third-rate movie after another, I finally asked him why he bothered to sweet-talk rich hicks from Kanpur and Jabalpur into financing movies that everyone knew were going to be massive flops. He didn’t need the money (he had invested wisely during his peak years and his needs were simple). Wasn’t it time to sit back and finally relax?

“I can’t do it Vir,” he said flatly. “If I don’t make motion pictures, I will die.”

And on Sunday, when the end finally came, all I could think of was that he was still acting, still scripting, and still planning new movies right till the moment when the great director in the sky finally called ‘Cut’.


  1. sputnik 8 years ago

    “Rosy: “Main tumhein kuchh nahin de sakti, koi vaada nahin kar sakti. Raju, meri parchaee kahin tumhein barbaad na kar de.”

    Raju: “Tum koi vaada nahin kar rahi ho. Tumhara haath apne dil pe rakh kar main ek vaada karna chahta hoon.”

    This grand promise of love in Vijay Anand’s Guide (1965) is the lead-in to S.D. Burman’s romantic melody Tere mere sapne ab ek rang hain. It also underscores why Dev Anand’s role of Raju guide would go on to become the most iconic of his sprawling acting career. It’s Raju who supports Rosy’s opting out of a loveless marriage. Rosy (Waheeda Rehman) has to keep her passion for dance at bay and her love life is barren in the hands of a philandering, indifferent husband. She finds liberation in her relationship with Raju guide who also acts as her agent and encourages her to pursue a career in dance. But his life soon goes into a downward spiral and greed forces him to take to crime.

    It is one of the definitive modern portrayals of adultery in Hindi films and a persuasive character sketch of a weak, avaricious, deceitful man. But in Dev Anand’s filmography, the questioning and challenging of morality and ethics isn’t unique to Guide alone. It runs like a thread, especially in his black-and-white films of the ’50s and early ’60s.

    At a time, fan loyalties were very clearly divided between Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor and Dev Anand. A devotee of one could not admire the other. Dev Anand got the raw deal in this trinity worship. Dilip Kumar got critical appreciation for his intense tragic heroes and Raj Kapoor got accolades for his social commitment as the Chaplinesque tramp. Dev Anand was largely perceived as suave, slick, urbane and charming. And therefore, shallow. Over the years, we celebrated his songs, his never-say-die spirit, his Gregory Peck styling, puffed hair, mannerisms and awkward gait. But being Dev Anand was about inhabiting a complex, edgy and morally ambiguous zone. The beginnings of an anti-hero, before the term became part of popular lexicon.

    Raju guide’s sinner-to-saint graph had mystical, spiritual undertones. His predecessor had been a far more problematic, transgressive and non-conformist Bambai Ka Babu (1960). Dev Anand is the titular Babu, the criminal who pretends he’s Kundan, the long lost son of a rich zamindar, in order to steal the family’s riches. Unexpectedly, he falls in love with the zamindar’s daughter Maya (Suchitra Sen), ostensibly his sister. It’s an indefinable relationship hanging precariously between deep passion and perceived incest. The friendly, sisterly banter is reciprocated with an obsession without scruple. The taboo, defiant love is brought out in an electric dream sequence where Babu tells Maya that he doesn’t want a sister’s affection from her, but a woman’s love. He does not want her to call him bhaiyya (brother) and rejects her attempts to tie the rakhi. However, he is able to find redemption by eventually subjugating his forbidden desire and being faithful to his parents and a family that is not his own.

    Baazi (1951) could well be the first Dev Anand film set in such grey zones. He plays Madan, a small-time gambler, essentially innocent at heart, but forcibly sucked into a world of crime to be able to afford his TB-afflicted sister’s treatment. Love reforms him. As it does in Kala Bazaar (1960), where he is the blackmarketeer of film tickets. Jaal’s Tony (1952), however, has fewer compunctions to redeem himself. He seduces brashly, literally trapping the girl in a net of desire with the ensnaring song Ye raat ye chandni phir kahan.

    The dark, noir feel of the films added to the shadowy characters he played. Be it Taxi Driver (1954), where he is a cabbie who gets involved with criminals who steal his cab for a robbery, or House No. 44 (1955), where he is a pickpocket-turned-police informant. The get-up, easy swagger and cool attitude added to the persona. As did the smoke of the innumerable cigarettes in film after film. In his world, there is moodiness and atmosphere and certain prominent motifs. Like the grungy gambling dens with bar girls seducing, singing and dancing with abandon. And often falling in love with him. The most mysterious of these femme fatales was Waheeda Rehman in CID (1956).

    It’s interesting to count the number of films in which he plays an impostor. He dons a disguise in Taxi Driver, leads a double life in Munimji (1955), pretends to be Kalpana Kartik’s husband in Nau Do Gyarah (1957) to claim his rightful inheritance, and masquerades as an old man in Paying Guest (1957). There is even a fight of the two guises. He uses cover-up to nab counterfeiters in Jaali Note (1960). He assumes the identity of a thief to infiltrate a gang of thugs in Jewel Thief (1967) as he does in Johnny Mera Naam (1970). In Prem Pujari (1970), his army officer dons several impersonations to expose a spy ring that is leaking India’s military secrets.

    The fallibility of his characters makes one feel close to him. That frailty and aimlessness strikes a chord in any era, with any generation. Despite his starry appeal, Dev Anand’s persona never did overpower his early films. But later movies have, indisputably, been alarmingly bad. I haven’t watched any after Des Pardes (1978). A day after his death, every music store I visited in Delhi had a separate stack of his films to cater to the renewed demand. And 99 per cent were those black-and-white films. Dev Anand himself may not have liked revisiting them or discussing the past. He may have preferred to live in the present and the future. But it is someplace within his sepia yesterday and the shades of grey that his timelessness lies.”


  2. sputnik 8 years ago

    Dilip Kumar on Dev Anand

    “I am just a year senior to Dev Anand. All three of us, Raj, Dev and I, started our careers around the same time in the mid-1940s. I still have fond memories of Dev and I travelling by local train to look for work in various studios. We developed a good rapport within a short period and Dev became a dear family friend, especially of my younger brother, Nasir Khan.

    By the late 1940s all of us were able to gain a strong footing in filmdom. Raj and I achieved stardom with “Shaheed”, “Andaz” and “Barsat”. Dev rose to heights with “Ziddi” and “Baazi”. We shared a decent professional rapport and a mutual set of unspoken ethics right from the beginning. Though nothing was put into words, we shared a silent regard for each other. There were frequent meetings between us when we would discuss and analyse each of our works. We had humorous moments also when Raj would imitate me and Dev immaculately. They were such beautiful moments as we were competitors, not rivals.

    Dev’s plus point was that he was very cooperative with every co-star and technician. He had devastating looks and a smile which till date no other actor has. Whenever he received the right script and an imaginative director, he gave superb performances as in “Kala Pani”, “Asli Naqli” and “Guide”. Among us, he was the best in performing romantic scenes.

    I had the good fortune of sharing space on screen with Dev Anand in Gemini’s “Insaniyat” in 1955. Directed by the respected S.S. Vasan, it was a costume drama. So generous was Dev that he cancelled dates of his own production shooting to accommodate dates with me. I personally saw how he helped junior artists by giving them take after take so that they could prove their worth. He never neglected anyone.

    We made it a point to attend each other’s family functions. I attended his sister’s marriage in the mid- 1950s and daughter Devina’s marriage in 1985. Dev was present with wife Mona throughout my marriage function with Saira Banu in 1966 and also other events at our Pali Hill residence. We met like family members and never did our profession come into our relations.

    Perhaps the most important visit, I, Raj and Dev did was to see Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, then India’s Prime Minister, prior to his demise. We discussed many issues together. Just as I addressed him as Dev, he addressed me as Lale. I am shocked and grief struck to learn about his sad demise in London suddenly. My 89 birthday will be my saddest one as I will miss my dear Dev who I am sure would come, hug and greet me saying, “Lale, Tu Hazar Saal Jiyega.” Dev, Kahan Chale Gaye Mujhe Chod Ke. ”

  3. sputnik 8 years ago

    Naseer on Dev Anand

    “An actor’s actor…

    ….and a gentleman’s gentleman.
    One of my earliest cinematic memories of Dev Anand is that of the debonair actor dressed in fatigues, cigarette dangling rakishly from lips, singing ‘main zindagi ka saath nibhata chala gaya…’

    We grew up in an age where the charisma of Dev Anand permeated every sphere of life. Whether it was the peak of hair puffing up his crown, his crisp white shirts teamed with loose, exquisitely-tailored pants, the strong streak of integrity running through his persona and colouring every act of his, Dev Uncle was a force to reckon with. He was immensely attractive in a clean, chivalrous sort of way, which was irresistible to women. Nobody of that generation could get enough of Dev Anand or his movies.

    What I really admire about Dev Uncle is that his films always experimented with new themes and there was a fresh approach to every Dev Anand movie that hit the theatres. Not one to star in meaningless fluff, there was invariably, in an obtuse manner, a social commentary woven into the story-line of the movies he chose to act in, whether it was the futility and horror of war (“Hum Dono”), the plight of nautch girls (“Kala Pani”), an unfulfilled wife turning to an extramarital relationship (“Guide”) and the eternal rich boy-poor girl divide (“Asli Naqli”).

    The 1970s was a period of huge social churning, an age of flower power, free love, rejection of tradition and rituals by the youth, long hair, bell-bottoms, irreverence….. Dev Uncle did the incredible. He harnessed the entire essence of the 1970s, encapsulating it in the cult movie “Hare Rama Hare Krishna” and bridged the yawning generation gap of that era. Amazing for one who had grown up in an entirely different era! An astute and inspired film-maker, Dev Uncle had the incredible knack of wedding commercial popularity with an aesthetically mature method of film-making. In that matter, he was very similar to his friend, contemporary and fellow film-maker Guru Dutt. I’m overcome with emotion to think that these two greats are together up there somewhere…

    Though the new crop of actors and film makers are hugely talented, some very edgy, I cannot see anyone filling the empty space left behind by Dev Uncle. He was one of a kind. Though it was said that he fashioned himself on the lines of Gregory Peck, I firmly believe that Dev Anand had his unique identity which was not to be confused with that of any Hollywood star. I recall him flailing his arms and ambling down a hilly slope in the song ‘Khoya khoya chand, khula aasman’ in a gait that was very individualistic and very Dev Anand-ish. Just the way Shammi Kapoor had his trademark gestures, Dev Anand had his. His charisma and his individuality were the stuff legends were made of. Though he could run around trees (and very stylishly at that!), angst and hopelessness took on a new meaning when translated on screen by this incredible actor.

    His breathing techniques while rendering a song was awesome and no one could quite sing a song on screen as convincingly as Dev Anand — you could see his vocal chords straining in synchronisation with the lyrics. By sheer cosmic justice, he also got some of the best songs, the cream of the golden period of music. It’s no wonder really that in the cinema aficionado’s mind, the actor will always be synonymous with great music! He had a keen eye for talent and photogenic faces and some of our great cinematic names — Tina Munim, Hema Malini, Zeenat Aman — will always be remembered for flourishing under his nurturing.

    Cherished opportunity

    I had the good fortune to act in one of Dev saheb’s movies. Though my role as an underworld don had shades of grey, I jumped at the chance of acting in “Charge Sheet” as it would give me a wonderful opportunity to interact with my idol. I was left awestruck at the indefatigable energy levels of the veteran actor. He would work non-stop to ensure that everything went as per plans. Perfectionist to the core, he had to get everything perfect — the lights, the costumes, the dialogues, the mood….. Physically, he was frail but mentally, he was as brimming with enthusiasm as a five-year-old! I don’t see even a fraction of that zeal in people half his age. He was full of wit and humour when we shared the stage for a promotional event and I will always cherish his suave lines. He died swiftly (and painlessly, I hope) in his sleep and his exit from this world was as dignified and graceful as the life he led. An actor’s actor and a gentleman’s gentleman, Dev Anand shall always be evergreen in my mind.”

  4. fact 7 years ago

    He never got botox, or any cosmetic surgery, ever. And that’s a fact.

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