He was a style icon without a parallel. A marathon filmmaker and an incorrigible romantic, Dev Anand was above all an eternal optimist in an industry where the happiness quotient is often directly proportional to a film's fate at the box office.

Though his last hit, Des Pardes, came way back in 1978, he preferred to look ahead, than looking back with nostalgia at a wonderful career that had milestones such as Baazi, Kala Pani, Kala Bazar, Paying Guest, Guide, Jewel Thief, Hum Dono and Hare Rama Hare Krishna. His last film, Chargesheet, was released a couple of months ago. He had the script ready for two more.

Part of the triumvirate that ruled at the box office in the 1950s and 1960s — Raj Kapoor was a tramp, a bit of Charlie Chaplin; Dilip Kumar was a tragedy king — Dev Anand was hailed as the quintessential romantic hero: his appearance on the screen was greeted by whistles by many of his millions of female followers.

Unfortunately, he was to become a prisoner of his image, which meant that the actor in him was not utilised to the fullest potential. He was never given enough credit for his acting skills or his perspicacity: he showed grey shades in cinema at a time when character in Hindi cinema was only black or white. Till the end he was to remain a dream hero with his idiosyncrasies. The drawl, the speech, the gait... all these made him what he was.

Interestingly, though he came to be recognised for his dialogue-delivery, his peculiar style started off as a necessity. When he came into films in the 1940s, he had a bit of a gap in his teeth. He was advised by P.L. Santoshi to get that corrected. However, post the filling operation, he did not get his original speech back. He came to experience a little difficulty in speaking fast. This was to later become his trademark!

Back in the 1950s, when Raj Kapoor was busy perfecting his Chaplinisque ways and Dilip Kumar was beginning to find box office joy in tragic portrayals, Dev Anand brought to the big screen the first shades of urban cinema. Nearly half-a-century before it became fashionable to speak the urban language at multiplexes, he carved out a niche for himself as a modern urban hero. And many decades before the media came to hail Shah Rukh Khan for his anti-hero ways, Dev Anand had pulled it off with Baazi, Navketan's first film. Navketan was the banner he set up in 1949: Dev Anand went on to produce more than 30 films under it.

Unique distinction

It was during the making of Baazi that he met Kalpana Kartik, who went on to become his wife soon. Nearly 20 years after Baazi, he had the guts to show the weaker side of a hero's personality by shedding a tear or two in Prem Pujari, in 1970. In between he had achieved the unique distinction of starting a film with a song. The film was Hum Dono and the song “Abhi na jao chhodkar.” It is likely to be used whenever the world talks of Dev Anand. The film was re-released in colour recently to a muted response, forcing him to shelve plans to go colour with his other black-and-white masterpieces.

He was often commended for his dress sense. Only Dev Anand could pull off bizarre combinations like orange trousers with a pink shirt without losing his vanity one bit! To many, though, he evoked the image of Gregory Peck. Dev Anand himself met the legend once during a foreign shoot along with Suraiya — with whom he was to have a special relationship that he never shied from.

He was never the greatest of dancers. Yet, he was a rare hero whose career was not dependent on the vocal chords of playback singers. Raj Kapoor used the voice of Mukesh, and Shammi Kapoor rode to popularity with Rafi's magic. But Dev Anand was different. If in Taxi Driver Talat Mahmood lent his voice to “Jayen to Jayen Kahan,” Dev Anand did justice to Rafi's voice in the situational song “Apni to aah ek toofan hai” in Kala Bazar, and later to Kishore Kumar in “Gaata Rahe Mera Dil.”

Fascination for hills

Contrary to common perception, he had a sense of research and used to take time off visiting locales much before a film's cast would be finalised. He had great love for natural landscapes and was particularly fascinated with the hills. In the 1960s, he went to shoot in north-eastern India when most filmmakers preferred to go to Kashmir and other northern States to shoot. Most of his romantic songs, including “Tere mere Sapne,” were shot in the hills.

He was a teetotaller who remained personally untouched by his success and his numerous awards, including the Padma Bhushan and the Dadasaheb Phalke award. Nor did he take his romantic image too seriously. His heroines often talked of feeling ‘safe' with him. But really off and on screen, he was a youth icon who spoke their language, used their music, chose their subjects.

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