....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.
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.