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Dev... promising Anand again

"Love at Times Square" is forgotten. Now forget "Beauty Queen" too, a film that is only to be. For the moment, Dev Anand is wrapping up a songless quickie. SURESH KOHLI reports.

Dev Anand.

THE NEPAL palace massacre jolted him so much that he went into a hiding, and within days produced a `fantastic' script. All his scripts are supposed to be `fantastic' though others in the Hindi film industry feel his films have everything except a `script'. The script ready, he started daydreaming about its launch, though many involved in the tragedy counselled him against making a film on the subject. But more the opposition, the greater the resolve. All this while he was obsessed with his impending release shot extensively in America, Love at Times Square. Cut to the U.S., January 2003. New York is cold, but The New York Times welcomes the flop flick rather warmly.

Cut again to Washington airport. An Indian correspondent drew his attention to the Washington Post headlines. Norah Jones, love child of sitar maestro Pandit Ravi Shankar, and his abandoned American interest, had won a string of Grammy Awards. A new film was conceived during the hour-long flight to New York. Intentions revealed in a long-distance interview to a source in London created uproar in India and America, instantly. Angry outbursts from both father and daughter sent the intelligentsia into diverse camps. But mindless of what was happening, the incorrigible, indefatigable Dev Anand closed himself in his Raddison Hotel, New York suite and in two weeks flat produced another `fantastic' script. Song of Life was born.

"I have decided to shift my headquarters here. This is where I am now going to produce films. Here films are released on percentage basis, and you are not dependent on half a dozen distributors who dictate terms to you." And Dev Anand had moved home to America for the next four months, discussing his script with American writers who would add local inputs into his international project. Endless meetings with agents, artistes, composers later, and postponing all plans for Song of Life for some months after, the evergreen writer, actor, producer, director returned to the familiarity of Mumbai shores. No, not to cool heels but to work afresh on the abandoned script of Beauty Queen.

That's what he had been doing in early December 2003 when one spoke to him in Mahabaleshwar, his favourite hill resort, shortly before his belated selection for the Dadasaheb Phalke Award. As the news gathered momentum, and TV channels drove down, he began to talk about his search for a new heroine, a young beautiful girl who will rock the nation with her stunning looks. Six months, countless screen tests, innumerable auditions and photo sessions later, the hunt is still on. Anu Malik has started composing tunes that will send the country into a spin. The film is nowhere about a launch. No. Beauty Queen has not been abandoned. It will be on the backburner.

Meanwhile, Dev Anand is launching a political satire. A 40-day, start-to-finish songless quickie to be shot in border cities across the country. But Mr Prime Minister will only have only two shots in the Capital. An oath-taking ceremony in Rashtrapati Bhawan (to be recreated on a studio floor), and a milling crowd in front of India Gate. Come November 2004, and the film is expected to be ready for release.

A million guesses for who will answer to the call of Mr Prime Minister?

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