Blast from the past Columns

Gambler (1971)

Dev Anand was an eternal romantic, launching new faces, picking himself to play lead roles against actors half his age. Filmmaking was a passion for him. He picked subjects that appealed to the masses, subjects that most of his age would not dare. The versatility that he brought to his persona remained a feature of his career.

He loved to be in the thick of action, whether producing, directing or acting. His directorial ventures did not always bring him success but Dev Anand was an artist relentlessly pursuing dreams. He never compromised on his commitment to make films, sometimes at a pace that defied his age. His debonair appearance influenced the youth of the times and, of course, left the ladies in a trance. His fan following was legendary.

For Dev Anand, the success of a movie was not to be judged by its performance at the box office. “Ishq, Ishq, Ishq” was close to his heart even though it bombed at the box office. “But it was the most inspiring and exhilarating experience for my own growth and enlightenment,” he was to write in “Romancing with Life”, his autobiography.

His films were different because he loved challenges. In the latter part of his career, Dev Anand clearly lost his touch but not the enthusiasm. He scouted for young talent but none of them came close to stars like Zeenat Aman, Tina Munim, Parveen Babi, who all prospered from the platform that Dev Anand provided them.

After the stupendous hit “Johny Mera Naam” in 1970, the next year saw Dev Anand come up with three movies with diverse roles. “Gambler”, “Hare Rama Hare Krishna” and “Tere Mere Sapne” kept him in the top bracket of the industry which was now warming up to a sensation named Rajesh Khanna. Not that there was any competition between the two. Rajesh Khanna’s overwhelming success had left stars of yesteryear like Dharmendra and Jeetendra playing the catching up game.

“Gambler” paled in comparison with “Hare Rama Hare Krishna” and “Tere Mere Sapne”. He directed “Hare Rama Hare Krishna” while brother Vijay Anand handled “Tere Mere Sapne”, both doing good business. But “Gambler”, with Zaheeda in the lead, and Zahira as the new face, crashed even though there were moments that stood out, especially the courtroom climax where the hero discovers his parents.

Dev Anand had three stints with films made under the Nalanda banner. He began, with Amarjeet as director, with “Teen Deviyan” in 1965 featuring three heroines — Nanda, Kalpana and Simi — and some superb music by Sachin Dev Burman. “Gambler” was followed by “Prem Shastra”, which was directed by B. R. Ishara. With the exception of “Teen Deviyan”, these movies rarely found mention from Dev Anand.

“Gambler” is about an illegitimate child. Left to fend his way in the harsh world, the abandoned child grows into Raja (Dev Anand), proficient at manipulating cards, under the ‘guidance’ of Master (Jeevan). A compelling reason for Raja lending his skills to Master is the latter holding a secret. Master knows Raja’s mother. When Raja befriends Chandra (Zaheeda), daughter of a wealthy businessman, and subsequently falls in love with her, he looks to reform. But Master is a stumbling block.

Julie (Zahira) is Raja’s adopted sister. Every effort by the gambler is confronted with his past and Master. In desperation, Raja looks to bury his past and open a new chapter in his life by settling scores with Master. In the scuffle, Master is murdered and Raja is accused of the crime. A petty gangster Banke Bihari (Shatrughan Sinha), at loggerheads with Raja, later owns up to the murder but not before a stirring courtroom battle involving Raja and the Public Prosecutor (Kishore Sahu).

It was an average movie with some mediocre show by the actors involved. Zaheeda and Zahira were eminently forgettable, but Shatrughan Sinha, still trying to establish himself, comes up with a nice cameo of a gangster having a change of heart. It is Dev Anand who carries the movie. He is at his best in the courtroom scenes with Sahu in splendid form as the public prosecutor. It all ends well with Raja uniting with his parents in the courtroom.

Two songs stood out. “Mera Man Tera Pyaasa” by Mohammad Rafi and “Kaisa Hai Mere Dil Tu Khilari” by Kishore Kumar. The movie, however, fell far below the standards that Dev Anand had set during the first two decades of his career.

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Printable version | May 14, 2021 7:24:00 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/cinema/cinema-columns/gambler-1971/article7035641.ece

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