Breaking with Tradition in Bollywood: Actor Dev Anand

The Evergreen Hero

A picture I took when attending the release of his autobiography

I sure will miss Dev Anand!  He’s the only male actor from Bollywood to ever enthrall me!

Actually I’m not a big film buff.  I see at the most one film a week on T.V. and 2 films a year in the theater.  Back-to-back movie marathons make me throws up!

Odder still, Dev Anand was not the hero of my generation.  He was the big star of my parents’ generation.  And that is who introduced him to me.   My mother loved singing, and when I was a child many of the songs she would singand that I loved, were from his movies, most of which were from before 1970!

I didn’t even know those songs were from his movies, till many, many years later, when we got a DVD player, and she bought one of his movies, just to hear the songs!  I thought it was silly till I realized which songs these were. Then I went and got a stack of his movies that my mom and I would enjoy watching together.  It was a form of bonding.  Dev Anand’s songs sealing a generational gap!

Most agree that the songs in Dev Anand’s films were so beautiful – both in melody and lyrics, that they were actually what made his movies popular and also big box office hits.  However there was also an irresistible charm to him.  As an actor, I cannot really say that he was the best.  I do have a list of Indian actors whose acting I love but who I am not smitten with as I have been with Dev Anand! For any woman just watching him on screen would be a romantic experience – the gently attentive, flattering manner in which he interacted with his female co-stars, his dialogue delivery, his expressions, his sensitivity, his body language –  he just knew how to enthrall!

I have often complained that the Indian male actors have terribly uninteresting on-screen personas.  And they flop at romance!  The Bollywood heroes of my generation were either uncertified “stalkers” or they followed the emotionally constipated, lean-mean-fighting machine formulae of Mr. Big Bachchan!  A pity Bollywood could not carry forward the Dev Anand charm! Nor can they create good music anymore!

But in our family we have another Dev Anand link – an often repeated anecdote.  My grandfather, like many of his generation, was highly dismissive of the Bollywood film industry.  His daughters were not only not permitted to watch Bollywood films (they did so by sneaking out with their friends), but one of their college friends who actually went on to become a mega Bollywood actress was not permitted to attend their weddings! One of his own friends however had married a certain Bollywood actress by the name of Kamini Kaushal.  And whenever my grandfather was in Bombay, he would stay with this friend.  On one such occasion, they had a party at their house, to which many Bollywood actors were invited.  Since my grandfather is very vocal in his opinions, his friend thought it best to bundle him onto the balcony with one specified guest.  My grandfather spent the entire evening talking just to this one person, and they discussed everything except Bollywood.  After the party my grandfather told his friend, “A thorough gentleman! Very interesting man…and of course he is not from the industry!”  Well, the “gentleman” turned out to be Dev Anand!!

So a couple of years ago, when I got an invitation to a book launch, where Dev Anand was releasing his autobiography (Romancing with Life) I took my mother along.  The entire audience was from my mothers’ generation and the joy and anticipation in the room was almost tangible!  Dev Anand who by then was over 85, was escorted by his son and looked spritely and eager to interact.  Just before he started, a horde of media reporters descended on the launch with their cameras etc – about 50 of them, and formed an iron circle around the table he was seated at.  The audience couldn’t even see Mr. Anand and complained.  But the store management said they were helpless! (Though I am sure they liked that publicity so much they didn’t even try to move the media out!)

Then Dev Anand had an idea.  With the help of his son he climbed onto the table, so the rest of us could see and hear him, and for the next 1 hour he stood there, waving his famous red neck scarf, and talking and communicating with the audience.  He did not show any anger or impatience.  He poked a little fun at the media but with such gentle humor it wouldn’t offend anyone.  He smiled and indulged everyone’s questions on his life, movies, philosophies and politics.   And when asked, what’s the one thing he thinks will help India advance, he said, he would have liked to make sure that everyone didn’t just get a proper education, but that everyone could speak in English. He said ultimately we in India need to communicate to be a democracy, and for that we need a common language first!! 

In an odd way my parents are living proof of this assertion of his.  My parents did not have an arranged marriage like about 99% of the Indians of their generation.  They had met and fallen in love, and later they married despite intense resistance from both their families.  However, when they met, the only language they had in common, that they communicated in, was English!  My father who had grown up in Lahore, spoke Urdu and Punjabi, and my mother who grew up in Calcutta, had Bengali as her first language.  And even though my mother watched Dev Anand’s films and sang the songs, the lyrics were all memorized! She didn’t really fully understand the dialogues in the films, and would learn Hindi and Urdu properly, only later, after her marriage.   But the language of love for my parents’ early courtship was English!

I have to say, that the other day when I heard about his death, the first thing I thought was I am so glad that I got to actually meet this man before he died.  Not because of the giant persona he was in Bollywood, but simply because of the person he was.

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1 Comment

  1. Ronen

     /  January 15, 2014

    Well written and i agree to what she writes. Even kids of modern generation never find him old, when introduced ‘evergreen’ indeed.


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