No actor has more swag than Dev Anand. They say he was inspired by Gregory Peck. I am a fan of both. I think, it may have been the other way around, but that’s the fan in me. The fan who lit his first cigarette with “Main Zindagi Ka Saath Nibhata Chala Gaya...”, sang “Khoya Khoya Chand...” but failed to woo anyone. And the fan who played “Allah Tero Naam Ishwar Tero Naam...” while covering the Mumbai riots in 1993. I made my young daughters watch Dev Anand’s black and white movies – Tere Ghar Ke Samne, Teen Deviyan any many more and soon had two more cheerleaders for Dev Anand at home.
But for all his style, Dev Anand also gave us a most profound philosophy : “Zindagi Ek Khayal Hai Jaise Ki Maut Bhi Ek Khayal Hai, Na Sukh Hai Na Dukh Hai; Na Deen Hai Na Duniya; Na Insaan Na Bhagwan ...Sirf Main Main Main..You have to detach yourself to go further...”.
I met him twice, first in April 1994 in Mumbai and then in Feb 1999 in Lahore, where he was part of the delegation of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s historic bus ride to Pakistan. While the first interview was focused on him and his films, the second one was about his early days in Lahore.
M K Jha : Yet another film (Gangster), you are about 70-years-old but still playing the lead role opposite young female leads ?
Dev Anand : There’s no such thing as age for a leading man, for a star. Who is a star ? A star is a man who is known. That’s all, people look forward to seeing him, listening to him or viewing him. A star is not necessarily a 25, 26 , 36-year-old young lad with youth giving him good looks, which will fade away. The first important thing is personality, personality stays.
M K Jha : While most of your contemporaries have faded away into oblivion, you are still facing the camera. What keeps you moving ?
Dev Anand : It’s the mind which is ticking all the time, if the mind is alert and mind is moving, I think there is nothing that matters. I work 12-14 hours every day. You have to. A lot of people ask me, how old are you? I tell them 64-65, they are surprised. Sometimes even I am surprised because I never thought I am that old. I have been working year after year after year. I don’t get tired, your mind never gets tired, your body does. My mind is the mind of a creator. One never grows old, one just grows, matures and dies. I don’t have any fear... even death... if it comes, I will take it. Yahi seekha hai and still learning.
M K Jha : How did you come to Bombay with just thirty rupees in your pocket and a degree in English Literature? You had a job in a military organisation?
Dev Anand : There was a war in 1941, the war was ending and I joined the Military Censor Post Office in Lahore, where I used to read letters written by soldiers and officers to their sweethearts and some stars also but I didn’t like the job. I thought if I stay here for another six months, it will degenerate me so I must move on and I quit the job and took the train to Bombay... a third class ticket. I used to look at myself in the mirror and I thought I could be an actor. I was not bad looking. People told me that, but I was very shy. I am still very shy, very introverted but that doesn’t mean I am scared of the crowd, I love crowds. I belong to them and they belong to me and I go to them and when I go to them, I become a part of them.
M K Jha : I read somewhere that after reaching Bombay, you just gate-crashed into Prabhat Studio and landed the lead role in Hum Ek Hain.
Dev Anand : No, no... I had to struggle for two years. I was living in a chawl, had no money and one day someone told me that Prabhat Studio was looking a fresh face for its new film. So I went there and got selected . I was a very bad actor. I was totally new and I was not trained. I was not the product of any academy or institute but I was a self taught man. I could analyse my work. I could find my own defects and I kept on improving through trial and error.
M K Jha : And there in Prabhat Studio, you met Guru Dutt ?
Dev Anand : I was working for Hum Ek Hain and in Prabhat Studio, a young man came to me said “You are doing the main role?” I said yes... he said, “Hello , I am Guru Dutt and I am the assistant director of your film”. We became very close friends. In fact, we promised each other that day, if I become a producer I’d take him on as a director, and the day he directed a film, he would cast me as a hero. I did launch him as a director for Navketan’s first film Baazi in 1951.
M K Jha : And Baazi established you, Navketan and Guru Dutt?
Dev Anand : Baazi set a trend. Baazi gave me a strong image - the happy-go-lucky underdog and people loved it. And I never looked back and Navketan never looked back. For Guru Dutt too, it was a major break. He too kept his promise and when he started his production, I was the hero in CID, which was a big, big hit.
M K Jha : Navketan became a big banner delivering one hit after another. Taxi Driver, Jaal, Nau Do Gyarah, House No 44, Tere Ghar Ke Samne and many more memorable films. So many talents under one banner?
Dev Anand : In the beginning they did not look talented but there was a “lava” inside them waiting to burst and when Baazi was released..oh, it was magic. Six, seven people became popular overnight. Guru Dutt as a director, SD Burman as composer, Geeta Dutt as singer, Geeta Bali, Balraj Sahni, Sahir Ludhiyanvi... and it started the Dev Anand cult.
M K Jha : What about Nutan, she did couple of films including Tere Ghar Ke Samne, Waheeda Rehman, she did Kala Bazar, Guide, Prem Pujari , Sadhna in Hum Dono, Madhubala in Kala Paani.
Dev Anand : They became more popular... they became bigger stars. Sadhna and Nanda in Hum Dono... amazing chemistry with me and my twin. Nutan, what a fine actor, Waheeda... I worked with them. You forgot Vjayanthimala, Suchitra Sen, Hema Malini, Mumtaz... they were there. I didn’t give them a break but I made them popular.
M K Jha : Since you talked about Nutan, what instantly comes to my mind is the song Dil Ka Bhanwar Kare Pukar..., did you actually shoot inside the Qutub Minar? I was told permission was denied ?
Dev Anand : No, no, we had the permission but it was impossible to shoot there with so many equipment. We did the opening and closing there, rest was shot in a replica that Goldie got near Qutub Minar. Goldie wanted to shoot the song back in Bombay on some beach, I told him since the beginning we were shooting in Delhi, Delhi mein beach kahan hai?
M K Jha : Dev Anand as a debonair, you became a trend setter. Film after film, song after song, you keep on cultivating the Dev Anand cult. The younger generation copied your talk, walk, hairstyle, your fashion. How did you develop your style ?
Dev Anand : I was just myself. I had a dream, I was so excited, I love good style, I love good caps, I love scarves, I love good socks, I love good shoes, I love to dress well. I like bright-coloured clothes, they must be worn. I thought that I would rather evolve a style of my own... and be called Dev Anand.
M K Jha: You were popular in my grandfather and father’s generations, you are popular with my generation too, your songs are still popular. Are you a musical man ?
Dev Anand : Music is very important... it must be haunting... music must touch your soul. First, for a few films Hemant Kumar sang for me, then Mohammad Rafi, and then Kishore Kumar became my voice and whenever he used to record my song, he would keep me in his mind, my style, my acting, because he himself was a great actor. I think Navketan has given great songs. They are still popular and let me tell you that each song has been deliberately composed sitting on the ground.
M K Jha : You don’t use a wig?
Dev Anand: No I don’t, I don’t use a wig because if I become bald, then I would project myself as bald, and then again it will be a fashion. It so happened, I started wearing a cap, people loved it. Then I told myself, look, they are loving it... let them love me little more... so I did it little more.
M K Jha: Were you modelling yourself after Gregory Peck?
Dev Anand: May be I liked Gregory Peck, may be I thought he was good and I was very young, may be because I met him three times, once in Rome where he was filming Roman Holiday, and he was a big star. But I have my ego - I think after a certain age, I refused to model myself on anybody.
M K Jha: But there was an interesting observation that Suraiya admired Gregory Peck a great deal, so you took his mannerisms to please her ?
Dev Anand: That was played by the press. Suraiya and I make a good team. Suraiya was a star when I was a newcomer. Suraiya and I were great friends, in fact I loved her. That was my first love and the press made fun out of it. Because she loved Gregory Peck and the press wanted to pick up something, because they wanted to be read by the world.
M K Jha: If you were in love with Suraiya and she was in love with you then why did you not marry her ?
Dev Anand: Yes, I wanted to marry her. I proposed to her, she wanted to but she was not allowed to. I had given her a ring but I don’t know what happened. I never asked her.
M K Jha : Lately the films directed by you have been flops...
Dev Anand : To my mind they are all hits, monetarily, they have not earned big money but that does not mean they are bad pictures. I never sat on my stardom. I never thought that I was great. I was from my first film, I was always analysing and improving. I always tell myself there is always some one better than you are, right behind you there is another generation coming both in film industry and politics, there is going to be somebody there to beat you any time.
M K Jha : Other than Navketan’s films, which are your favourite ones?
Dev Anand : Many, Maya, Asli Naqli. Paying Guest, Gambler, Johny Mera Naam oh, this was shot in your state, Bihar. There were ruins...
M K Jha : Rajgir... ruins of Nalanda.
Dev Anand: Yes, Hema (Hema Malini) was my heroine, she was relatively a newcomer and from there (Rajgir, Patna) we drove to the Nepal border shot two songs in between. I don’t how Bihar looks like today, but the people were nice. They loved me.
M K Jha : At this stage of life, is there any dream left unfulfilled?
Dev Anand : A lot of things, I think I have fulfilled nothing. It’s a fact, Main Zindagi Ka Saath Nibhata Chala Gaya...
PS: I met Dev sahib (he used to love being called Dev sahib) in Feb 1999 in Lahore. I was there from Aaj Tak to cover the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s historic bus ride to Lahore. Dev Anand was one of the members of the delegation, but oh my god, what a huge crowd of female fans had gathered at the reception of the Serena Hotel in Lahore (where he was staying). Dev sahib kept signing their autograph books, clicking pictures, by that time it was 1am. Finally, I met him, he recognised me and said - Iss hotel mein kuch khaane ko milega..., I told him the chef is waiting for your order.
I was planning to do a quick interview with him in the hotel lobby, but we both got a call - we were to have lunch with Nawaz Sharif, the then Prime Minister of Pakistan and we both went together for lunch to the Governor’s House of Lahore.
(Mrityunjoy Kumar Jha is a broadcast journalist with over 25 years of experience. He worked for Newstrack and AajTak (TV Today) and IBN7 (TV18 Group). He has two passions News and Hindi music. He can be reached on twitter @mrityunjoykjha)
(This article is from The Quint’s archives and was first published on 26 September 2017. It is now being republished to mark Dev Anand’s birth anniversary. )