(Dev fever transcends time-it’s 2023 and his films are still being discussed in the mainstream as well as social media. On the occasion of the birth centenary of Dev Anand, Film Heritage Foundation organised a retrospective of select films in partnership with NFDC-National Film Archive of India and PVR, in 30 cities and 58 cinemas, on 23 and 24 September 2023.)
“Call me Dev, not Dev sahib and certainly not Anandji”, is what Dev Anand told Waheeda Rehman when she first met him on the sets of CID (1956). Dev Anand’s on-screen chemistry with his leading ladies- Waheeda Rehman, Vyjayanthimala, Hema Malini, and Asha Parekh among them- is legendary.
What endears him to ladies (and gents) of three living generations is not just his screen presence but his off-screen persona – Dev Anand was known to be the perfect gentleman in real life. Kalpana Lajmi, Guru Dutt’s niece, once told me, “Dev Uncle is the most handsome man I have ever met.”
“Dev” was synonymous with “charisma”, and his appeal doesn’t seem to have diminished.
It’s not as if Dev was a sensation from day one in the film industry; in fact after his first few flop films starting with Hum Ek Hain (1946), young Dev had worked hard on his image by styling himself after Gregory Peck, the favourite Hollywood star of his lady love at the time, Suraiya. Baazi (1951), Guru Dutt’s debut film as a director, gave him the breakthrough he badly needed.
It may be difficult for his fans to digest that there was a time in the early 40s, when Dev’s older brother Chetan’s close friend Balraj Sahni had chided him during the rehearsals of a play for not getting the dialogues right, saying, “Dev, you will never become an actor!” Dev went on to prove all his detractors wrong, and how!
Retrospectives are an excellent way of reaching out to new audiences; the collective experience of watching these films in a theatre with an older generation may help millennials and Gen Z discover aspects of these films that they can relate to.
Those of us who were born between the late 60s and early 80s, Generation X so to speak, have inherited this love for Dev Anand from our parents. Our own exposure to Dev Anand/ Navketan films came mostly via the Sunday evening film and the weekly Chitrahaar, a medley of film songs on the national broadcaster Doordarshan (DD).
Through DD and later, the video cassette recorder (VCR), we were exposed to some thoroughly entertaining films of Dev Anand, both B&W films such as Baazi (1951), Jaal (1952), CID (1956), Kala Bazar (1959), Hum Dono (1961), Baat Ek Raat Ki (1962), Teen Devian (1965) etc., and the colour films of the late 60s and the early 70s such as Guide (1965), Jewel Thief (1967), Prem Pujari (1970), Johny Mera Naam (1970), Hare Rama Hare Krishna (1971) etc. I stopped following Dev Anand’s films after Des Pardes (1978) and the 1980 film Man Pasand (the unofficial Indian adaptation of My Fair Lady).
For us GenXrs the most significant contribution of Dev post-Des Pardes was that he gave Jackie Shroff and Tabu their first films (Swami Dada, 1982 and Hum Naujawan, 1985 respectively).
When Shivendra, a fellow Gen Xr, was studying at the Film and Television Institute of India at Pune in the early 90s, students were exposed to Indian filmmakers like Bimal Roy, Guru Dutt, Raj Kapoor, and Goldie (Vijay) Anand through Sunday screenings. It is through films of these talented Indian filmmakers that FTII students like him and Sriram Raghavan were able to appreciate how art should be reflective of one’s own experiences.
As Shivendra told me, the challenge with these filmmakers was to make the common man connect with art. And they achieved this in no small measure. Their films were of excellent quality but were also easy to follow. The retrospective, Shivendra says, is a tribute to his FTII days, and that’s why he selected Vijay Anand’s popular films – Jewel Thief, Johny Mera Naam, and Guide, and Raj Khosla-Guru Dutt’s CID.
When it came to my revisiting these films at the retrospective, I picked Guide. Why Guide?
The reason is that while Jewel Thief, Johny Mera Naam, and CID for me fall under the category of “guilty pleasures”; the former two films being thrillers and the last one being film noir; classics like Guide have a certain quality which allows one to discover new aspects one might have missed in a previous viewing.
The film was based on R K Narayan’s novel The Guide (1958) and is one of the most successful adaptations of a book into cinema – for instance the Malgudi/Madras/Mysuru milieu, which was essential to the novel, is seamlessly transformed into the Rajasthani landscape (in and around Udaipur).
There was an English version of the film, The Guide, written by celebrated author Pearl S Buck and directed by Tad Danielewski. It flopped badly, prompting Goldie to re-write the script for the Hindi version, making the story more palatable to Indian audiences. The Hindi version, which was India’s official selection for the Oscars, was ranked at number 4 on the Best Bollywood Classics by Time Magazine in 2012.
Guide, released in 1965, had, despite Goldie’s rewriting, a story which was ahead of its time – that of a married woman, Rosie Marco, seeking fulfilment outside marriage through her first love, dance, and a tourist guide Raju becoming her catalyst in this process. Misunderstandings tear them apart and send Raju to jail. He seeks refuge in a temple and is mistaken to be a holy man. He finds redemption through the faith that the innocent villagers place in him during a terrible drought.
If his best friend Guru Dutt successfully brought out the dark side of Dev Anand in the film noir classics of the 50s such as Jaal and Baazi, Dev’s brother, director Vijay Anand best understood his brother’s appeal as the flamboyant, romantic superstar.
Which is why Dev Anand not only set the screen ablaze in Goldie’s films like Jewel Thief, Johny Mera Naam, and Tere Mere Sapne with his uber-stylish screen presence; he also delivered some of his most sensitive, nuanced performances in these films. In Guide, Goldie channelised Dev’s youthful energy into the character of the effervescent, popular tourist guide Raju. And when it comes to standing by his lady love, Dev the romantic rises to the occasion, assuring her, as a thousand sighs go around in the hall-
Lakh mana le duniya, saath na eh chhootega, aa ke mere haathon mein, haath na yeh chhootega
(Let the world beseech a million times, I will never let go of your hand. I am with you forever, in this journey of life)
And when Rosie gets estranged from Raju, her money and her status creating a chasm that they are unable to bridge, Raju hits the bottle and croons-
Pyaar men jinke sab jag chhoda, aur huye badnaam, unke hi hathon haal hua yeh, baithe hain dil ko thaam
(The one for whom I left the world behind, has today forsaken me)
The script, which was sympathetic to Raju’s character, enabled Dev Anand to shine. Waheeda Rehman delivered one of the best performances of her career as Rosie Marco. Her snake charmer’s dance is one of the most stunning sequences in the film. It is said that dance master Sohanlal deliberately pitted Waheeda against his favourite assistant Sheela in the Hindi version so that Waheeda felt competitive and danced up a storm.
Guide is an audio-visual treat and a complete feast for the senses. Fali Mistry shot the film beautifully while Oscar-awardee Bhanu Athaiya draped Waheeda in the most exquisite sarees – easy-to-drape georgette sarees with sequins/embroidery, a few crepe silks, and Banarasi silks completed her ensemble off-stage.
On stage, Waheeda was dressed in an array of dancer costumes with an elegant palette of colours – Bhanu used a lot of pastels and a dramatic, fiery red, black and gold in the opening (snake charmer’s) dance as well as closing (song Mosey Chhal) dance sequence.
Raju Guide was dressed in colourful jackets and scarves which complimented Rosie’s costumes and were a contrast to archaeologist Marco's (Kishore Sahu) drab greys and browns.
Sohanlal who had also choreographed 'Hothon Pe Aisi Baat' picturised on Vyjayanthimala in Jewel Thief, gave Waheeda some exquisite dance steps, including in 'Piya Tosey Naina Lage Re' (My beloved, I have fallen for you), which came easy to her as she was trained in Bharatnatyam.
After the success of this film, producers would often insert a dance number in every film of Waheeda’s. Art & production designer Ram Yedekar, who later designed the sets for Sholay (1975) and Gandhi (1982), ensured that every single frame looked tasteful and aesthetic.
Music was the crowning glory of Guide. SD Burman and Shailendra gave Mohammed Rafi and Lata Mangeshkar some of their biggest hits in Guide. The Kishore Kumar song, 'Gaata Rahey Mera Dil' (my heart sings of love ) makes Guide one of the rare films where two leading singers sang for the same hero in a hit album.
In fact the audience in the South Delhi hall where I caught Guide during the retrospective, cheered and clapped loudly in 'Piya Tosey' and 'Gaata Rahey'.
SD Burman lent his own voice to two memorable numbers- 'Wahan Kaun Hai Tera' (Where are you headed, no one waits for you) and 'Allah Megh De' (God, bless us with rain clouds). SD Burman had a heart attack during the making of Guide and implored Dev to take another music director but Dev would have none of it. The result is cinematic history. The Guide music album is deservedly counted among the best soundtracks in Hindi cinema.
Among other reasons, the film is worth revisiting for Vijay Anand’s masterly song picturisation. Choreography and camera movement are beautifully synchronised in the climax of the snake charmer’s song for instance; the camera follows Waheeda’s steps at a dizzying pace, reminding one of 'Hothon Pe Aisi Baat.'
Guide remains as fresh today as it was at the time of its release. It is a must-watch for anyone who loves Hindi, nay Indian cinema. The climax scene of Guide, which is inspired by the Bhagavad Gita verses about immortality of the soul, drives home the point that artists live on through their work, long after they have stopped breathing. Long live Dev.