The ‘Urban Cool’ Dev Anand: Our Very First Metrosexual Hero
Dev Anand’s much-aped hair-style symbolized an urban chic fashion trend.
Dev Anand’s much-aped hair-style symbolized an urban chic fashion trend.

The ‘Urban Cool’ Dev Anand: Our Very First Metrosexual Hero

It was the 50s. It was the time of a newly independent, newly integrated, newly awakened India; an India no longer only of farms and villages, but of industries and cities too, where a distinct urban identity was forming and fast catching national fancy.

It was a time when stars like Prithiviraj Kapoor, Ashok Kumar and KL Saigal, between themselves, had established an earthy, virtuous and home-grown celluloid ‘hero’. It was the time when showman Raj Kapoor, was winning national and international critical acclaim for his neo-realism influenced films fore-fronting the underdog common man. In this scenario erupted a lanky, rakish lad; suave, cheerful and full of urban cool, whose ‘hero’ won hearts immediately even if not as virtuous as his predecessors or contemporaries.

Dev Anand could be immoral, unscrupulous, hop bars, smoke and still be a ‘hero’.
Dev Anand could be immoral, unscrupulous, hop bars, smoke and still be a ‘hero’.

This hero was city-bred, confident, immoral, sometimes even unscrupulous and all with an impeccable chic style. He smoked, befriended bar-girls and criminals, and was pretty much footloose and fancy-free.

It was in the carefully puffed up hair that became his trademark. It was in the shirts worn with flair both blithe and unrestrained. It was in his floppiness he flaunted with a charm, as though to say rejecting the plaid and staid on purpose. It was in his filmic setting marked by urban crime and immorality, one he was a product of, not the saviour.

It was in the treatment of ‘desire’ and what it meant in his films. It was a far more modern interpretation of love and romance than Bollywood of the 50s was used to.

And the audience loved it all, they loved him. Dharam Dev Anand, a gangly handsome lad from Lahore, was used to adulation; he was already reputed for being a heartthrob back in college before he joined the industry to similar response, was the new poster boy of cinema and understandably so. The popularity of his much-aped hair-style symbolized an urban chic fashion trend a la Aamir Khan’s mohawk in Dil Chahta Hai, and was proudly worn like one.

Dev Anand with Dilip Kumar.
Dev Anand with Dilip Kumar.

The hero with grey shades in an urban world full of crime, intrigue and danger was a well-used trope by the time Guru Dutt and Dev Anand blazed the screens with a super-hit Baazi. Himanshu Rai and Devika Rani’s Bombay Talkies had already set a strong precedent of showing darker, more modern conventions in their films like Kismet.

Dev Anand’s break-out film Ziddi with Bombay Talkies centred around the modern, cigarette smoking, loose-tie image of the ‘hero’ paving way for more. With Baazi, Indian cinema made its crime caper groove, thanks to Guru Dutt and got an unconventionally unscrupulous hero in Dev Anand.

He hobnobbed with criminals and frequented bars (Baazi and Jaal), he was an on-the-run small-time crook (Nau Do Gyarah), he was the train travelling rich kid coolly comfortable with the underbelly of the city (Solva Saal), he was the competitive business man not averse to game playing in Tere Ghar ke Saamne and the less than scrupulous Raju Guide, a role he is most fondly remembered for.

This trend continued in the sixties with films like Jewel Thief, Johnny Mera Naam, and Gambler successfully re-inventing the urban rake into the urban man but with the lovable swag, always that limp lovable swag.

Dev Anand and Vyjayanthimala in <i>Jewel Thief.</i>
Dev Anand and Vyjayanthimala in Jewel Thief.

Dev Anand is probably the most celebrated octogenarian of Indian cinema, working, making and acting in films from the age of 23 till his death at 88.

Celebrated as the classic romantic hero with classically good looks, Dev Anand’s biggest contribution perhaps was transmuting the urban identity on celluloid, reflecting and impressing the national consciousness at once. Not surprisingly the films he made post the 70s till his death continued banking on this image of the urban hero and so did the fascination with crime and romance.

The re-invented Dev Anand disappointed, audiences still too enamoured by the charm of the younger Dev, and that is how he is preferred to be remembered by fans.

And the fact that Dev Anand was our first truly metrosexual hero. He will always be remembered for that. And for sure, he would love it that way.

(Fatema Kagalwala is a 2nd year Film Editing student at FTII.)

(This story is from The Quint’s archives and was first published on 3 December 2015. It is now being republished to mark Dev Anand’s death anniversary.)