Remembering Dev

Remembering Dev

Memories

This was a night without the promise of a dawn, but that’s not how he would have perceived it when he had his last supper in his Washington Hotel, London suite, on the night of 3rd December. One never imagined such a tame end for a restless spirit who lived the song of life without regret or remorse. But then, that was the public face of the incorrigible optimist, the longest living star in the history of show business. That’s probably how destiny had meant it to be, for, how else could it forbid the onward march of a man with inexhaustible energy, sheer guts, irrepressible drive, and the strength of will power. And there was, perhaps, no better way to bid adieu — in contentment and thoughts for the future that would remain buried in the memories of those who knew him, came in contact with him, or interacted with him.

Beginnings of a bond

Recalling memories of time spent together can result in more than just a biography. That’s how a meeting turned out to be a close relationship — as close as it can get to be, between a show-world celebrity and a scribe — when on a humid afternoon, a 24-year-old die-hard admirer of Dev Anand (myself) stepped out of a train at Victoria Terminus, responding to a typed letter from Dev Anand’s publicist, T M Ramachandran, who was also the editor-publisher of Film World, a fanzine that ran with financial support from the evergreen star of Indian cinema.

A relationship that started thus,  continued over the next four decades, despite many ups and downs. It is painful to see statements and shallow,  self-effacing stories of non-existent closeness to the star in the obituary columns in the days and weeks to come. For he was one star who cultivated the press with charm and unparalleled finesse and that included not only the riff-raffs of the film press but also those who matter in the media today. Names are irrelevant.

Undaunted by the failure of his directorial debut, Prem Pujari, and fresh from a shoot of Hare Rama Hare Krishna in Nepal, I was ushered into an oblong room with a small table by the window in a corner which also had within its confines an ordinary table lamp, three chairs for the visitors, and a long table and a chair by the opposite wall. What began as a short, matter-of-fact, 10-minute conversation turned into an hour-long meeting, at the end of which he displayed for me, blow-ups from the film — a trait and salesmanship that remained intact until the pre-release days of Chargesheet, a film that would not, unfortunately, be his swan song.

I returned to Delhi with high hopes and spirits that I could start working on a book as soon as he finished making the film that was then under production. But, that remained an unfinished item on my agenda even though I had managed to meet him almost every day in the last decade of my tinsel town sojourn, give or take a few days when one of the two of us had to be out of town. It was a period of sharing sorrow, joy, disappointment, hope and aspiration, breakups and relationships, confessions and commitments. The only other person, who probably knew him better and more
closely, was his friend Amit Khanna, once the blue-eyed boy of Navketan, production controller, producer, lyricist, now executive head of Reliance Entertainment.

I was just a seven-year-old kid when I was taken to the theatre to watch Taxi Driver. My first impression of the hero lasted forever, even bordered on worship. Years later, it became a habit to skip classes on Saturdays to watch morning shows of his movies, sometimes even with stolen money. The first personality change, despite parental objections, was the new hair style. The puff endures till this day, though Dev Anand, perhaps deliberately, never commented on it. When one asked him, “Aren’t you bored of the question, ‘What’s the secret of your youth?’ ” His answer was instant — “I have begun to like this question. I take it as a compliment now. It gives me a high.

Earlier, it was boring to have your age thrown at you. Now, it has become a
motivating force (turned into sheer narcissism).” In fact, it was nothing but a positive approach, coupled with a self-built defence mechanism, and the survival instinct of a never-die spirit.

Charmer

The twinkle in his eyes and the sheer magnetism of his personality propelled people to follow his way. That’s how, despite successive failures, he managed to find release outlets, buyers, collaborators or financial support for all his films. There are unbelievable stories of cheques bouncing during difficult times, but no evidence. He owed nothing to anyone. Years ago, when Gulshan Rai, the financier-distributor-producer of Johny Mera Naam and other films came to his permanent suite at Sun-n-Sand in suburban Mumbai with a bunch of others in the wake of Ishq Ishq Ishq disaster, and said: “We are sorry Dev saab, the film has flopped, so we have decided to forgo the interest,” he is reported to have bluntly replied: “Thanks for your charity, Gulshan. You’re here in this business to make money; I am here to make films. So, take your money and go.” And ordered his manager to settle the investors’ account.
One can go on, ad nauseam, raking up memories. Our last brief telephonic
conversation had been during his last public appearance, in Delhi, when he came to receive the NDTV Lifetime Achievement Trophy.

We had a spat during our last meeting in his temporary office in Mumbai suburbs last August. He was in a somewhat sullen mood, having been fooled by the builder to whom he had sold the FSI of his Anand Recording Studio on Pali Hill, who had promised to complete the project in 18 months flat. Despite our warnings, Dev Anand trusted the builder, only to be fooled by him eventually.

He had become a loner in the last two decades or so, staring into vacuum endlessly, thinking of stories and future projects. He always thought big with grandiose plans and an infectious enthusiasm. He treaded where others failed or did not dare tread. No one else could have made Guide in two versions on a subject considered taboo even now. Nor has anyone tried to, ever since.

Everything would be fine with the planning. The problems came with execution. He somehow could never transfer his vision on celluloid. The biggest stumbling block was pure and simple narcissism. He could never overcome the greed of wanting to appear in every frame. In many ways, he was the victim of his unlived teenage fantasies, and their perceptions. I told him about my plans to write a book, a kind of flashback into his starrers, and wanted him to reflect on some unknown stories during their making. His blunt answer wasn’t really shocking — “You know, I don’t look back into the past. I don’t want to relive past times.  Let’s talk about Chargesheet. Wait and see the way I promote the film.” But the retort literally found him looking for cover, as I replied, “But Dev Anand, you are who you are because of your past.”

The damage had been done.

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