Dev Anand, who was the first hero who projected the modernity that a newly independent nation looked forward to, would have been 100 today. In the 1950s, India looked to Jawaharlal Nehru to lead it to a new future. Millions migrated to the cities, which promised jobs, incomes and a life which shed the baggage not just of colonialism, but also the traditions and customs that weighed down the past.
Anand’s two compatriots, Raj Kapoor and Dilip Kumar, had their own personas. Kapoor’s earliest films, especially Shree 420, squarely placed him in an urban context, but his city was a place where the poor were noble and loving and the rich were riddled with corruption and deceit. Dilip Kumar was all about personal tragedy and a lot of brooding.
With Dev Anand, it was very different. He was a city man and even if his place in those cities was in the underbelly – Baazi, Taxi Driver or House no 44 – he faced life with a smile.
He was always optimistic about the future, a flaneur determined to keep moving ahead – it reflects in the many songs on him, which showed him, literally moving – by car, by jeep, by bus or simply, walking, as in the still popular Jewel Thief song, ‘Yeh Dil Na Hota Bechara’.
And this was what he was in real life. He was immensely well-mannered, modern and liberal in his attitudes, and till the end answered his phone himself, often talking to his fans who called him.
In my many meetings with him, for interviews for my book on his production company Navketan, I rarely saw him pensive or brooding or even regretful. Women, complete strangers, have told me that they found him charming – this when he was in his early 80s.
If his film flopped, as many he made in the last few years did, he simply bounced back to make the next one. Pessimism or feeling sorry for himself was simply not part of his life.
His persona was that of a westernised gent, on screen and in real life. This came from his early education in Government College, Lahore, where he studied English, and the atmosphere in the institution. The father of his sister-in-law, Uma Anand, who was married to his elder brother Chetan, was the rector and she has described a life of tennis, picnics and English theatre.
When he came to Bombay, he worked in the censor department during the Second World War, which looked at letters sent by soldiers to their families. His social life consisted of regular evening meetings with other young hopefuls who were waiting for their big break. These included Guru Dutt, Raj Khosla and his own brother Chetan.
It is Dev Anand who brought noir to the Hindi screen. His many roles in the 1950s portrayed a man on the wrong side of the law, often due to circumstances. These were shot in the dark, light-and-shadow style of classic Hollywood noir films, by Guru Dutt, Raj Khosla and his brother Vijay Anand.
During one of our conversations, he told me that along with Dutt, he saw Gilda, starring Rita Hayworth, and this inspired them to make Baazi, whose script was written by Balraj Sahni. In it, Dev Anand played a card sharp who is lifted from poverty by a shadowy criminal boss to play in his club. It is a film that holds up well even today.
Though he was making films till the last, they were flopping, often sinking before anyone even took notice. But he could still get stars after just a call, such was his goodwill. After he passed away, Aamir Khan, who acted in Awwal Number (1990), a film revolving around a terrorist threat at a cricket stadium, said that he had accepted the film without reading the script.
This is a tribute to his goodwill and his phenomenal legacy that still has countless fans all over the world. Many of his films still have a fan following and when the Film Heritage Foundation announced that it was showing four of them on the big screen in different parts of the country, they were booked swiftly.
Guide is considered one of the best Hindi films ever made, and the one thing common between the movies he made during his successful years – from Baazi in 1951 to Johny Mera Naam in 1970, an impressive stretch of nearly 20 years as a leading man – all have excellent songs, thanks mainly to the team around him – Sahir, Majrooh Sultanpuri, Shailendra and of course, S.D. Burman.
Not surprising, they still get millions of views online.
Here is a list of some of his best songs over the years:
‘Yeh Raat, Yeh Chandni’, Jaal (1951):
Set in pre-liberation Goa, the film revolved around a smuggler, played by Dev Anand, an unredeemable and thoroughly bad character, who comes to a small fishing village and wins the heart of an innocent girl, only to break it. On a moonlit night, he strums his guitar, captivating the conflicted Maria. Sahir wrote one of the most seductive songs in Hindi cinema and Burman’s score complements it.
‘Jayen To Jayen Kahan’, Taxi Driver (1954)
A big hit that saved the family firm Navketan, the production company set up by him and Chetan Anand, which was in dire straits after a successful film, Baazi, because the next two were flops. Dev Anand was convinced that the crowds had liked him as a down-and-outer. So they came up with the character of a cabbie, who lives on the day’s earnings.
And they were right. Taxi Driver, with its portrayal of seedy bars, dancing girls who moonlighted as escorts, and crime, was a runaway success. Sheila Ramani, as the dancer, got the most hummable songs, and the duo of Sahir and S.D. Burman rose to the occasion.
One day during a shoot, Dev Anand and Kalpana Kartik went into a nearby room and returned with wedding bands on their fingers – they had got married, in a no fuss ceremony. He was not one for big functions.
Though Anand has a great song along with his cabbie comrades, this one shows that he could enact moody, melancholy songs too, this time in the voice of Talat Mehmood.
‘Hum Hai Rahi Pyar Ke’, Naur Do Gyarah (1957)
By this time, Vijay ‘Goldie’ Anand, the youngest brother, had grown up and graduated from college. He had a passion for writing and had contributed to the script of Taxi Driver, besides directing a few scenes.
For his first film, he followed what had by now become a Navketan template – Dev Anand as a cheerful but broke youth, who sets out in a ramshackle truck to claim money promised by an uncle. Unknown to him a runaway bride is hiding in the truck. Great songs and romance follow. This time round, Sahir was out and was replaced by Majrooh Sultanpuri, apparently because of the former’s fight with S.D. Burman; the brothers chose to side with the Burman.
‘Hum Bekhudi Mein’, Kala Pani (1958)
The first film for which Dev Anand won a Filmfare award. As a man determined to ferret out the truth of his father’s incarceration on false charges, he lands up at a mujra dancer’s kotha because she has some information. Mohammed Rafi has also sung often for Dev Anand, and as this one shows, there are some songs only he can do.
‘Apni To Har Aah Ik Toofan Hai’, Kala Bazar, (1959)
The young man with a wicked glint in his eye and a gap-toothed smile on his face. Here he is ostensibly singing to the ‘one up there’, the Almighty, but it is clear who he means. She gets it, but her pious parents are assuaged there is no hanky panky here.
There was a crime element involved in the film of course and in the climax, all the three brothers appear on screen for the first and only time.
‘Mein Zindagi Ka Saath Nibhata’, Hum Dono (1961)
Dev Anand wanted his friend Sahir Ludhianvi to write for this film, so S.D. Burman stepped aside and his assistant Jaidev took over. He produced a gem of an album, full of music that was gentle and melodious, in contrast to the war theme of the film.
This number summarises the actor’s personal outlook on life – go along with life, and take the bumps and hits along the way without complaining or stopping.
‘Dil Ka Bhanwar’, Tere Ghar ke Saamne (1963)
By this time, the 1950s persona of the low-life criminal was dead and buried and Dev Anand took on the role of the foreign-trained architect in this one. Watching it today one sees a Delhi being developed – there are plots for sale, nightclubs, and a shift from tradition to modern life styles.
This film was ostensibly shot inside the Qutb Minar, but it was actually a remarkably accurate creation inside a studio, where first love blossoms.
Din Dhal Jaye, Guide (1965)
The Vijay Anand-directed film about marital infidelity, based on R.K. Narayan’s novel, got a lukewarm reception when it first released – reportedly audiences were shocked at the very idea. Today it is considered a classic.
Dev Anand played the smooth-talking guide, Raju, who first stands by Waheeda Rehman when she walks out of her marriage but then cheats her. It is clear that she wants nothing to do with him either.
S.D. Burman and Mohammed Rafi did several takes of this song to get the inflexions right and the result is a masterpiece. The incomparable Shailendra wrote the lyrics.
‘Yeh Dil Na Hota’, Jewel Thief (1968)
Probably India’s most sophisticated caper film, it’s about a shadowy thief who steals jewellery but is never caught. It’s about mistaken identities, exotic locations and incredible plot twists and turns.
With his customary wicked charm, Dev Anand keeps walking, a plastic fish dangling from a fishing rod, and irritating a group of girls by continuously blocking their car on the road.
‘Pal Bhar Ke Liye’, Johny Mera Naam (1970)
The actor’s biggest ever success. Though he was in his mid-40s by then, he still looks as young and slim as he was a decade before. A young Hema Malini, who is carrying diamonds for a criminal boss, tries to shut him off, but he keeps popping up from different windows – the imaginative song taking was by Vijay Anand, who had directed his brother in many films for the in-house company.
Dev Anand’s birth centenary falls on September 26.
This article was first published by The Wire.