Monday, March 31, 2008

Dev Anand

Matinee Idol. 'Evergreen Romantic Hero'. 'The 'Gregory Peck' of Indian cinema'.

These are tags attributed to the 85-year old actor-director who wears them all with aplomb - Dev Anand. With a film career spanning over five decades and a formidable 110 films in which he has acted, there are countless stories about his career - his initial days of struggle in Bombay (now Mumbai), his first movie Hum Ek Hain (1946) that didn't do well and how he finally got his big break in Ziddi (1948) at the behest of Ashok Kumar, the established star of that era. The actor-director Guru Dutt was Dev Anand's ally in those early days of struggle. Dutt also cast him in his directorial debut, Baazi (1951). Dev Anand's brothers, Chetan Anand and Vijay Anand have been directors in their own right, with the latter also directing Dev Anand in Guide (1965). Dev Anand began his own production house, Navketan Films in 1949, under whose banner, he has written, produced, directed and acted in over 17 of their films.

Dev Anand's early films like Baazi (1951), Jaal (1952), Taxi Driver (1954) and Kala Bazar (1960) depicted a new kind of hero, neither the Earnest Simpleton popularised by Raj Kapoor, nor the Brooding Sentimentalist essayed to perfection by Dilip Kumar. There is a charming lightness to Dev Anand's urban hero. Painted in shades of gray, he effortlessly combined do-gooder and trickster, with a taste for the pleasures of life. Dev Anand also created a signature style for his hero– dialogues uttered in crests and falls, the impish grin accompanied by a series of nods, the nonchalant swagger and some very unique gesticulations. Dev Anand's protagonist was almost always seen in designer threads – possibly a first in Indian cinema - and had a signature look comprising full-sleeved shirts with wide collars, scarves and hats aplenty.

Lilting music was an integral part of Dev Anand's films. Every Hindi film music buff has a favourite Dev Anand song almost always sung by Mohammed Rafi and Kishore Kumar and mostly composed by the legendary S.D. Burman.

Some of his notable films of the 1960s were Hum Dono (1961) and Tere Ghar Ke Saamne (1963). Dev Anand's oeuvre is a complex mix of action, romance and social statement. Jewel Thief (1967) is considered the typical Dev Anand movie. The protagonist in this film, Vinay is often mistaken to be someone else, a legendary jewel thief called Prince Amar, and he begins to find the line between the truth and deceit blur as the plot gets murkier when a woman called Shalini, turns up, claiming to be his fiancé.

Based on R.K. Narayan's book of the same name, Guide (1965) was directed by Vijay Anand, and starred Dev Anand as the opportunistic tourist guide, Raju Guide and Waheeda Rehman as the classical dancer in a bad marriage, Rosy. The English version was co-produced by author, Pearl S. Buck. Although critics take offence to the storyline being different from that of the book, Guide is touted as Dev Anand's best performance and his brother Vijay Anand's best film.

In the 1970s, Johnny Mera Naam (1970) and Hare Rama Hare Krishna (1972) are two films with dissimilar plots, but still connected in their 'Dev Anand'-ness. While the former is a cop-and-robber story with a dash of romance, the latter is an emotional drama about a man's search for his sister in the thick of the '70s hippy culture.

Although Dev Anand's subsequent ventures like Swami Dada (1982), Awwal Number (1990), Censor (2001) and Mr. Prime Minister (2005) have not done too well at the box office, he maintains an unflagging enthusiasm for film-making. He also launched his son, Suneil Anand in Anand Aur Anand (1984) who has gone on to helm Navketan Films along with him.

Dev Anand continues to be an integral part of the Hindi film industry (or Bollywood, as it is more popularly known these days). He has introduced many actors and technicians to the Hindi film industry and commands immense respect from the film fraternity.

He has been the recipient of numerous awards including a nomination for Guide (1967) at the Oscars for the Foreign Film category and the prestigious Padma Bhushan awarded by the President of India. Late last year, Dev Anand's autobiography, 'Romancing with life' was launched.

Dev Anand is, to say the least, one of the last living legends of Indian cinema.

(An edited version was published in the April 2008 issue of 'At A Glance')

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