Mumbai: Dev Anand wasn’t a star. He was a philosophy. The 88-year-old actor, who died of cardiac arrest on December 4, symbolised six decades of Hindi cinema and a spirit that insisted that the show must go on. No matter that the films ceased to seduce or that viewers stopped showing up decades ago. Dev Anand continued to create and despite the mostly substandard quality of his output, he never lost his icon status or the affection of his audience and colleagues.
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Dev Anand’s first acting job was at the Prabhat Film Company, where he was paid 400 rupees per month (less than $8 at today’s exchange rate), of which 35 rupees were deducted as income tax.
In 2007, the director Farah Khan shot an outsized dance number for the title song of her film Om Shanti Om. The film was set against the back drop of Bollywood and every star of every generation worth his or her name – from Salman Khan to Dharmendra to Rekha – agreed to appear in the song. But when Farah called Dev Anand, he refused. He said: “I only play leading men.”
Dev Anand and his brother Vijay Anand spent a sleepless night after the premiere of Guide in 1965. “Nobody called us,” he said in an interview. “Goldie and I kept discussing it. I thought people have not understood the story. But eventually it became a cult film,” Dev Anand said.
Dev Anand and an equally legendary Bollywood filmmaker, Guru Dutt, first met at the Prabhat Film Company in 1946. After they exchanged polite hellos, Dev Anand noticed that Guru Dutt was staring at his shirt. It turned out that the washerman had mixed up their shirts and Dev Anand was wearing Guru Dutt’s shirt. Dev Anand said: “We had a hearty laugh and embraced each other. We were to be friends for all times.”
In an interview with CNN in the mid-1990s, Dev Anand was asked how he felt about constantly being compared to Gregory Peck. He said: “Gregory Peck was Gregory Peck. At this stage, I would rather be Dev Anand.”
The filmmaker Shekhar Kapur, Dev Anand’s nephew, recalls being with his uncle when Ishq Ishq Ishq released in 1974. Over the evening, phone calls from the news media and distributors kept coming. Slowly the jubilation turned somber as it became evident that the film, into which Dev Anand had poured a lot of money, was a flop. Dev Anand excused himself from the room and stayed away for ten minutes. But then, Shekhar said, he returned and exclaimed: “Shekharonios, I just thought of a great plot for my next film.”
When the love story between Dev Anand and the actress widely known as Suraiya was at its peak, Suraiya’s grandmother started monitoring their movements to ensure that the Hindu hero didn’t get too close to her Muslim granddaughter. A scene in Afsar (1950) required him to kiss her on the eyes but grandmother, who was on the set, wouldn’t allow it. In his autobiography, Romancing With Life, Dev Anand writes that she stood on the spot where the scene was to be enacted and wouldn’t budge. Ultimately a member of the crew whisked away the grandmother on a pretext and they quickly shot the scene.
The actor Anupam Kher once asked Dev Anand why he spoke so fast. Dev Anand replied: “Life is too short, Anupam. I don’t have time to speak slowly.”