Art & Entertainment

100 Years Of Dev Anand: Carrying the Burden Of Concerns

Dev Anand was a rare filmmaker who was keenly interested in politics and also had the courage to stand up against societal injustice

Jan Sangh Leader Atal Behari Vajpayee with Bollywood Superstar Dev Anand during a Janta Party rally
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In the 1980s, I was active in the field of journalism in the USA. The NRIs here published many newspapers and I used to be a regular writer in some of these. In the process, I got an opportunity to interview many Indian politicians and actors from Hindi cinema. Once, I interviewed Dev Anand, when he was visiting the US. I was meeting him for the first time. In the first meeting itself, Dev sahab managed to mesmerise me with his magical charm.

It was the time when I was trying to make a documentary named Bhairavi on sitar player Pandit Ravi Shankar for which I came to India. Upon my arrival, I met Dev sahab and discovered that he too was trying to make a documentary named Song of Life on the legendary sitar player. We were aiming for the same thing. Unfortunately, we did not get the copyright to go ahead with the documentary. 

I met Dev sahab again at a film festival. When I read out a poem that I had written for him, he was genuinely very happy. That is how I got to know him. He was busy with the production of his film Censor. He asked me if I would like to be a part of the dubbing process and other post-production work. I was very much inspired by him. Since I was interested in the filmmaking process, I started meeting him on a regular basis. Censor had big stars but it did not work. He left Censor behind and started working on another film. 

Even at the age of 80, he was making films with the same energy and passion that he possessed when he came to Mumbai for the first time. He would explore new subjects. He was not comfortable with formula films. In spite of the box office collections of the films not being good, he continued to make films on new subjects till the end of his life. He would complete his films on a meagre budget of Rs 3-4 crore and always gave a chance to new actors. 

When Dev sahab was bestowed with the Dada Saheb Phalke award, he told me that he wanted to have me in his film. That was such a proud moment for me. In those days, it was a period of coalition government in the country. He told me that we should make a film on coalition politics. I wrote 30 to 40 scenes on this theme. Dev sahab liked my point of view. This is how the foundation of Mr Prime Minister was laid. Dev sahab kept an angle of an earthquake in the story. He shot some portions in Bhuj, a city that was recovering from an earthquake, in difficult situations. 

There is a reason why Dev sahab remained a ‘star’ for so many years. He was aware of his responsibilities. He knew the range and capability of cinema. He used to make films on relevant topics and never made movies for money. The films that he made in the last 10 to 15 years of his life are worthy of analysis. In spite of his stardom, he had to face a lot of difficulty in getting his films released. The TV and music rights of his films could not be sold. That never bothered him and he continued to make films till he died. He wrote a film called Jaana Na Humse Dur, which got stuck due to the arbitrariness of the film’s distributors. However, he never gave up on film production. One can only imagine his passion, determination and dedication. Dev sahab was actively involved and interested in writing, direction, editing, acting, and music. 

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His family had a long legacy in the field of art. His brother Chetan Anand was interested in classical music. Sahir Ludhianwi, Majrooh Sultanpuri, Sachin Dev Burman, Pandit Ravishankar and many other artists used to frequent his Pali Hill residence. 
After independence, Dev sahab visited Russia and was in touch with a local studio there. He had played the role of Russian spy Sergey Vladimirovich Cherkasov in Afsar, a film based on a novel by Nikolay Gogol. He was highly inspired by the method acting of Russian theatre practitioner Konstantin Stanislavski. He told me that his films like Hum Ek Hain and Aage Badho were not as successful as he had anticipated. He spent the next two years watching movies. He and Guru Dutt used to watch movies of Marlon Brando at the Regal cinema in Mumbai. Dev sahab was very much influenced by the black-and-white movies made abroad in the 1940s. He often used to ask Guru Dutt why this kind of films were not made here. He was impressed by the techniques used in these films. He felt films where cameras do the talking, where expressions are enough to convey the message and dialogues are not needed should also be made. These techniques stayed with him and he implemented these in the next few years. After Bazi, all films made under the Navketan Banner were influenced by foreign films and had the elements of experimentation, newness and modernity. 

For example, the way he shot the iconic song Dil Ka Bhawar, it is immortal and a gem in Hindi cinema’s history. This was the greatness of Dev sahab. Songs and music played an instrumental role in his movies. These songs were not used for mere entertainment but also supported the storyline. He was always keen to get advice from people. He always waited for their feedback. He would listen to people on the sets and replied to everyone. 

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He remained attached to his roots. He always remembered his village and his father. He came from an educated family. His brother Chetan Anand had cleared his ICS examination from London. He was a teacher at Doon School. He saved some money and came to Mumbai to work as a filmmaker. Both started Navketan and made some great movies under this banner. Chetan remained associated with the Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA). 

Dev sahab had to struggle after coming to Mumbai. He used to work with the Custom’s Department in Mumbai. However, he was not interested in the work and after leaving the job, he got associated with Prabhat Films. He worked in Hum Ek Hain. Later, he met Shahid Latif and Ismat Chughtai and together they produced Ziddi. Neecha Nagar was directed by his elder brother Chetan Anand in 1946 before Navketan came into being in 1949. This film got selected for the Cannes Film Festival. 
In the later years, Sachin Dev Burman, too, became a part of Dev sahab’s team. Raj Khosla, SD Burman, Pandit Ravi Shankar and other artists used to regularly gather at the residence of Dev sahab. Very few people know that in the initial years, Guru

Dutt was a dancer and he learnt the art from Uday Shankar. His dance centre was at Almore.

It is very difficult to decide whether Dev sahab was a great human being or an actor and whether one should be in awe of his acting or his humane side. He used to attract everyone with his charm. He always supported others. He refrained from tea, and coffee.

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He wished to make a Hollywood movie but this dream of his never materialised. He was closely associated with Cary Grant, Gregory Peck, Karl Malden, John Gielgud and Marlon Brando. He refrained from attending parties, events and functions. He was never interested in being a part of any group. 

During Emergency, he stood against Indira Gandhi all alone. Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi, both knew him personally. Despite this, he strongly opposed injustice being meted out. He had to face a lot of trouble on account of this. Jai Prakash Narayan had made a committee of seven people, in which Dev sahab was the only non-political person. The same committee, by casting its vote, elected Morarji Desai as the first non-Congress Prime Minister. Dev sahab’s friendly behaviour found him admirers in the likes of Morarji Desai and Atal Bihari Vajpayee. 

Dev sahab’s driver Prem Dubey and Kalpana Karthi’s brother Colonel Singha were close to him. Both of them could not bear the loss of his passing away and within six months of his demise, they too left for heavenly abode on account of heart attack. Dev sahab was very active before his demise. I had met him two months before his death. He was active in filmmaking and was busy with a script. He was gushing like a child when he was penning down his autobiography Romancing with Life.

In his last days, when I had met him, I narrated a story. He was not keeping well. During this meeting at Mehboob Studios in Mumbai, two people had to help him sit. I had named the story Flashback. This was inspired by his autobiography. Mehboob Studios played an instrumental role in the story. Dev sahab had financially helped Mehboob Khan with Rs 5 lakh. In lieu of the amount, Khan wanted Dev sahab to be a partner in Mehboob Studios. However, he rejected the offer as he always felt that he was not a good businessman. Although, a dressing room was reserved for him at the Mehboob Studios. While narrating the story, I showed him his images with Geeta Bali and Guru Dutt in Mehboob Studios. Dev sahab loved the story. I wanted to make a movie on this story. When I expressed my desire to Dev sahab, he said he was not in a position to walk and it would be difficult to make the film. I assured him that it could be made even if he kept sitting on a chair. My story was about the passion of an 80-year-old filmmaker. Dev sahab had tears in his eyes after hearing this. He always said he wanted to die on a film set. Upon hearing my story, he got so emotional that he decided to work for free. However, it turned out to be our last meeting. Exactly two months after this incident, Dev sahab left for his heavenly abode. A great human being, and an exemplary artist left this world. 

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He always believed that losses are very personal. Similarly, death, too, is a personal matter. One should not create a drama around it. This is why no condolence or prayer meetings were held after his death. He loved silence and peace. He always wanted to leave the world silently after finishing his work. Desires of great people get fulfilled. His wish also got fulfilled. There are many artists in the world, but it is difficult to find a rare human being and a cinema lover like Dev sahab.

(C S Nag is an international media person and a veteran film-maker. He has been the main assistant director of Dev Anand. He has written books named Road to Dev and Dev Dreams)

(Translated by Kaveri Mishra)

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