He was 11 when a schoolmate told him he resembled Dev Anand. That stray comment set the tone for his career and much of his life, says Kishore Bhanushali who went on to mimic the screen idol’s loose limbed walk, floppy hair, affectations and over the years came to be known as Dev Anand junior.
Bhanushali, who has worked in over 100 films across Hindi, Bhojpuri and Gujarati cinema, sometimes regrets he could not establish his separate identity but memories of his few meetings and conversations with Dev Anand have kept him going.
On Tuesday, the 100th birth anniversary of the superstar, who died in 2011 at the age of 88, the actor, singer, host and stand-up comic said impassionedly that it was as if Dev Anand’s soul had entered him.
"I may have started my journey in cinema by mimicking Dev sahab but I always wanted to become Kishore Bhanushali. Ironically, that is exactly why no one would give me work in the beginning,” the 61-year-old told PTI.
"I may not have been able to get work but people slowly started recognising me. I didn't realise when I started behaving, sitting, standing and moving like Dev sahab. It was as if his soul had entered my body and I became Dev Anand," said the actor, who currently stars in the TV show “Bhabi Ji Ghar Par Hai!"
Bhanushali recalls in vivid detail his meeting with Dev Anand after his impersonation of the star in the 1990 blockbuster “Dil”.
"I still remember his one leg was on the table, the sweater was tied, and there were four-five people standing behind him. When I wished him good morning, he said 'Good morning, Kishore' in his inimitable style. 'That's your name, right?'
"I said, yes sir. He said 'I saw your film 'Dil' and had a good time. You were looking more like Dev Anand than me! How many films are you doing right now?' I said 'Sir, around 10-12.' 'Oh baap re! You're so busy!' he said'."
The Mumbai-based actor said seeing Dev Anand in person left him spellbound and he even asked if they could work together in a film.
"Dev sahab said 'I'll work with you on one condition: you'll not give as many jhatkas as you gave in 'Dil'.' Everyone was laughing. He was in such a jolly mood. He used to speak so fast. And I was dumbstruck.
"My boss, my god... the one who I grew up watching on screen. Whose name gave me an identity... that man was sitting in front me, it was unbelievable. He said 'Kishore, leave your number here. We'll call you. Ok, thank you, bye'."
Dev Anand, one of the greatest and most successful actors known for Hindi films such as "Hum Dono", "Tere Ghar Ke Samne", "CID", and "Guide", also shared a life lesson.
"Kishore, don't ever look back in life. Whatever happened, forget it. Always look forward. All the best," Bhanushali recalled him as saying.
His friend and "Dil" actor Adi Irani had asked Bhanushali to play his character in the film like Dev Anand so that "he stood out".
The big break in the film that starred Aamir Khan and Madhuri Dixit came after years of struggle. The actor was initially meant to be part of the crowd but was added to the cast as one of Khan's friends because of his Dev Anand mimicry.
Bhanushali had met Dev Anand earlier too.
"I met Dev sahab during my days of struggle. He asked me to concentrate on studies because I was very young at the time. He told me to try my luck again once I grow up and assured me that I'll get a job in films," he said.
Bhanushali said his last encounter with Dev Anand was around 2009 when a prominent radio channel organised the screening of "Jewel Thief" and "Guide" in Mumbai.
"I watched both the films with Dev sahab and Jackie Shroff dada, who was discovered by Dev sahab. It was a proud moment for me," he added.
It all started, of course, with the young schoolboy telling him he resembled Dev Anand "a lot".
"Before then, I had not even heard about Dev Anand sahab. When I said 'Dev Anand, who?' he in turn asked me to watch 'Johny Mera Naam'. I wanted to find out who Dev Anand sahab was... The first Dev Anand film I watched was 1973's 'Yeh Gulistan Hamara'.
"After watching the film, I thought 'I really look like Dev Anand sahab'. When I returned home, I saw 'Jewel Thief'. My friend's brother helped me learn a long dialogue from 'Johny Mera Naam'. Soon everyone found out I mimic Dev Anand sahab. And that's where it all began for me," he said.
Describing Dev Anand as one of the most stylish men to grace Indian cinema, Bhanushali said the actor is evergreen.
"People like Dev Anand don't die. He is immortal. He is a part of our country's legacy. No one in the industry was and is as stylish as Dev sahab. From his clothes, the way he carried himself to smoking a cigarette, everything about him was stylish. He was called the Gregory Peck of India," he added.
Besides "Jewel Thief" and "Johny Mera Naam", Bhanushali said his other favourite Dev Anand films are "Hum Dono", "Guide", "Tere Ghar Ke Saamne" and "Asli Naqli".
Bhanushali featured in “Urf”, a documentary film directed by Geetika Narang Abbasi on celebrity lookalikes.