As one of the Top Three, Dev Anand offered one model of manhood for Indian youth to follow. But it took six years after his entry into the industry, with Guru Dutt’s Baazi, for him to acquire his screen persona—"a hail-fellow-well-met, lovable scoundrel, a tramp, a have-not, on the wrong side of law, but with a heart of gold who does and acts in a manner that endears him to the common man". After that, he played the same role with slight variations. He did not do mythologicals or historical or costume films (except for Insaaniyat which he hated and does not mention here). With good directors like Guru Dutt, Raj Khosla and Vijay Anand, he turned out some tremendous films. He was urban and urbane, always dressed in western style except when in disguise. His fans loved him like that. The shock which Guide gave his fans was palpable both because he seduces a married woman and then dies a starving fakir.
Dev Anand’s is the only major autobiography to come out of the Hindi film industry though rumour has it that Dilip Kumar is dictating his memoirs. In the meantime, this is a treasure trove both for the complete commitment to filmmaking which Dev Anand displays and for the total frankness with which he can speak of his many sexual conquests. At 23, he is seduced in an overnight Bombay-Poona train on the way to his first shooting. A stranger invites Dev into her bed when her lover gets off along the route. He is captivated in more than one sense.
After that, our hero details each night of lovemaking, in the beginning with married women in guest houses or just petting in the back of cinema halls. They all go away, leaving him hungry for more. Without a blush, he recounts lovers in Paris, Rome, Florence, but they are usually bar maids, waitresses, can-can dancers and the like—women for whom he has no respect.
Then we have the sentimental affairs. Here is the best account of the Suraiya-Dev Anand episode. They fell in love almost instantaneously. After some intimate moments hinted at but not in detail, Grandma locked Suraiya back in her golden cage. So poor Suraiya had to die a spinster 50 years on.
He marries Mona Singh (Kalpana Kartik) but after a few films and two children, she drops out of the story. She finds him flirting with a Czech interpreter in Karlovy Vary while Mona is left holding their young baby son and she hits the roof. He keeps a discreet silence on what happened after that but one gets the impression that he must have grown cleverer at hiding his affairs. And heroine follows heroine as he spots them with his glad eye. He confesses to be at the brink of telling his very own discovery, Zeenat Aman, that he is in love with her, but is pipped to the post by that old scoundrel, Raj Kapoor. Dev is heartbroken but we are never told where Mona is at this time. She played her bit role in our hero’s journey and that is that.
But what is more puzzling is his inability to stop making films. Dilip Kumar restricted himself to one film at a time in the 1950s and after 1970 became even more picky. Raj Kapoor stopped after Mera Naam Joker and just directed. But Dev goes on directing and acting in film after film with hardly a hit among the last 30 of his 118 films, twice as many as Dilip Kumar. But then he is the cynosure of his own eyes and is so happy with all that he does that he does not mind if the films flop.
Yet, we should be grateful for this splendid tome. There is no sign of it being ghost-written. After all, Dev graduated from that once jewel of the subcontinent: Lahore Government College. It reads well and let us hope the next generation of stars will follow suit. How about it, Big B?