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April 4, 1997


Talk about the Dev-il

Varsha Bhosle salutes that effervescent icon of Indian cinema, Dev Anand
Dev Anand with Suneil I remember the garden party at RK Studios in the winter of 1961 extremely well. I disengaged my hand from Didimavshi's (Lata Mangeshkar) and walked over to whence the embers flew. One look at the sweaty man turning the lamb on spit, and I fled for dear life. As I darted to my aunt, Raj uncle nabbed me, and up, up, up into the air I was being lifted…

I remember toddling down from the recording theatre of Mehboob Studios and sneaking into its musty sound-stage. Amidst the bustle and flurry of shooting, Dilip uncle leaned down and, lower lip jutting slightly, spoke respectfully, so gently, just as if I were Meena Kumari: "Aap kaisin hain? Badmaash,school nahin gayin?"

Of the third member of the holy trinity, I have no early recollections at all. I'm convinced that during my teens, some defence-mechanism erased all childhood memories of him. Perhaps, my mind couldn't handle the incestuous reek clinging to the feelings he evoked. For, even after strong forays by Shammi Kapoor and Bachchan, my heart remains wholly and solely Dev Anand's.

I will always be passionately in love with the black and white Dev Anand of Taxi Driver (1954), Nau Do Gyarah (1957), Amardeep (1958) and Kala Bazar (1960). Even in colour, and after he got more stylised, my mind perceives only the Anand of Asli Naqli (1962). Therefore, do not expect my characteristic pot-shots -- one cannot be objective about a man whose mere mention effects a serious quivering in one's innards. Men, poor souls, have not been granted the depth to experience such phenomena.

Dev and Dharmendra What made Devsaab tick? (Notice, no 'uncle'). It wasn't his cocked hair, since he got rid of it mid-career. It wasn't nimble-footedness, since he couldn't dance. It wasn't a happy/comic persona, since Raju Guide (1965) was anything but. Ditto the tragic figure, as evinced by the delightful Banarasi Babu (1973). Perhaps, it was his smile, which revealed those devastating gaps near the canines. Or, it may have been that equally ravaging horizontal dent on his forehead. Which are only ways of saying that Devsaab's charm is beyond all definition.

Whether in battle (Hum Dono, 1961), or torn by professional ethics (Tere Mere Sapne, 1971), or on the scent of villains (CID, 1956), the common thread through the screen personae in Devsaab's 105 films is the image of the supreme lover. Not a lusty sex symbol, but the wholesome boy-next-door we all want to drag home to mommy. Some say that Rajesh Khanna was India's ultimate lover – he had his moments, I agree. But, the crucial difference is that Devsaab never really tried -- he simply was. Even when he straightly played the hood-winked sleuth in Jewel Thief (1967), all I wanted was to throttle Vyjayantimala.

Dev and Dharmendra One magical day, while calling Suneil, I mistakenly dialled his father's number. "Varsha! This is Dev speaking. Are you the one who writes?" "You pick up your own phone?", I stammered. "Oh I'm easily accessible -- I've no secretary screening calls. What's the big deal? But tell me about yourself: did you Honour in English?" No. Is that so terrible? "I'm not hung up on English, but I do believe that the day every young person will know the language, you will see a change in the intellect, mood and sophistication of the people. They will be more broad-minded, large-hearted and international. English is not the monopoly of the British. I object to being parochial: I've been here since 1943; mujhse bada koi aur Maharashtrian ho sakta hai?"

I fell prey to the euphoria of that day: While blowing my trumpet to the devious editor of this webzine, he cunningly slipped in a demand for spiking 200 words from some article. I, who tug and tilt for even two dubious punctuations, said, "Yeah, yeah, strike whatever you want, but listen to this…" After which, I was snared into interviewing Devsaab.

I thought it would be very clever of me to intellectualise scenes from Devsaab's movies. As preparation, I dug out a stack of videos and, notebook in hand, switched on my all-time Dev Anand favourite: Kala Pani of 1958…

The lantern of Navketan glows, and the lean and tall Karan enters my life. Open-necked, standing-collared shirt, cuffs rolled up loosely; high-waisted baggy trousers; and an intensity that makes me wilt. If Madhubala flits in and out, I do not notice. My notes go well -- till the first song-sequence: Devsaab, in achkan and makhmal ki topi, swinging a cane and chewing paan, saunters into the kotha of Nalini Jaywant: Nazar laagi raja tore… Karan slides his topi forward onto his forehead, as one perfect eyebrow arches in displeasure. "La haul-wila… Tauba, tauba, tauba!" he scowls. Jaywant freezes. I crumple up my notes.

Song-end, Karan tells the smitten Jaywant, "Is shakal se aap jaisi bahuton ne dhokha khaya, aur baad me mar miti… Zara dil thaam ke baithiye-ga! Humne aise bahutse dil uda liyen hain." I fumble for my heart in vain. Then, Hum bekhudi me tumko pukare… begins , and Karan flings out his arms on …chale gaye. There is nothing else to be done but fl-y-y-y into them. End of preparations.

Dev Anand, continued