Most of the movies Dev Anand is remembered for today ,had been made before I was born. Yet each one of them remains a personal favourite despite the fact that nearly all of them were in black and white, something not easy to digest for people of my generation and those who came after me. I don’t know when and how I fell in love with them. Looking back at them today, I can’t quite put my finger on why I loved the actor who passed away, rather casually, this week.
Was it his debonair looks–often compared to Hollywood’s Gregory Peck–and a silky mop of hair with an Elvis-like puff on the forehead? I don’t really know. But there was something magical about those black and white movies featuring Dev Anand although I never considered myself a fan.
Like many of my friends, I grew up adoring Amitabh Bachchan and later his own source of inspiration, the legendary Dilip Kumar although I came from a conservative family where movies and music were frowned upon. Yet there was nothing like a Dev Anand classic to lift your spirits, especially those soul-stirring melodies from his movies. He was the style icon of many generations.
So it was heart breaking to see the star who once commanded such cult status reduce himself to a caricature of his own self in the last few decades of his life, regularly churning out all those eminently forgettable flicks that few bothered to watch. Most of us including the Bollywood wallahs had come to put up with and indulge the ageless superstar. Nearly all of his contemporaries had long ago either hanged their boots, or simply vanished from both the silver screen and public memory.
Perhaps the pan Indian urban hero that he was, he did not quite know when to go gently into the night with dignity as his contemporary, Dilip Kumar, one of the Big Three –Raj Kapoor being the third part of the triumvirate–who ruled the Bombay cinema for decades, did. The man who couldn’t sit–or stand–still for a moment, literally, simply didn’t know when to stop running. He kept on going and doing what he loved most–making movies invariably with himself in the lead even as the world around him transformed with the audience’s tastes undergoing a sea change. He was 88 at the time of his death and he had just finished working on the last of his productions. At least two others were in the pipeline.
Yet there was something very touching and endearing about his desperate attempts to woo back his audience and somehow win its approval. He was like a school boy forever craving the appreciation of his elders and teachers. Even after six decades in the movie business, he clearly craved recognition and immortality. And we had somehow persuaded ourselves that he was going to be around forever. In a way, he will be. Dev Anand’s work and immense contribution to Indian cinema will live long after he’s gone and forgotten.
For me, he will remain the face of those immortal and heart warming songs by Mohammed Rafi. Watching those gushing tributes to Dev saheb, as everyone called him, on Indian television networks, I am struck by the extraordinary number of all-time chart busters his movies produced and most of them in the voice that I have loved and lived with all my life.
Rafi, the most prolific and enchanting voice of Indian cinema, had been the natural choice of numerous superstars. But when Rafi and Dev Anand came together they created sheer magic. I can’t tell you how often I have turned to the Rafi-Dev Anand combination to beat my perpetual blues.
Din dhal jaye; kya se kya hogaya; khoya khoya chand; dil ka bhanwar; sau saal pahle, abhi na jao chor kar and many, many more shine like diamonds in the dark. No one writes that kind of poetry anymore – it’s all Sheela ki jawani and Munni badnam hui now. And no one sings them like Rafi saheb did, pouring his heart and soul into them, not to mention the magic of masters like Naushad and SD Burman. That age and time will never return–neither will Dev Anand. Rest in Peace Dev saheb, there will be no one like you.