Dev Anand is one of the greatest stars the Hindi Film Industry has seen. Handsome and debonair, he was the epitome of the suave, urban gentleman.
He was born Dharam Dev Pishorimal Anand in Gurdaspur, Punjab, the middle son of a well-to-do advocate on September 26, 1923. He graduated in English Literature from the Government College, Lahore and left for Bombay to join elder brother Chetan Anand in the IPTA. The initial years were full of struggle as among other things he had to sell some of his possessions including a prized stamp collection, and he even worked in the Military Censor’s office reading soldiers’ letters to their families.
Dev Anand’s first acting assignment came with Prabhat’s Hum Ek Hain (1946) but the film didn’t do anything substantial for his career. However at Prabhat, he met the young choreographer and assistant director of the film, Guru Dutt, thanks to a dhobi’s mix up. A deep friendship grew between the two of them. They promised each other that if Guru Dutt were to turn filmmaker he would take Dev as his hero and if Dev were to produce a film then he would take Guru Dutt as its Director!
Ziddi (1948) at Bombay Talkies was Dev’s first success. The film, co-starring Kamini Kaushal and directed by Shahid Lateef, is also known for Lata Mangeshkar’s first ever hit song, Chanda Re Ja. The following year he turned producer and launched his own banner, Navketan. Navketan’s first offering was Afsar (1950) starring Dev and lady love Suraiya and was directed by elder brother Chetan. A take off on Inspector-General, the film however flopped at the box office in spite of some great music by SD Burman including that great Suraiya solo Nain Deewane. Dev, remembering his promise to Guru Dutt invited him to make a film for Navketan.
Thus 1951 saw the release of Baazi, Guru Dutt’s directorial debut. The film, written by actorBalraj Sahni, was a trendsetter of sorts leading to the spate of urban crime thrillers Bollywood churned out in the 1950s. The film took Dev Anand playing a man forced to turn to crime to pay for his sick sister’s treatment to dramatic star status. It was also the beginning of seeing Dev play mostly hard-bitten characters living in the urban under-belly. Baazi kickstarted several careers – Kalpana Kartik, Johnny Walker, Sahir Ludhianvi and changed singer Geeta Dutt’s image entirely. Known only for weepy, weepy sad songs and bhajans till then, Baazi made splendid use of the inherent sexiness in her voice as she went ‘western.’
But even as Dev started to get successful in films, his relationship with Suraiya ended as she could not take a stand against her strict grandmother. Ironically, her career went on the downslide thereafter even as his ascended – a total reversal of the days when they went around and she was the bigger star.
The next pairing of Dev Anand and Guru Dutt was Jaal (1952). Dev played a heartless smuggler who only repents right at the end of the film. It was a finely shaded performance but the film didn’t do too well at the box-office. The partnership came to an end when Guru Dutt decided to act in his own films. He did play the lead in CID (1956), produced by Guru Dutt, and the film, one of the best crime thrillers of the 1950s proved extremely successful at the box office.
Dev meanwhile went from strength to strength and along with Dilip Kumar and Raj Kapoorruled the Hindi Film Industry in the 1950s – they were known as the Trimurthi of Bollywood. With deliberately awkward pastiches (Owing their origins to Gregory Peck and Cary Grant), Dev reveled in playing the mischievous lover boy chasing the heroine. To quote Amit Khanna, “Dev Anand’s forte was the boy next door. Part lover, part clown, part do-gooder.”
However, in between his lover boy roles in frothy films like Munimji (1955) and Paying Guest (1957), Dev repeatedly played shaded roles such as the pickpocket in Pocketmaar (1956), the absconding gang member in Dushman (1957), the black-marketeer in Kala Bazar (1960) or the murderer in Bombai ka Babu (1960) though by now his starry mannerisms – his sing-song dialogue delivery, his puff in his hair, his total nonchalance were part of every character he played. Consequently he was never rated too high as a performer but to be fair to him, he did give a fine performance under Raj Khosla as the anguished son trying to prove his father’s innocence in Kala Pani (1958) winning a Filmfare Award for Best Actor for the same while Hum Dono (1961) saw him excel in a double role of two army officers.
Guide (1965) saw the best performance of his career. The character of Raju Guide was yet another shaded character he played. Dev played him with just the right shade of grey – humanizing him with all his faults yet getting the audience to sympathize with him. It was a wonderful nuanced performance deservedly fetching him his second Filmfare Best Actor Award.
Following landmark films like the thriller Jewel Thief (1967), Dev Anand entered the 1970s on a high with Johny Mera Naam (1970) and also took to direction with Prem Pujari (1970). His best efforts in this field were Hare Rama Hare Krishna (1971) and Des Pardes (1978). The former, set amongst Hare Krishna cultists (presented as dope-smoking hippies) was Dev Anand’s call to nationalist Indian values and by far the best film he ever directed. The film launched the career of Zeenat Aman who made a tremendous impact as his sister in the middle of the cultists. By the end of the 1970s, Dev Anand concentrated more on direction and mostly acted only in those films that he directed.
Other heroines Dev Anand launched include Tina Munim (now Ambani), Natasha Sinha, the late Richa Sharma and Ekta amongst others. He also tried to launch his son Suniel with Anand Aur Anand (1984) but was unsuccessful. And though he continued making films with regular frequency and launching more newcomers, none of the films really had any impact, commercially or critically, post Lootmaar (1980). Still, he kept going with unbridled energy and sticking to his policy of launching fresh talent, he did introduce Jackie Shroff (Swami Dada (1982)) and Tabu (Hum Naujawan (1985)) amongst others to Hindi cinema.
On January 26, 2001 Dev Anand was awarded the Padma Bhushan for his contribution to Indian Cinema and the following year he was awarded the highest cinematic honour of the land – the Dadasaheb Phalke Award. In true Dev Anand fashion – on receiving the Phalke award, he dedicated it to his future!
On the personal side, Dev Anand married his co-star of 6 films Kalpana Kartik in 1954 – slipping away from the sets of Taxi Driver during a break and then resuming shooting after the marriage! The couple had two children – a son, Suniel, and daughter, Devina.
Dev Anand continued to make films right to the end with his last film Charge Sheet released in 2011. And he was already thinking about his next project, Song of Life. Quoting his philosophy of life, Dev Saab always used to say, “I never give myself a chance to get depressed. I think ahead.”
Dev Anand died of a cardiac arrest in his sleep in London in the early hours of 4th December, 2011. He had not been keeping too well for some time but as was typical to him, he was already planning his next film.