The Amorous Dev!
For those of us who associate the 1940s with decorous propriety and modesty, Dev Anand’s autobiography is quite a revelation. In his book ladies, and in particular married ladies, seem ready and willing for sexual dalliances at the flash of a toothy smile!
While still new to Bombay, Dev Anand one day finds himself instantly attracted to a beautiful young woman on a suburban train: “Beautiful and innocent, like a blossoming flower, ready to reach the peak of its glory…Like the sweet smell of freshness, or the flavor of a delicious chocolate…”
Dev Anand makes the first move asking her where she was going. Here’s how the rakish debonair pataod girls (sorry for the crudity of language!):
“Where are you going?” I asked.
She guardedly looked into my eyes…
“Where?” I repeated, taking the best smile out of my arsenal.
She now smiled, but looked away again.
“I am sorry if I offended you…”
…She seemed friendly now and asked me back, “Where are you going?”
“I don’t know,” was my answer.
“You don’t know where you are going!” she laughed…
“It all depends on where you are going!” My confidence was growing.
“Has anybody ever told you that you are the most beautiful girl on this earth”?
Finally, as they said in films, “ladki phasi”!
Dev Anand gets down with the girl at Churchgate and then walks with her to her house! Fast work! There (and here one has to admit that the star does have a good sense of humour) he finds the girl’s boyfriend waiting for her at the gate. The boyfriend turned out to be muscular with “an extra-thin waistline". He graciously concedes defeat, charmingly relinquishing his momentary conquest with the words “He certainly deserves you” (!)
Obviously the defeat rankled a bit for he compares himself to the beefy boyfriend.
“Blowing her a goodbye kiss, I compared myself, a skinny, frail-looking, gentle guy, always shy of baring his chest to the world, his shirt buttoned up to the neck to hide his delicate slimness (*), sensitive to the core, with a heart as soft as a lamb’s, to the strong He-Man, the gym going male, who she professed to be her boyfriend…”
(*Now we know the history behind the buttoned up collars!)
At times things seem too pat. He meets this same girl years later, “when I wore the crown of stardom on my head”. He was ambushed by a group of hysterical girls as he came out of a premier of a film. One of the girls screaming for his autograph was this same girl! As he autographed her book, she grabbed the star and kissed him.
The star comes across as someone who enjoys playing to the gallery. It seems he remembers this incident so vividly because of how it must have played out on the glossies. Her kiss was photographed as she reminded him who she was. Dev Anand gallantly kissed her back, saying with a flourish “I too owe you a kiss in return. And I kissed her in the full glare of the flashbulbs, before the cheering crowd.” Is it some kind of wish fulfillment that by this time the girl should have divorced her muscular boyfriend! And then there is the inevitable request “Will you cast me as your heroine?”
Decades later when he receives the Padma Bhushan he is acutely aware of the press photographing the moment – and he seems to be regaling in the media glare: “I tried to hide my tears lest they be caught by the cameras lined up in front of me. But the camera lenses are great spies. They clicked as I wiped a tear. They clicked as I took out a hanky to blow my nose. They clicked as I closed my eyes in the ecstasy of the moment…”
Coming back to his amorous escapes - Another time when he was reporting to Pune for his first film he had a rather passionate interlude in the night train. A voluptuous lady in a bright pink sari propositioned him as the train left Lonavla. ‘You are a very lovely young boy’ said the lady in the pink sari. Their tryst is narrated in erotic detail, with the lady apparently a trifle disappointed in Dev Anand’s prowess! “You young boys of today!” she gasped frustratedly. “Did you see that man who got off that last station (her male companion with whom she had a quickie before he alighted from the train)? They are strong. What a capacity. And you…But you will learn fast. You were strong, as I held you.” The lady disappears as the train drew into the station, “her expensive high-heeled shoes clicking away into the darkness”.
While shooting for Hum Ek Hain he was put at a guest house in Pune. Here he got attracted to a young lady who would have dinner with him in the dining hall every night. One night she invites Dev Anand to her room, sending a message through the bearer that she had cooked something special for him.
Dev Anand then goes on to describe in vivid intimate detail their night of pleasure. “Man is born for that pleasure” he says! “Next to us on the table lay our dinner in the trays. But it was left untouched. We were hungry only for each other.”
As long as the shooting continued, the two of them would meet in the sugar cane fields and make love.
On an aside – were women really so uninhibited in that era? I read with increased incredulity as the star recounts that on her birthday this lady requested him to wear his best shirt as she would be wearing her best sari. And then she goes on to say, very matter-of-factly, that afterwards she would have to spend the evening with her husband. It turns out she was the mother of a five year old child.!
When staying with Chetan Anand in Pali Hill, Dev Anand recalls how he would wake up to the tunes of a tanpura being played by his beautiful neighbor from the flat next door. The melody she played would waft through the windows with the morning breeze. Fair with golden bangles on her hands, a bright red bindi on her forhead, the lady had been the secretary of the most powerful film critic of those days and had later married him. She wielded enormous power in deciding which film personality to promote or to destroy. Infact it was rumoured she did most of the critic’s writings for him.
Chetan Anand lived closed to where Motilal, a ruling star then, lived. Dev Anand once bumped into Motilal who asked him “what brings you to Bombay from Lahore, young man?” When Dev Anand replied he too wanted to be a star (interesting that choice of word. Not an actor, but a star) – Motilal generously said “why not better than I am”. Dev Anand watched the star drive away his convertible and dreamt of someday owning a car too! The star then gives himself a self-congratulatory pat on the back by recalling how the same star would once play a character role (a euphemism for a minor role) in Asli Naqli with Dev Anand as the hero of the film. Years later Motilal would visit Dev Anand at his home requesting him to star in a film he wanted to direct. By then Dev Anand was too big a star, with too many date commitments to be able to oblige him.
Yash Johar was Navketan’s production controller.
Shekhar Kapoor, Dev Anand’s nephew starred in Dev Anand’s Ishq Ishq Ishq, Navketan’s biggest box office disaster. The film also had Shabana Azmi, Zeenat Aman and Kabir Bedi.
Tina Munim was introduced as a bar girl in Des Pardes. In one of the sequences she had to sit in a bikini inside a huge rotating beer barrel filled with alcohol. Dev Anand describes her as “naughty mischievous and frivolous…She was quite shy, but when she gave her shots, the camera loved her.”
Tabu is introduced in Hum Naujawan. She plays the role of a college principal’s teenage daughter who is raped by the son of a politician.
Meenakshi Sheshadri, who engages in some flirtatious telephonic tete a tete (or is it only in Dev Anand’s imagination?) When she got married Dev Anand was one of the first to know.
MF Hussain visits him at his home and draws a sketch of Dev Anand, saying, “I see a part of you in me, Dev saab…Your carefree creative restlessness – all very colourful.”
Amitabh Bacchan, who was the chief guest at the music launch of Main Solah Bara Ki. He came wearing a check shirt, his collar buttoned up! Dev Anand feels this was Amitabh’s silent tribute to him (since the buttoned up collar is Dev Anand’s trademark look).
A touch of Vanity
Everywhere in his memoirs he writes about flashing his “most attractive smile” to fans and celebrities and how fans would swoon and get hysterical seeing him. While all of it is obviously true, his regaling us his readers with how his fans treated him as a demi god is a trifle embarrassing.
Sample this: “..women swooned as I smiled, and secretly made love to me in their thoughts, as I ran around my leading ladies, romancing with them….I was ‘the ultimate romantic’, in whom they saw everything they dreamt about romance in their own lives.”
Or – “Girls who loved me and longed for me after seeing my films have now become mothers, and have, in turn, passed their own dream to their daughters, who come and see me now with the same feeling and adoration.”
And – “I chose a second-class compartment for my journey, for it meant that all my fans, many of them poor, could sit next to me, and swarm around me with eager eyes of adulation and affection…”
When he is diagnosed with hernia in 1998 he worries about how this will affect his fans. “..the grapevine would spread shock waves across the country, saying that the evergreen, forever young man of unstinted energy, gifted by the gods with eternal youth, in the minds of his countrymen, was not, after all, what they took him to be, but an ordinary mortal like them all, who could be laid low by a mere hernia.”
Nothing is mentioned of some of his greatest co-stars – Waheeda Rehman, Madhubala (both only in fleeting), Nutan, Vyjayantimala, Hema Malini, of his enduring partnership with SD Burman. I was quite puzzled by the fact that he has devoted chapters to Mink, Shaista or Sarina (who follows him around, starstruck. And when Dev asks her mother’s permission to allow her to star in his next movie, the mother says – she had brought her up all these years, only for him), and other recent debutants and none to the legends of yore.
He has devoted a chapter to his relationship with Suraiya though.
One also wonders that when he says “fans screamed in delight” and “the crowds went berserk with hysteria” while watching Awwal Number (remember – Aamir Khan’s ‘cricket’ movie – before Lagaan!) –what else in his autobiography is coloured with his ever optimistic perception of life, himself and his movies! He is a trifle disappointed when his movie Censor does not make it to the Oscar’s official entry for foreign language films and neither does it do well in the box office. But he good humouredly brushes it aside as a movie that “gave the thinking, analytical, intelligent section of the audience sumptuous food for thought for a serious, meaningful debate.”
The reader also can’t help but be curious about why Dev Anand and Mona Singh did not separate when the magic had so obviously gone from their relationship a long long time ago. He never mentions his wife again except for a few stray incidents regarding international visits. When he fell madly in love with Zeenat, and decided to propose to her, did he not think it was more appropriate to bring a closure to his earlier legal relationship? His entire marital relationship has been glossed over or rather swept under the carpet. Which he is completely justified in doing – but considering he has been so candid about everything else, this comes across as a mysterious omission.
After Taxi Driver became a resounding hit: “A good story is the soul of a good film, not the artificial glamour surrounding it. A great thought can be worth a million, but millions without a great though are like so many pieces of diamonds hidden in rubble.”
On Guide overshooting its budget and the adverse gossip surrounding its box office fate. “The man that the world was predicting would end up as a bankrupt was playing with the inner reserves of his own spiritual finances, to tell the world that it is not always billion-dollar budgets alone that produce the best, most soul-satisfying entertainment.”
Romancing with Life. An Autobiography by Dev Anand.
Publisher: Penguin Viking. Pages: 438