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Dev Anand: A Centenary Tribute

Who is Dharamdev Pishorimal Anand? That is the original name of Dev Anand whose centenary will be celebrated on 26th September this year across the
Dev Anand centenary tribute
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Who is Dharamdev Pishorimal Anand? That is the original name of Dev Anand whose centenary will be celebrated on 26th September this year across the country with theatrical screenings of some of his earlier musical romances which made him one of the most famous and popular romantic heroes of his time. He dropped the old-fashioned prefixes to his name and came to be known as Dev Anand. I believe anyone who watches Hindi films, new or old or contemporary, has watched at least one Dev Anand film in their lifetime. His name was linked to the Hindi film industry for around fifty years.

Born after World War I, the little boy naturally gravitated towards dreams of building a career in the defense forces and the Navy. Films were not on his radar at the time. He dreamt of joining the British Armed Forces’ Indian Navy. His dreams of joining the Navy were dashed to pieces as he failed in the exams. But he then joined the defense services in Pune as a dispatch clerk in the Defense Postal Services.  He studied in an English Medium school in Dalhousie followed by a graduate degree in English from Lahore Government College. 

His father was a noted advocate at the District Court at Gurdaspur Dev had three brothers and a sister. The eldest Manmohan was an advocate himself. The next brother Chetan went to England for higher studies but came back to India to make films. Dev was the third and Vijay Anand, also a famous director, was the youngest brother. The only sister however, had a bad marriage and came back to her parents for support. 

The family was surprised when Dev failed in the defense exams because he was talented, good in studies, had a good stamp collection and was a prolific reader. He was not very conscious of his good looks but a veteran actor pointed out that he was a handsome young man and stood out for his looks in any crowd. But it was Chetan who was interested in films. He came to Bombay and it is believed that Dev and Vijay followed him. Then, he happened to watch two Hindi films that impressed him deeply. One was Achhyut Kanya, perhaps the first Indian film to tackle a love story between an untouchable girl and a high-caste boy which ends in tragedy. The other was Kismet which was the biggest box office hit of its time. The common factor in both films was Ashok Kumar who played the hero in both films. Dev Anand was so deeply impressed that he decided to make films his career.  In 1943, Dev caught the Frontier Express to travel to Bombay with Rs.30 in his pocket. Dev had to wait for 56 long years to go back to his hometown Gurdaspur even to visit. 

Dev Anand wanted to work in the armed forces.

When in Pune he worked in the postal department of the Army distributing letters among the soldiers, he drew a monthly salary of Rs.65/-  but “it was okay for my food, clothing and shelter and I also managed to send some money to my father as my sister, married with kids, was back home,” he said to this writer  at a detailed interview.  During this time, he joined the Indian People’s Theatre Association to work under his older brother Chetan Anand. After he quit his postal clerk’s job, he joined an accounting firm on a monthly salary of Rs.85/-. 

One day, while in Pune, he gatecrashed into the Prabhat Studios (which later became the FTII)  where a gentleman named Baburao Pai saw his handsomeness and was immediately pulled to this young man. Pai sent him to meet P.L. Santoshi. Impressed by the dashing looks of this young man, P.L. Santoshi, a noted filmmaker of the time, gave him his first break as hero in the film Hum Ek Hain in 1946. This was a salaried job with a pay of Rs.400 per month and Dev felt it was like manna from Heaven. The contract was for three years. The leading lady was Kamala Kotnis. This introduced him to his lifelong friend Guru Dutt. They became close friends and promised each other that the one who got a good job first would include the other. The promise was kept though Dutt was then looking for a choreographer’s job and Dev for an actor’s work.

Sadly though, his serious affair with Suraiya that blossomed during the shooting of Vidya failed because Suraiya was more famous than Dev, was a singer-actress of great repute. More importantly she was Muslim and was dominated by her grandmother who opposed the match. They had planned to elope but Suraiya developed cold feet at the last minute and Dev Anand was heartbroken but he moved on finding solace in the films that came to him following his meteoric rise. But he talked frankly about this phase in his life.

 Ashok Kumar introduced the new actor to Bombay Talkies and he got a break as hero in Ziddi opposite Kamini Kaushal who later acted in Neecha Nagar directed by Chetan Anand. But as the best romantic hero of Indian cinema for many years, Dev Anand as an actor-hero flowered the best in films directed by his brother Vijay Anand and great success came to the brothers mainly after Dev Anand and Chetan Anand founded their production house Navketan in Bombay In 1949. 

Dev Anand in a still from Guide.

Vijay wrote the script for the Dev Anand starrer Taxi Driver (1954), directed by Chetan Anand. The film was one of the biggest hits of the Navketan banner playing a big part in giving Dev Anand his stylish screen persona even when he played a pickpocket or a card sharper. It was during the shooting of this film that Dev Anand had a very filmy marriage; he got secretly married to Kalpana Kartik, his co-star in Taxi Driver and Baazi. They remained married till Dev Saab passed away in 2011.

These films went to shape Dev Anand’s screen personality as the suave, sophisticated and handsome young man who gets trapped into a life of crime mainly through circumstance. The opening shots of Kala Bazar and some scenes in Guide bear the influence of Neo-realist overtones used as a ballast to release fantasy, a technique he imbibed from his eldest brother Chetan Anand. Nau Do Gyarah, was a thoroughly entertaining mix of the urban thrillers Bollywood was churning out during the 1950s and the road film (certain elements borrowed from Capra’s It Happened One Night (1934.) Vijay’s command over the craft of cinema and song choreography is evidenced in this film. In Kali ke Roop Mein Chali Ho Dhoop Mein Kahan he made use of the foreground and the background. In the romantic song sequence Aaja Panchhi Akela Hai he used a constricted space consisting of just a small room and a toilet. Other song numbers include Hum Hain Rahi Pyaar Ke, Aankhon Mein Kya Ji and Kya Ho Phir Jo Din Rangeela Ho. Nau Do Gyarah demonstrates technical flourish in a scene showing two men fighting in a room while the ‘vamp’ outside continues dancing to the strains of See Le Zubaan; while Vijay has the camera cutting to a series of hands of the different characters outside the room to highlight their tension.

Kala Bazar (1960) is still known for its amazing picturisation of Rhim Jhim ke Tarane Leke Aayi Barsat with Dev Anand and Waheeda Rehman. The film’s two lead characters, Dev Anand and Waheeda Rehman, meet at a bus stop in the rain after a fairly long time.  They share an umbrella as they walk towards their home. Shared past experiences at different times and locations come flooding back and happy memories are superimposed over flowing shots of the present in the monsoon. This harks back to the work of Dmitri Kirsanoff[1] in the late 1920s and early 1930s. 

Tere Ghar ke Samne (1963) astounded audiences with Vijay’s visualization of the title song showing Dev Anand imagining a miniature Nutan inside his drink as he begins to sing to her inside the glass! The song, a duet with Mohammed Rafi and Lata Mangeshkar, has a beautiful moment when Anand’s assistant (in the film) Rashid Khan drops an ice cube into the glass causing Nutan to shiver and Dev Anand gallantly takes out the cube! The film was a bumper hit, a musical romantic comedy with the young Nutan putting in a spontaneous performance.

Hum Dono’s (1961)’s music with songs like Main Zindagi ka saath nibhata chala gaya and abhi naa jaao chhodkar ke dil abhi bharaa nahin, appear twice over the film. Dev Anand’s double role adds an edge to the song picturizations in the film. Set against the backdrop of war, Hum Dono undercuts the military edge to the film with the beautiful bhajan number Piya Tero Naam sung by Lata Mangeshkar that infuses the ambience with some somber moments of reflection and introspection. 

Other directorial films by Vijay Aand which brought out the best in Dev Anand in addition to focusing on his outstanding looks and his unusual sense of dress and costume which, even if sometimes bizarre, he carried with great sophistication and elan are best illustrated through Jewel Thief (1967), Tere Mere Sapne (1971) and Guide (1965). 

He acted with heroines across two generations from Suraiya through Gita Bali, Vyjayantimala, Madhubala, Asha Parekh, Sadhana, Tanuja, Nanda, Waheeda Rehman, Zeenat Aman, Kalpana Kartik, Sheila Ramani, Shakila, and created a beautiful bonding with all of them and not once did any heroine complain against him. Waheeha and Asha Parekh speak fondly of him till this day.

Guide is one of the earliest efforts in Indian Cinema to actually show its two leading characters as frail human beings who could make mistakes in life, sin and yet be unapologetic about it. The film can be seen as a regressive comment on ‘national culture’, e.g. the shift from colonial tourism to capitalist enterprise to religious faith; from the mass cultural commodification and spectacle to pre-colonial naïveté and ritual. There is also a discourse about stardom – starting out as a man of the people, the hero transgresses conventional codes and fulfills the dream of wealth, then finds this unsatisfying and, having been freed from material possessions (and women), he ends up fulfilling other’s wishes and finds apotheosis as a god in death.

When, well past his prime, an aged Dev Anand went on producing, directing and acting in one film after another, each one a flop, he remained completely unperturbed because cinema was his passion and that is why he kept on making films and its success or failure did not affect him one way or another. He won the Dadasaheb Phalke Award in 2002 and this too, brought no visible change in his nature or in his approach to cinema. He kept away from the Indian audience when he bid his final goodbye in London in 2011. He was a great actor with sixty years of cinema behind him. But he was a greater human being.

Notes:

  1. Dmitri Kirsnoff was an avant garde filmmaker belonging to French Silent Cinema. He was part of a group that made realist films focussed on the ‘popular’ in the socio-economic margins of urban life in Paris, Marseilles, or elsewhere. Kirsanoff’s Menilmontant (1925) with Nadia Sibirskaia is noted for having been a brutally poetic example of films that effectively and aesthetically juxtaposed the dank, dirty streets of say, Montmarte to the healthy air of a Charmont-sur-Barbuise farm. (Source: The Oxford History of World Cinema, Geoffrey Novel-Smith (Ed.), OUP, 1996. p.122.)

Images courtesy: Wikimedia

This article has been edited. The details about Suraiya and Kalpana Kartik were updated on 27 September 2023. 

Shoma A. Chatterji is a freelance journalist, film scholar and author based in Kolkata. She has won the National Award twice, in 1991 and 2000. She has authored 26 published titles of which 14 are on different areas of Indian cinema. She holds two Masters Degrees and a Ph.D. in History (Indian Cinema). She has also won a few Lifetime Achievement Awards from different organizations over time.

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