Those moments that I shared with Dev Anand over the course of a few years are treasured as they are akin to the mythological Krishna-Sudama story. Easily the most approachable star despite being a legend in his lifetime, Dev neither had pretensions nor a desire to put barriers between himself or his fans. He could disarm anyone with his smile and warmth but I feel twice blessed since Dev always showered me with enormous grace and affection… truly a great man who made even a commoner like me feel wanted!
My first meeting with Dev Saheb happened when I dialed Dev Anand on his landline after getting his number from an acquaintance. A familiar voice came from the other end: “Dev here. Who is calling?” Despite the fact that his familiar voice had resided inside me since childhood, I could not believe it was Dev Anand himself on the telephone. After I introduced myself and expressed my desire to meet him, he unhesitatingly invited me to come over the next evening to his office. Reaching the appointed place well before time, I was surprised to be ushered in at once as it was contrary to filmdom’s habit of keeping visitors on tenterhooks for hours!
After the formal introductions, when he came to know about my father’s birth at Lyallpur in pre-partitioned Punjab, he asked several questions about my parents just like an elderly relative would inquire about the well-being of a dear relative. As I took leave after two hours of fascinating interaction, he praised my proficiency of speech and said, “You seem to have inherited the skill from your parents.” Happy to hear such praise from the great artist, I also understood the secret of his divine smile: the man was cheerfully dedicated to work with no time or inclination to gossip or speak indecently about another person.
Thereafter, I interacted with Dev Sahab on several occasions. Each time his affection touched my heart, while his gentle spirit, sophisticated style and refined sensitivity inspired immense respect and awe. He would always answer the phone himself, speak softly yet meaningfully besides honouring an appointment at the designated hour. I experienced his humility one day, when several hours before our scheduled meeting, he called me in a feverish state and sought my permission to postpone the meeting to another day. I later learnt that he had a fever around 101 degrees at the time of the call, only to save me from trekking to his office. Since I was in Mumbai for just a few days, the small incident made me understand the intrinsic goodness of the man who had sensitivity for other people’s time as well as agony.
Conversing with Dev was always a delight. Erudite and aware, he could hold forth on any topic with remarkable ease. Dev never imposed his opinion just because he was a senior and illustrious personality, nor did he get upset if someone contradicted his opinion or held a contrarian view. Of course, you had to be well tuned on to Dev Sahab’s intellectual level or else the utterances could be lost forever since he spoke at a tremendous pace and his references came forth from pages of literature, philosophy, film scripts as well as everyday happenings around the world. But the speed of his utterances never betrayed any lack of introspection and it always seemed as if I was conversing with a “Guide” who had attained Nirvana; a state of bliss.
Yet there were fascinating contradictions in Dev’s persona of near perfect equanimity and enlightenment. He loved fashionable accoutrements but was detached from material aspirations, he was alive to noise of urban upheavals but sought solace in silent introspections, he was aware of scientific advances but wrote with a fountain pen in long hand! His apparent restlessness astounded most people but what was not understood was that his energy sprung forth from his intense and abundant desire for creativity. One could question the qualitative standards of his creations, especially in later years, but none could ever decry the integrity of his efforts who defined film making as “akin to being God.” Essentially a man at peace with himself, success or failure did not matter to Dev as he “had no fear”. Nothing unfazed the prodigious man and his smile conveyed the truth that “a treasure house of joy resided inside his soul!”
On screen, Dev Anand mesmerized audiences with his amazing smile, charm, chutzpah and romantic demeanour. But he was no different in real life too and even after age bent his fragile body, his enthusiasm, zest and energy remained as youthful as ever. I once confessed to him that I had hesitated in meeting him for years because I was afraid of being rebuffed. In his inimitable style, Dev leaned forward across the table, patted my hand and said: “One should always do what the heart says without worrying about what the consequences might be”.
Encouraged by his response, I disclosed that I had two scripts of mine for which I was looking for a producer. In a flash, he replied, “Great, work with me in my next film. Once it is known that you have been an associate director with me, they will give you finance to direct your own story.” I accepted his advice but alas, he died in London before he could start his new venture that was to be shot overseas. His loving voice still lingers deep within me and my pain is compounded since he proved such an affectionate and sensitive human being.
I always felt joie-de-vivre in his exalted presence, yet it seemed to me that Dev smiled out of habit to cover unshed tears. He always grew nostalgic talking about his talented brothers, Chetan and Goldie as well as the loss of SD Burman, Guru Dutt, Kishore Kumar, Rafi Sahab, Meena Kumari, Madhubala, Geeta Bali and other notable colleagues for whom he had immense respect and affection. The fondness and respect for Raj Kapoor, Ashok Kumar, Pran and Dilip Kumar always came forth when he related their sensitivity and understanding of human relationships which had helped characters come alive on screen.
I always feel that like my own father, Dev was not just a handsome man but also a nice human being too… someone who never spoke ill of others and graciously accepted human follies as natural shortcomings. An era came to a close in filmdom with the demise of Dev Anand, an era wherein love and romance, morality and poetic justice inspired cinematic stories, thus motivating cinegoers to trek distances to enjoy films with friends and families. Thankfully, technology will enlighten every future era of this Dev of romance and eternal Anand.