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From an eternal Dev Anand fan

I was a hard-core Dara Singh fan. I looked forward to watching his films and imitated his wrestling style in scuffles with local kids. I did not actually consider him a great actor though. I told him so when he came to my small town for a freestyle wrestling show. I was in class fifth then.

I graduated to become a Dev Anand fan around the time I was in class 6th. That is when I began to understand the idea of romance. I considered him an actor par excellence. I somehow had developed the capacity to compare the works of our film actors and always felt that Dev Anand was the only one who lived his roles, without belabouring. None could deliver a well-written speech more spontaneously, passionately, and fluently than him. And when he romanced his heroines in front of the camera, he actually romanced them and when he sang a song, it seemed he actually sang them. He was not very good at crying though. He cried like a child while doing grown-up roles and people laughed to the extreme indignation of his hard-core fans like me.

There has been this constant attempt by some ignoramuses to run down his acting prowess and present him as a mere style icon, and as a man full of energy and jest for life. They ignore his extremely nuanced and believable performances in films like “Baazi”, ‘Kaala Pani”, “Kala Bazaar”, “Guide”, and “Tere Mere Sapne”. He played his complex characters naturally and seamlessly. He was not into ‘acting’ a scene out in a theatrical manner.

In fact, Dev Anand and Earnest Hemingway were in the list of my closest childhood buddies since they were great romantics and I identified with their view of life. They have had a significant influence on my writing. I write long English or Hindi sentences starting with ‘And’ or ‘Aur’ thanks to Mr. Hemingway. I also visualise the lengthy passionate speeches in my scripts and plays being delivered with the fluency and natural ease of Dev Anand. During my college and university days my rousing speeches as a big time student leader also had a hint of Dev Anand’s style.

Like all his fans I hated it when he faltered in later years and made those terrible films and behaved awkwardly in awards presentation ceremonies.

If I ever wanted to meet a film star on my first visit to Bombay, it was Dev Anand. And I once went to his office, a dilapidated building in Santacruz. I could just get a glimpse of him as he walked into the room of his assistant with whom I was sitting; he issued rapid-fire instructions to his assistant, threw a quick glance at me, and then walked out. I had first seen the Reliance head honcho Amit Khanna in the same office. Dev Anand talked to his assistant in his trademark and much-imitated style in which he delivered his film dialogues. It was 1981 or 82. He was thin and fragile even then.

Years later, around the time he was going to release his film “Main Solah Baras Ki”, I met him again, with my friend Anil Shergil, in his penthouse at his Pali Hill office and studio. We were with him for more than an hour, talking about films. He commended my passion and energy. We had tea and biscuits with him and listened to gems of his wisdom. He did not want to show his film to distributors and he had an ironclad argument, “My film is my point of view. Only the audience can validate or invalidate it and not a distributor or any other middleman.” What could anyone say to him after that?

This time again he was speaking the way his characters talk in his films, passionately, and sincerely. I am sure when he wrote a letter and put words like ‘yours sincerely’ or ‘yours truly’ in the end, it was not just a formal thing for him. He actually meant it.

When he announced his films like “Mr. Prime Minister” or “Chargesheet”, he probably started with the resolve to do some path-breaking work. However, as we all know, making movies is as tough as fighting a war. You need a competent team around you and it is a constant battle. Some give up. His younger brother Vijay Anand did when he realised he could not make films his way. Dev Anand did not. Though the odds did not favour him any more, he carried on like a lone ranger, frail and fragile, taking failures in his own stride, with no intentions to give up till his last breath.

He paid for his failures largely out of his own resources while none dared to dampen the fervour of a child by reminding him of his obvious stupidities. Doing so would have been a criminal and callous act.

There are people you like being with for hours. You can discuss everything in the world with them without getting tired. Dev Anand was one of them. His press conferences were so enjoyable. He spoke sincerely and enthusiastically, meaning every word he spoke. He never fudged answers, and interacted with childlike enthusiasm with everyone. More than being a great star, he was essentially a very good man, a rarity in the film industry. He was as open a book as he could be.

And he was certainly a man of conviction. He stood up against the might of Indira Gandhi in 1977. While the entire film industry was crawling at the feet of an authoritarian regime, the Navketan camp joined the whole nation in condemning the misdeeds of Indira Gandhi. One recalls seeing the group photograph of Dev Anand, Vijay Anand, Shatrughan Sinha, and the rest of the Navketan campers, standing on a stage at Shivaji Park, their hands raised in support of the newly born Janata Party. They demonstrated in that singular act that film folks are not 'Bhands' whose sole job is to tell harmless stories and entertain their political masters. They have their own mind and political and economic thinking and they have the guts and gumption to stand up for those views. He formed his political party much later.

It is not true that he did not attend funerals. He did attend his younger brother Vijay Anand’s funeral and stood very close to the pyre, feeling its intense heat, as the ashes from it flew into air and settled on his jacket. He had also cried on that day in full public view. Immediately after that, instead of standing at the Santacruz crematorium to accept the condolences of people with folded hands, he got on to a small platform and gave a speech in his fervent style exhorting everyone not to mourn his brother’s death and move on with life. He had that capacity to move on, in spite of setbacks and betrayals.

I met him again about a year ago in his tiny makeshift Khar office along with the editor of a leading trade weekly. This time we talked about the industry and the reigning trends in cinema. We again had tea and biscuits. He said he wanted to meet me later some time. It did not happen and he is gone now. He died in his sleep peacefully according to reports. I saw how someone dies of a sudden heart failure in Goa recently. You are fully active one moment and in the next you go into a deep eternal sleep. That is how good and beautiful people leave the mortal world. The only regret is that there are not many good people around us and they leave a big void after their departure.

Rajesh Kumar Singh