A one-in-a-billion phenomenon: Anupama Chopra on Dev Anand
The nodding head, flopping arms, casual charm inspired a legion of actors. Yet, in 77 years, Dev Saab hasn’t had a true successor, Chopra says.
It is hard to believe that he would have been 100 years old this week…
I consider Dev Saab (there is no other way to address him) the most dashing hero Hindi cinema has ever had. If dashing is “attractive and impressive in a way that shows confidence”, Dev Saab had this. But he also had singular style and unstoppable panache.
In the iconic song Abhi Na Jaao Chhod Kar from Hum Dono (1961), where he pleads with his partner (played by the beauteous Sadhana) not to leave, there is such sweet longing in his eyes that we know she won’t be able to resist.
We feel the ache with which, as Raju in the classic Guide (1965), he tells his subordinate Mani: “Zindagi bhi ek nasha hai, dost. Jab chadta hai toh poocho mat kya alam rehta hai, lekin jab utarta hai…. (Life too is an intoxicant. When it kicks in, it is incomparable. But when it fades…)”
Dev Anand made his debut with Hum Ek Hain in 1946. The nodding head, flopping arms and swept-back hair inspired a legion of actors and imitators. Yet, in 77 years, there hasn’t been a true successor to that irresistibly casual charm.
I first met Dev Saab in the late 1980s. His glory days were behind him. It had been more than a decade since his last hit, Des Pardes (1978; the debut of Tina Munim, now Tina Ambani). But consistent failure did not dissuade him. Dev Saab continued to direct movies, always with himself as hero.
A legendary story still told about him is that when Farah Khan requested him to be part of the star-studded Deewangi Deewangi song in Om Shanti Om (2007), he refused, saying, “I only play leading men.”
One of my first assignments, as a rookie reporter for Movie magazine, was to interview Aamir Khan, who was then shooting for Dev Saab’s Awwal Number (1990). I remember hanging around for hours at Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium, where a shoot was underway. And I distinctly remember marvelling at the fact that Dev Saab’s lunch was one dry piece of toast. Perhaps the minimal eating fuelled him. His last film, Chargesheet, was released in 2011. He was 88, and would be gone the same year.
In the late 1990s or early 2000s, my husband, filmmaker Vidhu Vinod Chopra — an ardent admirer — invited Dev Saab to our house for dinner. He didn’t eat very much then either, but he spoke with great enthusiasm about a crossover film that he wanted to make with the American pop icon Britney Spears. He said, with conviction, that she would be reading the script in a few weeks. I don’t know if that was truth or fantasy, since the project never materialised.
In the book Outlive: The Science and Art of Longevity, co-author Dr Peter Attia quotes his friend Ric Elias, who was on the US Airways flight that made an emergency landing in the Hudson River in 2009. “I think people get old when they stop thinking about the future,” Elias tells Attia. “If you want to find someone’s true age, listen to them. If they talk about the past and they talk about all the things that happened, that they did, they’ve gotten old. If they think about their dreams, their aspirations, what they’re still looking forward to – they’re young.”
This was Dev Saab. Forever young.