Most Indian filmmakers now hope to cross over. Excerpts from Sidharth Bhatia’s ‘Cinema Modern: The Navketan Story’ reveal how Dev Anand made Guide for US audiences with Nobel Laureate Pearl Buck as writer, hiring an American filmmaker, in 1965. Dev, actor-producer, always ahead of his time…
Dev Anand saw the potential in the lead role, and after reading the book (RK Narayan’s Guide), flew to the US to discuss it with Pearl S Buck and Tad Danielewski. Both liked the idea and were convinced that it could be made in English too; exotic India was just becoming well known to the West, and showing snake charmers, elephants and starving villagers with huge palaces as a backdrop would not hurt. No doubt the story too conformed to many stereotypes of poor, backward India.
The English film was to be made under the banner of Stratton Films, a joint venture between the two sides, while a new banner, Navketan International, was formed for the Hindi one. A crucial decision to shoot the two versions simultaneously was taken.
Danielewski flew down to India to hunt for locations and select actors while Dev Anand set about getting the film rights to the novel.
In his book, A Writerly Life, Narayan writes engagingly, if somewhat sardonically, about how it all happened from them on. Dev went to the US to track down Narayan, since someone had told him he lived there. He finally got the exact contact details from the Indian diplomat Natwar Singh, who was a friend of Narayan, and was then based in New York.
Singh wrote a letter of introduction to Narayan who was in Mysore, and Dev Anand dashed off a telegram offering to visit him. Narayan was impressed with the speed and energy of the whole wooing operation: ‘I cabled him an invitation, already catching the fever of hurry characteristic of the film world. He flew from Los Angeles to Bombay to Bangalore, and motored down a hundred miles without losing a moment.’
They hit it off well enough, and the next few months were a hectic affair, especially for a writer living the quiet life in remote Mysore, chronicling the unhurried world of Malgudi: ‘… long distance calls, urgent telegrams, express letters, sudden arrivals and departures by plane and car.’
Narayan was asked to take the advance team of the film unit around the locations where he wrote and had set the novel. Narayan’s Malgudi, an imaginary town where life rolls on gently, and which has an odd assortment of characters whom his fans have come to know and love, is an amalgamation of many small communities, but has a distinctly south Indian flavour. The filmmakers apparently expressed their delight at seeing rural hamlets, bubbling brooks, dark bungalows and old banyan trees, but it was becoming clear – depressingly so for the author – that his vision of the novel was quite different from that of the producers and especially of the director, Tad Danielewski.
Dev Anand and Hollywood’s Guide
Excerpts from the book, Cinema Modern: The Navketan Story, describe how the English version of Dev Anand’s film, The Guide, was made.
Tad Danielewski also wanted a heroine who would work for Western audiences. Among the many women he seriously considered for the part was Leela Naidu, written about in international magazines as one of the most beautiful women in the world and who had recently acted in the Merchant–Ivory film, The Householder.
Naidu was a child of mixed French and Indian parentage and when Danielewski met her at a party, he was hooked. Dev rejected the name and now dismisses the suggestion that she was ever a serious contender. ‘She couldn’t dance. Moreover, she was not an accepted face for Indian viewers. For us it was Waheeda Rahman from the very beginning.’ She was perfect for the role as a dancer, but there was a problem – she couldn’t speak English very well, certainly not for an English film.
So, Pearl Buck, undertook the task of coaching her in English, sitting with her before and during the shooting. Danielewski also wanted to hire Subrata Mitra, the celebrated cameraman for Satyajit Ray’s early films, but he was rejected since he was found to be too slow in his working style.
But the hassles of shooting the bilingual, international magnum opus had just begun. The plan was for a scene to be shot in English first and then, with minimum delay and change, for it to be filmed in Hindi. This would not only save time but also lots of money. The producers were keen to follow this formula. The film’s budget was already ballooning because of the pre-production costs and the fees to the foreign technicians.
The plan backfired badly. Things started going wrong from the very beginning. Chetan Anand, who was to shoot the Hindi version, had his own ideas of shot-taking and camera placement, to say nothing of the script. He began changing the scenes immediately after they had been canned, leading to time being wasted. The atmosphere became acrimonious.
Dev realised that an impasse was imminent and decided to finish the English version first and shoot the Hindi one later, a costlier option but a more practical one. He was wondering how to inform his brother about the decision when Chetan Anand solved the matter for him – funding for the war film Haqeeqat that he was planning had just come through. The Punjab government had agreed to finance it. Chetan made an honourable exit and the day was saved.
The differences between the two films and their treatment are immediately apparent. The Hindi version stands out for two important changes that make the film completely ‘Indian’ in its sensibility. First, unlike in the book and in the English film, a strong justification is created for Rosie to move away from her husband and towards Raju. In the English version, the wily Raju sees a chance and seduces Rosie when her husband is away, while the Vijay Anand version has Rosie finding her husband cavorting with a local prostitute and being disturbed at his infidelity. Till then she is amused and charmed by Raju’s attempts but holds back. She even tolerates her husband’s eccentric and somewhat cruel behaviour. But once she finds out that her husband has gone astray, it doesn’t take her long to leave him.
Closure would come only if it rained; the faith of the villagers had to be vindicated. This would mean not a happier end to the story, but would simply allow for redemption of the guide-turned-criminal, the sinner-turned-fake saint. The man who acted as a guide to tourists, showed a way out to a lost dancing girl, had strayed from the path, had to find himself; he had to guide himself to the truth and thus to moksha.
In the Vijay Anand version, an American journalist is shown asking Raju, by now suffering under the harsh sun and getting thinner and weaker by the day, whether he believes that his fast will bring rain. Raju smiles and says, ‘These people have faith in me, and I have faith in their faith.’ That would be the only satisfying ending. It was a wise call.
The English film, called The Guide, was released in the US and vanished without having much critical or box office impact. Prints of the film are not easy to come by now, but after a lot of effort, this author managed to get a CD with a very poor quality print.
It is immediately apparent why the film would leave viewers underwhelmed; it is poorly made and the story is badly told. Prem Prakash blames the director for not just, not understanding India or the story, but also for his lack of background in cinema, since he had come from the world of television.
The strangeness of Indian actors — even villagers — speaking in English in a variety of accents wears off quickly, but what lingers is the linear and flat storytelling. This version never made it to India and it turned out to be all for the best since it would have impacted negatively on the Hindi version that was to follow.
Dharam Dev Pishori Anand was born on September 29, 1923 in Punjab. He graduated in English literature from Government College, Lahore. In his career spanning 65 years, Dev Anand acted in 144 films and directed 19.
1946: Made his film debut with Prabhat Talkies’ Hum Ek Hain
1949: Ashok Kumar spotted him around Bombay Talkies and got him the part in Ziddi. The film is considered his official break. After it’s success, he became a producer.
1950: His production house Navketan Films’ first project, Afsar, released. He produced 31 films to date.
1954: On sets of Taxi Driver, he married co-star Mona Singh aka Kalpana Kartik in a quiet ceremony.
1957: Brother Vijay Anand made his directorial debut with Nau Do Gyarah. Mona quit films.
1970: Turned director with Prem Pujari, but the film didn’t do well at the box-office
1971: Directed Hare Rama, Hare Krishna, which went ahead to attain cult status. It was considered Zeenat Aman’s unofficial launch vehicle.
1984: He launched son Suniel with Anand Aur Anand. The film, directed by Dev, flopped and Suniel quit acting.
2007: He released his autobiography, Romancing With Life.
2011: His black and white film Hum Dono was released in colour. He directed and released his last film, Chargesheet.
I refuse to shed tears for Dev saab: Boman Irani
A few days ago, I had called Dev saab to invite him for my son’s wedding. A friend of his told me that he was in London and wanted to stay there for a few extra days. But honestly speaking, he was such a positive and fantastic personality that it never struck me that he could be in London for a medical check-up. It was simply impossible to think of Dev saab and doctors at the same time.
I don’t know what his condition was, but Dev saab denied the doctors a chance of treating him. He lived and left us the way he wanted to, without anyone of us mourning and crying over his death. I refuse to shed even a single tear on his passing away because Dev saab stands for celebration of life.
I met him last when I had gone to dub something at a studio. I saw him sitting there waiting for his actors to get ready. When I saw him, I asked him if I could sit with him. So, he replied, ‘I am always working, it doesn’t mean I won’t have time to sit with my friends.’
As a person too, Dev saab was always bubbling with energy. He always wanted to keep working. I remember once I saw him sitting with his eyes closed. I thought he was taking a nap. So, I tried to go past him making sure he isn’t disturbed. But when I went past him, he turned out and called out to me, ‘Boman, why are you sneaking away?’ He used to be so attentive and aware of everything in life.
As a filmmaker, when I worked with him on Mr Prime Minister, I saw his enthusiasm from close quarters. In one of the scenes, we both were supposed to reach the door at the same time and open it in a huff. But the moment the shot would start he would outpace me and reach before. He had so much energy; I couldn’t match his speed.
And during the same schedule, I remember one day’s shoot got cancelled. Instead of just saying a random ‘sorry’, Dev saab got someone to send flowers to my room for the cancellation. At that time also, I had thought, ‘who am I to get flowers from Dev Anand?’ But that’s how magnetic and stylish his personality was.
He really lived his life king size: Anil Kapoor
I was shocked when I heard the news. Deep down inside, I always believed Dev saab was ageless and that at some level, he could actually defy death. His energy, enigmatic persona and never-give-up attitude had everyone feeling he would never leave. Almost like he was immortal.
Even though he is no longer with us, Dev saab will always remain in our hearts and minds. Be it through his films, songs, good looks and style, he was the master of it all. For me, he was the first Indian actor to go international. His film, Guide (1965), had gone to Cannes. Besides, Gregory Peck used to love him and I remember coming across his picture with Shirley McClaine and Peck.
He was one person, who really lived his life king size and fulfilled whatever he dreamt of achieving in life. From him, I have learnt to be positive and to never look back. I would always see him and feel, ‘if in his 80s, he can be like this, then I am almost half his age’.
I remember when my father passed away he called me to pay his condolences. But at the same time, he sounded positive about life. He would always say, ‘let’s move on, what’s next?’ Jo ho gaya so ho gaya (what’s done is done).’ That’s what I have learnt from Dev saab. He was a phenomenal personality and full of positivity, to say the least.
Dev saab would never bother about what people said or wrote about him. He always lived the life the way he wanted to. I last spoke to him around the release of Chargesheet. And he invited me for the premiere. He was so full of life even then. He would always talk about his next film or a subject he is thinking of. He was Mr Evergreen in the true sense.