I remember being approached for Tumsa Nahin Dekha in 1957. Had things worked out that would have been my first film with Dev saab (Dev Anand) but it was eventually made with Shammi Kapoor and Ameetha. But the following year, he and I starred in T Prakash Rao’s Amar Deep (1958) that had beautiful songs one of which I will always remember Dev saab by, Dekh hamen awaaz na dena...’
I was looking forward to working with him since he was the handsomest hero around and one of the few taller than me. So, for a change, my height was not a problem. He had his own style that took getting used to. But once I did, he was delightful, so natural in front of the camera and a charming gentleman off it.
Amar Deep being our first film together he was still getting used to calling me Papa like the rest of the unit. He’d start off addressing me as Vyjayathi, then, quickly correct himself. By the time we started Jewel Thief (1967) I was Papa.
Jewel Thief was a Navketan production and everything was always well coordinated on the sets. It had hummable numbers like Dil pukare…, Rula ke gaya sapna mera…' and of course the evergreen Hothon pe aisi baat…. The latter was a difficult dance track with Dev saab playing the drums. We went through a lot of rehearsals. Dev saab loved the movements. "That was great Papa," he'd compliment me effusively.
A year after Jewel Thief, came Duniya (1968), a romantic thriller directed by T Prakash Rao, with the Kishore Kumar-Asha Bhosle song, Dooriyan nasdikiyan ban gayi.. A few years after, I retired. In 1996, Dev saab approached me for Return Of Jewel Thief but I had no desire to return to the movies.
We parted ways professionally but he always kept in touch, inviting me for every premiere and even the launch of his book, Romancing With Life (2007). Unfortunately, I wasn't in Chennai but we discussed our respective autobiographies (hers is titled Bonding). Two years ago, I invited him to my son Suchindra's wedding. He was away in London but called to wish Suchi a glorious life.
We met a couple of years ago when Mrs Lata Rajnikanth’s organisation, Ashram, presented us with awards. He spoke straight from the heart as always, and there was not even a flutter in the audience.
I can't believe Dev saab is gone. He was so full of energy that it's difficult to imagine him still. I can see him right now, in front of my eyes, coming towards me with a smile saying, "Hi Papa, where have you been?"
As told to Roshmila Bhattacharya