"Call me Dev", was a crisp instruction a young and awed Waheeda Rehman received when she first addressed the debonair Dev Anand as Dev Saheb. How can I work with you as an equal if you put me on a pedestal, he added reassuringly.
Putting his awe-struck fans and co-stars at ease was second nature to this larger-than-life Bollywood doyen all through his more than six-decade long career. You are also great, he would shoot back whenever somebody praised him. And he meant it, for he believed that anyone who did his/her work with love and passion is great.
At parties, he would always be surrounded by ladies, young and old alike, mesmerised by his presence. Eager to touch him and be photographed with him, they would almost mob him. I would softly and smilingly bring him out of that love maze. He would also be very happy with them, chatting, asking about their lives and loves. When a girl asked him for his autograph, he would lovingly ask her to give him her favorite color pen for that.
The evergreen, ever-young charmer that he was, Dev Saheb was an epitome of courtesy and old world manners. He knew that ladies would love to hold on to his hands, so he would put on moisturiser on his hands before going to any party. Dressed perfectly for the occasion, girls loved his pinks, oranges and yellows. A very smart shopper, he could select one out of a hundred caps in a nanosecond. His fans often wanted his cap as a memoir, and he would smilingly oblige.
Dev Anand with Naveen Sharma
Once when a fan asked his secret for attracting so many girls of all ages, Dev Saheb promptly replied, "If it's a secret, it's not known to me, only the world knows about it. Because it's the world that creeps into my persona and my personality and judges me the way I look, the way I think, the way I behave, the way I respond. Well I think if you have the qualities that strike a chord somewhere in young people's hearts, there's no such thing as age. A man can be attractive to any age group as long as he is alive and creating something which the world is looking at and admiring."
Full of youthful energy, he was an explorer at heart. Always ready to shoot at a virgin location, he would walk miles to discover that beautiful waterfall or valley. His penetrative eyes would pan the landscape and nod admiringly. Few know that long before Yash Chopra shot in Switzerland, he had captured that beauty in his immortal song Phoolon ke rang se in his first directorial venture Prem Pujari. He loved long drives on European roads. Humming songs, reciting couplets, he would be devouring the natural beauty. Abhi to main jawan hoon was a natural choice that he hummed on such occasions.
Ever young at heart, appreciation of beauty came naturally to him. Once we were sitting at the café of Selfridges, London. It has beautiful close-ups of Hollywood heroines. Dev Saheb was looking at them admiringly. I mustered the courage to ask him, "Sir, which one of them is the most beautiful?" Dev Saheb stood up and looked at them closely. "The most beautiful is the one who is looking at me", prompt came the reply. At that moment he was as romantic as a teenager.
Dev Saheb used to answer his landline phone personally. He did this because he loved talking to his fans. A secret advantage behind this was that most of the callers were young girls. Every day he received numerous invitations for long drives, candlelit dinners and beach outings. Sometimes he would make me privy to a romantic SMS by a 20 something model asking him to join her for a drive to Khandala. Of course all such requests met with polite refusals from him.
Once we were at IFFI, Goa and many beautiful girls had surrounded Dev Saheb as usual. Mohan Churiwala, one of his closest associate had to tear him away from them in time for the inauguration ceremony. Later that night when Mohanji asked him that which of those fans was most beautiful, Dev Saheb replied in his nonchalant manner, "Youth is beautiful".
Dev Saheb, I know you are somewhere watching us. I just want to say that we miss you very much. Your love will always inspire us to love well and live well.
(The author was Dev Anand's business advisor)