Dev Anand was the ultimate style icon. He was free India's first super star who cast his magic spell on multiple generations. He also was the first angry young man of the Indian cinema.
He was fiercely independent, fearless and individualistic and it was no surprise that he was the first one from the film Industry to come out against Emergency. He also stood by his friend Kishore Kumar when his songs were banned on the All India Radio.
I had the opportunity of meeting him at least a dozen times and interviewed him on four occasions. The news of his death saddened me because he was an individual who rarely lived in the past but always looked towards the future. But the lesson he has left for everyone is that we should learn to celebrate life.
I have always been a great fan of this legendary super star and can recall that on the first day first show, no star even Amitabh Bacchan and Rajesh Khanna at the peak of their popularity could command the same black market price anywhere near a Dev Anand movie. While in school, I remember how some of us bunked our class to see Johnny Mera Naam at Eros and how each one of us got a blue blazer stitched since it was worn by this handsome and charismatic actor.
Till the late eighties, Dev sa'ab as he was called, remained someone with a huge fan following.
I remember that I had invited him to the Press Club of India for a "Meet the Press" programme, just before Sache Ka Bol Bala was to be released. There was no electronic media and I doubt that any actor in our history has received the kind of coverage he got on the front pages of every newspaper, which came out from Delhi.
The story is that originally, the report was slated for page three in the Dainik Hindustan. But when the night foreman saw Dev Anand's picture and the report, he ran it on the front page telling his colleagues that he was prepared to face the consequences the next day as "Dev Anand has to be on page one". This is the kind of committed following he had.
Dev Anand would rarely get nostalgic but the trick was to get him to talk about Government College, Lahore. He was my father's age and his contemporary in the college and I had just to mention the institution and he would start unwinding. He rarely talked about his leading ladies but would turn philosophical when the conversation shifted to Suraiya and Madhubala. He once told me some interesting details about an English movie, Flower of Evil in which he starred opposite a top Vietnamese actress. He was also aware that many of his critics would accuse him of imitating Gregory Peck and Cary Grant, something that the iconic star never agreed to.
Dev Anand had enormous affection for SD Burman and Sahir Ludhianvi was his favourite poet. The ultimate love song according to him was Abhi Naa Jao Chhod ke ke dill abhi bhara nahin from Hum Dono. He rated Mohammad Rafi as the best singer and also his top choice for ghazals though he thought that Kishore Kumar captured his flambouyance much better in certain situations. He once disclosed that Jaidev, then assistant to Burman composed Jayen to Jayen kahan from Taxi Driver for which Burman got his first Filmfare award. Jaidev later gave the score for Hum Dono. Also Burman had tuned Dil Aaj Shayar Hai Ghum aaj nagma from Gambler for Rafi but Kishore Kumar snatched it away.
I organized a retrospective of Navketan Films at the Delhi University in the mid seventies when I was a student activist with the help of my friend, teacher and Dev Anand fan, Sydney Rebeiro. We also organized the premier of his movie, Bullet, at the Plaza cinema. Very few are privy to this information that it was Sydney who later played a major role in getting his autobiography, Romancing with Life published.
I asked him once that how had he managed to remain so energetic, Dev sa'ab smiled back and said that since childhood his mother had always encouraged him to have Chavanprash. He used to often suffer from migraines and according to him, "once I sense it is coming, I catch the first flight to London to see my doctor there".
Dev Anand was perhaps destined to pass on in London. He has gone without any controversy keeping his integrity and image intact. We should all celebrate his life.