A couple of weeks ago, when asked to pick a song that could drive away his blues, shooting star Gagan Narang locked on ‘Mein zindagi ka saath nibhata chala gaya, har fikar ko dhuen mein udata chala gaya..’ And immediately, I visualised a dashing Cassanova sidestepping roadblocks with careless nonchalance, and ambling down the road of life with enviable assurance.
Cut to 1946. A young man hears that Baburoa Pai is scouting for a new face for his next film. Bored with his Rs 165 job, editing the letters of army personell, he barges into Pai’s Famous Studio office and announces that he can play the hero.
A month later, he gets a call from Pai’s director, PL Santoshi’s office, inviting him to audition with 55 hopefuls in Pune. By the end of the day, he walks away with a five-year contract with Prabhat Films, a princely monthly salary of Rs 550 and his first movie, Hum Ek Hain. The film releases on the eve of Partition and bombs. Sixty-three years later, Dev Anand is still around, making movies. I met the evergreen star early in the decade. He was being felicitated with a Lifetime Achievement Award and as he bounded in, frisky as a colt, in his trademark campus wear, some smiled, a few sniggered. Then, he started speaking. And by the end of a 10-minute monologue, everyone in the packed hall was a Dev Anand fan.
In the three years since I have been with this newspaper, we’ve done a few interviews. Each time I called, he’d invite me over for a cup of coffee. And bringing up an approaching deadline, I’d request a telephonic. “You know, I hate phoners, they are so detached,” he’d grumble. I’d agree, we’d speak, I’d promise our next meeting would be over a cuppa. Then, another deadline would crop up and…
But even Alexander Graham Bell’s invention cannot dwarf his indomitable spirit. I’ve touched on taboo topics with him, without a moment’s embarrassment. He’s responded with frank speak: “One kiss on screen is justified, too many and it loses its charm” and “I would never go on a show like Sach Ka Saamna, not because I am afraid to tell the truth but because I believe certain truths belong to you alone and are not meant to be shared with the world.”
He hates rewinding to his yesterdays and only wants to look ahead to his tomorrows. Yet, we’ve flashbacked to Guide that he insists would have brought home an Oscar had his brother Goldie (Vijay Anand) and he stayed back to campaign in the US in 1966. “But we were in too much of a hurry to launch Jewel Thief,” he chuckled.
Forty-two years later, the film got a standing ovation when screened in the Classics section at the Cannes Film Festival in 2008. “May be Chargesheet (his new film) will be screened in the Competition section at Cannes next,” he told me. The last time we spoke, I wondered what kept him so young. “I’m full of energy and this involvement with life is important. It shows on your face and body. It stops you from growing old.”
Today, on his 87th birthday, I salute our youngest Indian. And promise to catch up with him soon, over a cup of coffee.