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I played the guide

india Updated: Dec 11, 2011 00:36 IST
Karan Thapar

I was 21 when I first met Dev Anand. I was an undergraduate at Cambridge. An acquaintance in London telephoned to ask if I would show the actor around and, more out of curiosity than enthusiasm, I agreed. I knew who Dev was but I was untouched by his fame and unfamiliar with most of his films.

Dev arrived early the following Sunday. I was still in bed. But my unpreparedness got our relationship off to a rollicking start. I offered coffee and croissants while I hurriedly dressed.

"What time do you normally get up," Dev innocently asked, as he saw me hunting for a clean shirt and digging my jeans out from under the bed.

"Midday," I replied. "Oh dear, I've cost you three hours of sleep!"

Dev had come to Cambridge with a specific purpose in mind. He was on a recee for Des Pardes and looking for an Indian boy and an English girl who he would film canoodling by the banks of the Cam as a sort of leitmotif for the film.

We spent the day together. Dev was fascinated by the university town. We lunched at the Copper Kettle on King's Parade, visited the Union, punted on the Cam - where he nearly fell into the river - and strolled along the backs. Kat Allinson, a dear friend who's father happened to be deputy High Commissioner in Delhi, kept him in splits with her insouciant humour.

"So, will you two do it for me?" That's how he popped the question just before boarding the taxi for the station. Chuffed at the prospect of becoming 'stars' we agreed.

A week later Dev was back. Kat and I were made to sit by the river and asked to kiss. It wasn't the two of us that attracted the crowd. The crew did that.

At first being asked to do it again seemed like the perfect excuse for more. But when it became clear the cameraman disapproved of our lack of ardour and, very possibly, our inexperience, it started to feel ludicrous. Worse, the undergraduates ogling us were shouting instructions on how to do it which Dev echoed with gleeful delight.

Alas, when the film appeared our clinch was reduced to a fleeting shot tucked under the titles. When I first saw Des Pardes I missed it. The next time I needed a friend to point it out.

But Dev became a friend. On subsequent visits to England he'd invite me - "and all the friends you can find" - to lunch at the Carlton Towers. I discovered he loved strawberries and cream, even in winter when they're fiendishly expensive! And nothing made him happier than watching hungry undergraduates eat.

Twenty-five years later he was my guest on the BBC interview Face to Face. "Tell me," he asked, "do you want the truth or do you want an act?" Not sure which would be better, I opted for both.

Dev delivered in spades, except you'd never have guessed where one ended and the other began. He spoke of his mother - "I loved her more than anyone else" - Suraiya, his "calf love" and how breaking-up made a man of him and Kalpana Kartik, who he married during a lunch break. He joked about the caps he adores, revealed details of the diary he kept since 1945 and described himself as an eternal optimist.

He ended promising to write his autobiography. "It'll just take four weeks", he said. But did he keep his word?

The views expressed by the author are personal.