Dev and Goliath
Director: Dev Anand
Actors: Dev Anand, Naseeruddin Shah
The first mistake to make if you do actually walk into this screening is to assume this is a picture. Just a picture? That’s like saying Dev Anand is an actor. He, like his movies, especially since the ‘90s, have been phenomena of our troubled times.
Of the trio that ruled Hindi cinema in the 1950s, Raj Kapoor is long gone, Dilip Kumar has been ailing for a while, Dev is still a competing star, director, writer, and if need be, the audience for his films. Dev's genius may defy description. But that’s because all imagination cannot be limited to words.
We see him in this movie, first hiding behind a tree, shooting at gangsters. It’s a flashback sequence. He was then commissioner of Delhi Police. He's retired from the force now. That’s not possible.
Look at him: head tilted sideways as he recites lines in that imitable drawl. The ageless young man favours the denim jacket, swigs brandy from a hip flask: "heart ke liye” (for the heart). Dev saab, in reality, doesn’t drink. Never has. Which is good. Someone so high on life would embarrass the silly intoxicant. He’s 88. I don’t know a better brand ambassador for the AA.
But in this film, he has a problem. He’s up against major Goliaths. One of them is KK, short for Kanna Kauwa. This fellow is a don’s trusted lieutenant, in half a pair of Aviator shades, fat cigarello on his lips, dozen piercing in his ears, gold chains around his neck. Heck, seriously give it to this guy. I wish to know more about him.
But the director digs deeper instead, in his effort to expose the underworld’s disturbing influence in Bollywood. There is a film shoot on. A fading heroine who wishes to be part of it is shot dead. One of the accused is Dev, the gold-medallist ex-police commissioner, staying in the same guesthouse as the movie’s cast. He once also used to head all investigating agencies in the country. Given his resume, the home minister allows him to investigate the murder case where he’s himself a suspect!
All other accused are in jail. Politician Amar Singh plays that home minister. Wasn’t he charge-sheeted recently? The casting is ironic. I suppose. But you should expect no less from an active mind on creative viagra such as the one making this movie. Things happen to him because it wills it.
The zeal is infectious. India’s top contemporary actors have adorably indulged Dev Anand in recent years: Aamir Khan acted in his Awwal No 1, Boman Irani got up from his seat when he got a call from this director to perform in Mr Prime Minister, Amitabh Bachchan was at this film's premiere. Warner Bros. has produced it!
Naseeruddin Shah plays the villain. He’s don Sultan: the anti-hero on extra hormones, willing to tap anything that moves, single after eight weddings, with 10 kids, but father to none. This Dubai Mafiosi plans to make the biggest Bollywood film ever: Love Story Iss Waqt Ki. But there’s a condition: the gangster's busty moll has to be the picture's heroine, because she wants to. He loves her with the same passion that Dev, the director, is passionate about life and the female breasts.
Besides the don’s tight-squeeze, and a dead heroine, there’s a nubile gypsy girl with a strong lisp and a pink guitar who dances in bras and micro-minis, so she can do the same on the screen some day. Chham Chham, that’s her name, charges Rs 100 to the public for touching her fingers, Rs 200 for shaking her hands! Like everyone else, she dreams of making it big in Bollywood. Who else will appreciate this undying obsession than the superstar-director of this film.
Suddenly the cinema slips into a surrealist state. Mobs take up guns and hit the streets. Running cleavage bounces into the camera lens. Characters start getting shot one by one. A li’l child, who's supposedly Dev's daughter, runs behind him. A white woman appears from nowhere. As do sculptures of god. This is the climax, Sir. The don is caught, charge-sheeted.
The song starts, “Charajsheet, charajsheet, charajsheet...” Which reminds me of how this had all started, a Riya Sen number with Russian backup dancers, “Bollywood, yeah yeah…. Gita, Ramayan. Tehzeebon ki khan (repository of etiquette)… Bollywood, yeah yeah.”
A regular film at a multiplex: Rs 250. A post-90s Dev Anand phenomenon: Priceless.