Deeply in love with life — and himself
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We all know the adjectives that will be repeated often as tributes pour in for Dev Anand: evergreen, ageless, romantic, debonair and so on. We all also know that he romanced three generations of Indian women. My mother loved him, and my daughter adored him. And women of my generation, well! Watch any of his movies, even the ones he did starring himself as some sort of a ridiculous caricature of a romantic lead in his seventies and eighties, and he still had that one incredible quality: he so looked in love with the woman he was romancing. And through his younger, romance-laden fifties and sixties, he easily convinced a woman watching him on screen that he was in love with her too. Yet, Dev Anand's entire life, career, sex appeal and mystique were built on a great contradiction: that Dev Anand seemed to love any woman he looked at, but never really loved anybody. Well, nobody except one, or maybe, just maybe, two. But more about that later.
What are my credentials to write about a film star? My professional life is consumed in decoding rotten politics and mundane governance. You can get away with writing a bit on sports: we are, after all, a nation of 1.2 billion cricket coaches. But cinema? I have to say in my defence that most of the films I escaped from a small-town school to watch had Dev Anand in them. Guide, in 1965, when I was in Class V, Prem Pujari, in 1970, and later Jewel Thief, Hare Rama Hare Krishna, Tere Mere Sapne. Many of his films were ahead of his (and ours, as early teenagers) time. But you always walked out of the sultry small-town hall copying Dev Anand's leaning-tower gait, his mannerism, and always hummed his songs cycling back home. Dilip Kumar and Raj Kapoor, who formed the holy trinity of Indian cinema in that era, had oodles of talent and versatility, maybe more than him. But nobody could match Dev Anand for style. Dev Anand's hero rarely beat up the bad guy in a movie. He was on the other hand thrashed often in films like the pathbreaking Jaal, Johny Mera Naam, Hum Dono, Baarish. And when he did, he raised himself bleeding from a split lip (my favourite being Prem Pujari), you didn't merely feel sorry for him. If you were a woman, you found him even more desirable. If you were a man, oddly, you wished you could be in his place!
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