The eternal romantic hero, face of buoyant India
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A couple of months back, I saw what would turn out to be my last Dev Anand film, in solitary splendour. It was a first day first show, and there was no one else in the theatre. The film was Chargesheet, and I remember asking aloud, after two and-a-half execrable hours: who can I arrest for this? Because, like Anand's recent films, Chargesheet was a crime. It was less a film than the misguided wanderings of a mind mired in a fugue, floundering to stay afloat.
But I sat through the film. Because of the man who was at the centre of it. Him and me, we had a longstanding covenant, forged in steel and love, tempered by affection and passion, of a kind that can only happen at the movies. And of the kind that could be engendered by the one and only Dev Anand.
He died this morning of a heart attack, at 88. But that was just a physical leave-taking. Dev Anand, the filmmaker who gave us films with heart, had long back morphed into Dev Anand, the evergreen impresario who was determined to lurch from one project to another, projects bereft of any semblance of story-telling and sense, featuring faceless, talent-less extras, there just to flaunt cleavage and leg.
Each time something painful like this came and went, I wondered how long he could continue. And each new film that he announced, and actually came out with, was an answer. Not just to that question. But to the larger one that addresses immortality and life spans and beloved heroes: the quality, or the abysmal lack of it, mattered not a whit to his fans, because he was "Dev Saab". He did not make his films for carping critics; he made them for those who could not bear to let him go.