“There was a girl who used to write me passionate letters and I replied to them 10-12 times. One day I stopped sending replies. He collected all those letters and sent them back to me with a goodbye note. His heart was broken. I used to get thousands of fanmails. Once I replied to a fan’s letter. After that he sent me 3720 letters, just in the hope that I would reply again.”
This is not an imaginary story, Dev Anand has mentioned it in his autobiography ‘Romancing with Life’. Had Dev Anand been alive, he would have been 100 years old now.
He was such a star who was accepted in many countries like India, Pakistan, Nepal etc. In Hollywood, stalwarts like David Lean, Gregory Peck, Frank Kopala knew him.
The part of undivided Punjab where Dev Anand was born is now in Pakistan. After graduating from Lahore, in July 1943, with 30 rupees in his pocket, he left for Bombay by Frontier Mail and within a few years became a big star in India.
But he had no idea that he would have to wait for 55 years to return to Lahore where he had thousands of fans.
When Dev Anand cried hugging the doors
Journalist Gauhar Butt was in Lahore when Dev Anand visited Pakistan with Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee in 1999.
While talking to BBC, Gauhar narrates the scene when Dev Anand went back to his city and that college in Lahore after 55 years.
“When we entered the college, I told the watchman that Dev Anand has come. The watchman was surprised and said, “Oh, you have come to India?” As soon as Dev Anand saw his college, tears started flowing from his eyes. He hugged the door and cried loudly. During college, he was in love with a girl named Usha. Called his name.”
“Kept crying while sitting on the stage. Kept crying while hugging the walls. He told what he told Usha when he left Lahore College for the last time.”
When Dev Anand saw his college in Lahore after 55 years, he hugged the door and cried loudly. Clung to the walls and cried.
– Gauhar Butt, Pakistani journalist
When the director said there is a gap in the teeth
When Dev Anand left Lahore and came to Bombay in 1943, initially he worked as a clerk and then in the censor office of the British Army, but his desire was to become an actor. A friend with whom he used to take music classes told him about producer Baburao Pai’s film.
On reaching there, the watchman did not allow him to go inside but Baburao could not ignore the face of that handsome boy sitting outside.
He was sent to Pune by Deccan Queen train for audition and the journey of his first film ‘Hum Ek Hain’ started in 1946.
In the very first film, a condition was placed before Dev Anand. Dev Anand writes in his book, “I was told that we will have to put fillers between your teeth. I moved my tongue to make sure there was indeed a gap on either side of my front tooth. Due to the gap in my teeth, I kept shooting with fillers but I was not feeling natural. Later on my request this filler was removed. I am happy that people have accepted me the way I am.”
Fans used to break teeth for Dev Anand
Stories of Dev Anand’s madness can also be found in Nepal where he shot ‘Hare Ram Hare Krishna’, ‘Johnny Mera Naam’ and ‘Ishq Ishq Ishq’.
Nepal’s senior journalist Basant Thapa has been a fan of Dev Anand since childhood.
He says, “Dev Anand had a lot of craze in Nepal. To make a hairstyle like his, boys would apply a special kind of hot oil in bamboo wood to their hair. There was a gap in Dev Anand’s teeth. The situation was such that the boys would try to get teeth like Dev Anand’s by distorting the shape of their teeth. When Hare Ram Hare Krishna was shot in Nepal, the entire city had gathered.”
“One night we came to know that the song ‘Dum Maro Dum’ was being shot in Kathmandu. The crowd became so anxious to see Dev Anand and Zeenat Aman that they started pushing and shoving. The police had to use batons. People also threw stones at the police. We also threw one or two. This was the magic of Dev Saheb. In those days, when I went to Darjeeling, I saw that all the tourists were roaming around wearing the same hat that Dev Anand had worn in ‘Jewel Thief’ and the same black and white shoes.”
There was a gap in Dev Anand’s teeth. Nepali boys would try to get teeth like Dev Anand’s by distorting the shape of their teeth. When Hare Ram Hare Krishna was shot, the police had to use batons.
– Dev Anand
Dev Anand and the truth about black shirt
Dev Anand is remembered as much for his style as he is for films like Baazi, Taxi Driver, Gambler, Guide. The bent neck, that cap of his, the colorful scarf around his neck and the way he spoke continuously without pause, many people were a fan of this style.
Regarding this, Dev Anand had said in a conversation with BBC, “Actually, I stoop, walk in a bow. I used to get long dialogues in films and I was in a dilemma whether to pause or not. So I used to speak in one breath. And this became Dev Anand’s style.”
The situation was such that the word spread about Dev Anand that he was forbidden to go out wearing a black shirt because girls would faint on seeing him.
However, Dev Anand laughed it off and said it was just a rumor which started with him wearing black clothes in the film Kaala Paani.
I used to get long dialogues. So I used to speak in one breath. And this became Dev Anand’s style.
– Basant Thapa, Nepali journalist
Indonesian President attends Dev Anand’s shooting
Dev Anand’s fans included everyone from dacoits of Chambal to heads of countries. During the shooting of the film Kaala Pani, Indonesian President Sukarno came especially to watch the shooting.
This incident is recorded in ‘Romancing with Life’ like this, “The shooting of the song was to take place, the song was – ‘Hum bekhudi mein tumko pukare chale gaye’ and everyone was waiting for the President. When he did not come for two hours, we shot the song. As soon as the shot ended we came to know that they had arrived. We did that shooting again for the President of Indonesia. The President applauded loudly. He was very happy to see the shooting of a Hindi film. I was given the Filmfare Award for Kaala Paani, which I received from Egyptian President Al Nasser.”
Bandits took photos
Talking about fans, one more incident comes to mind when Dev Anand was shooting in Chambal.
Dev Anand writes, “After the shooting, we were staying in the Dak Bungalow in Chambal area. Someone warned us that bandits were about to attack. I told the person who had come to warn us to tell them to bring copies for autographs and if they have cameras, they should bring cameras for photos. They would have the last chance of their life to get a photo clicked with their screen hero. “
“The next day when we were shooting, I stood on the truck and said to them, how are you, my countrymen. Hey Dev Saheb! He said. Someone started shaking hands with me and someone hugged me.”
Dev Anand’s friends were equally his admirers.
In 2011, actor Manoj Kumar had shared this anecdote with BBC colleague Madhu Pal. “When my father died, I was very sad. Then for one and a half months, Dev Saheb used to spend two hours a day with me, be it morning, afternoon or evening.”
Manoj Kumar says, “Once someone called me and said, Hey brother, this is your title ‘Hare Rama-Hare Krishna’. I said yes. The person on the phone said that from today it became mine. That was Dev ji.”
Risk taker Dev Anand
Apart from being a stylish star, Dev Anand is also considered a visionary in Hindi films. He had the courage to take risks.
The boy who came to Mumbai almost empty handed in 1943, sets up his new production house Navketan Films in 1949.
He did mainstream films like ‘Taxi Driver’, ‘Kala Bazaar’, ‘Hum Dono’ but also chose a bold subject in the form of Guide (1965) in which a completely different form of love was shown.
Dev Anand’s role in it was of a gray shade, in which he eventually becomes a saint and dies, which is everything that people were not expecting from the stylish Dev Anand.
People in the market were not even ready to buy Guide but today many people consider Guide as Dev Anand’s masterpiece.
When his book was released, I got a chance to interview Dev Anand in London.
Always in his high-spirited style, he had said, “If people say that guiding is the best job, then we have to listen to people. But it would also not be right to say that I cannot do better work than any of my previous good work. We are also Dev Anand.”
Suraiya and Dev Anand’s love
Dev Anand’s personal life was also like an open book. He was in love with actress Suraiya, but due to the barriers of religion, both of them could not get married and Suraiya remained alone all her life.
Senior journalist Ali Peter John was Dev Anand’s friend and also a fan.
In his book ‘My Dev Memories of an Immortal Man’ he writes, “Dev Anand used to tell me that I wish our story had a different ending. I used to work in Screen at that time and in 2002, Screen decided to give a Life Time Award to Suraiya. Suraiya kept asking my colleague Piroj whether Dev would come. Piroj said that Dev never misses any screen function, but Dev Anand said Ali would not like it. I have neither seen him nor spoken to him on the phone for 40 years. Let it be this time. I know that neither of us will be able to bear it.”
“Later Dev wanted to know how Suraiya looked, whether she had flowers in her hair or what kind of saree she was wearing. He called me on the day of Suraiya’s death. His penthouse was closed. He sat alone in a tent on the terrace. There were just tears in his eyes.”
But on the lines of his song ‘Main Zindagi Ka Saath Nibhata Chala Gaya’, Dev Anand moved ahead in life and married his heroine Kalpana Karthik.
The fans are tired but the gods are not tired
He continued making films till the end of his life even if they flopped. Basant Thapa says, “Eventually we fans got tired of watching his later films. But he did not get tired..”
Senior film journalist Bharti Dubey has been covering Dev Anand. She says, “Many people did not like the cinema of his last period, they felt that those films were not the same as before. But Dev Anand was confident that he had to keep making films, whether he got zero stars or praise. He used to tell me that I have to die while working. After all, some films do not define Dev Anand.”
Gregory Peck Dev Anand of India
Bharti Dubey says, “He was called India’s first urban hero. He could not play a rustic role but Dev Anand’s style and charm were different. He was called the Gregory Peck of India.”
“Let’s go back to Dev Anand’s childhood. In his book, Dev Anand tells that once he was drinking sherbet near the Golden Temple in Amritsar.
The sherbet seller looked at Dev Saheb and said that you have a big sun on your forehead and you will become a great person.
Call it luck, hard work, passion or coincidence, that child grew up to become a big star who went beyond the scope of time and became timeless.
Perhaps that is why his fan Yuvraj Shah of Pune had built a garden for Dev Anand, whose name is Evergreen Dev Anand Udyan.