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The beauty about having been Dev Anand is that everything that would sound cliché when said about anyone else comes completely alive when applied to Dev sahib.
He was everything one could conjure up in terms of adjectives. And more! End of an era. A peerless symbol of youth, romance and zest for life. Never one to rest on past laurels, Dev sahib always looked ahead at life and planned for the future with such rare enthusiasm and vigor that it was almost surreal. It was as if he was living through a never-ending film, making everyone around him believe in the immortality of the man.
The real and reel life merged in such a way in his case that even as I write this, I have to keep reminding oneself that the man is no more. It's difficult to come to terms with the fact that this piece is an obituary. How does one start thinking in past tense of a man who perhaps never looked back in his life!
My first memories of Dev Anand are from my school days. I was still in middle school when Johny Mera Naam was released. Nearly all my friends completely fell in love with this handsome, stylish, dapper man who stood, walked and even spoke with such an endearing lilt. His signature style did not allow him to even land a punch straight as he kept pounding some goonda type, repeating "Johny Mera Naam Nahi".
The next few years were the Dev Anand years of our lives. Bunking school — and then college — to catch the noon show of old Dev Anand movies, which for some strange reason in those days were only re-released for the 12-3 pm show in cities like Jaipur (where I lived).
Through Dev Saab, we also fell in love with some of the beautiful heroines he romanced on screen: Madhubala's impish, teasing and naughty attitude in Kala Paani, Sadhna's bewitching smile from Hum Dono, Waheeda's ethereal beauty in Guide, the innocence of Nutan in Tere Ghar ke Samne.
Watching Dev Anand movies meant there was a new style to be learnt, a new dialogue to speak and a new song to hum every week.
Then my generation moved on to first Kaka Rajesh Khanna, and then, Amitabh and Bobby's Dimple was the new star of our discussions.
Dev Saab returned to my life in the late '90s when I was posted in Mumbai as the BBC correspondent. A popular BBC World Service radio magazine programme Outlook fixed an interview with Dev Anand and he agreed to come to my studio-cum-home to record the interview.
In the little time that I had spent in Mumbai already (having interviewed a few stars!) I had become quite used to the star tantrums and their complete lack of discipline when it came to punctuality in keeping an appointment. Dev Saab not just arrived at the appointed hour, he could not have made a less flashy statement as he came seated on the front seat of a well maintained but quite old Fiat car.
Hardly the trappings of a star!
But there was no mistaking the magnetic appeal, the irresistible charm he exuded and the adulation he enjoyed as soon as he alighted from the car. He won the hearts of the building security men for life as he tapped on the shoulder of some and shook hands with the others and observed in his inimitable, almost laconic style “aap log to bahut smart lag rahe hai. Bahut handsome aur smart.”
Next, it was our turn.
Throwing his famous, ever so endearing and iconic smile at the liftman waiting to bring him up to our 9th floor flat, he thanked him and shocked everyone by just running up the nine flight of stairs. I think it was 1999, which makes him 76-years-old then. That was my first taste of his boundless energy.
Over the next decade, I interviewed him several times. He was also kind and gracious enough to grace a couple of BBC events and parties. The thing which struck me about him in these dos was how he never touched any food and drink. It was always a glass of warm water for him.
I don't think he gave any interview which can be categorised in the breaking News category. At least I can't remember him telling me anything which can be classified as exclusive. I think the most exclusive peak in his life — and even there he has been quite restrained I guess — is his autobiography Romancing with Life. But still, there are a couple of things which have stayed with me from those interviews with him.
He never said anything nasty and mean about anyone. For a man who lived in the competitive world of cinema for so many decades, I think this one trait alone can help us appreciate what a decent and large hearted person he was. No shades of bitterness about anything. The other thing was despite my best efforts, I could never make him say who amongst all the stunningly beautiful and talented heroines he worked with was his personal favourite.
And finally, the only thing which really got him a bit exasperated was when journalists like me kept going back to his past, be it movies, heroines, contemporaries and the old times. He tried his best to be patient and answer everything thrown at him but one could make out his heart was not in it. He only came alive when — more as a measure of courtesy than curiosity — you asked him about his latest and the next venture. The grin would widen, the twinkle would return to his eye and one could almost sense the unbridled enthusiasm and energy.
The man always wanted to look ahead. The sad thing is, from here on we will be forced to look back on his life.
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