Beyond Zeenat Aman and Tina Munim: The real discoveries of Dev Anand
by Gautam Chintamani
It’s been a year since Dev Anand died but for many it’s been longer than that. Most of his fans had given up on him a long time ago and preferred to remember him as he used to be in films like C.I.D., Nau Do Gyrah, Guide, Tere Ghar Ke Saamne, Jewel Thief and such. They had stopped bothering with his new releases and every time he came up with a new one - he had four of them between 2001 and his death in 2011 - they used it as an excuse to watch the classics all over again.
For a film-crazed nation, even one that finds itself growing younger with each passing year, the idea of a world without Dev Anand just didn’t exist. He had been around since the time our grandparents were young or longer, even though when his films became bad, and bad they were for almost two decades, he became increasingly irrelevant to us. Not that it ever bothered him, for he was the very personification of Sahir Ludhanvi’s immortal lines from one of his films, Hum Dono (1961), Gham aur khushi mein faraq na mehsoos ho jahaan, Main dil ko us makaam pe lata chala gaya (Where there is no difference felt in sorrow and joy, I kept myself bringing to that point…)
Perhaps it had something to do with the manner in which he died. Unperturbed by the failure of his latest film Chargesheet (2011) Dev Sahab was busy working around the clock developing his next film and one night he slept as usual, never to wake up. Certain deaths remind us of how some great lives were lived, but when the death happens to be Dev Anand’s, we can’t help but end up reliving the deaths of Kishore Kumar, Sachin Dev Burman, Guru Dutt, Raj Khosla, Chetan Anand, Vijay Anand, and just about everyone else he discovered for us.
From very early on in his life and career Dev Anand was keenly interested in what lay ahead. One of the first stars to get into active production, Dev Anand might be better known for discovering actors like Zeenat Aman, Tina Munim, Jackie Shroff and Shekhar Kapur but he’s also responsible for giving breaks to many behind the camera as well.
He started Navketan, his production house, in 1950 with Afsar to help kick-start elder brother Chetan Anand’s directorial career that wasn’t going anywhere in spite of his Neecha Nagar (1946) which won the Palme d'Or or Golden Palm award at the first ever Cannes Film Festival. Afsar featured the music of Sachin Dev Burman, with whom Anand would go on to form a long partnership. SD Burman had almost given up on Hindi films and had decided to return to Calcutta but his early films with Navketan gave him some hope and enough success to stay back.
With Navketan’s second production Anand kept a promise made to a certain Guru Dutt when they were both strugglers. While working on Hum Ek Hai (1946), Dev Anand’s acting debut where Dutt was an assistant, the two had made a pact that whoever got successful first would help the other and so he produced Baazi (1951), which was Guru Dutt’s first film as a director. The film was a rage and kicked off the genre of crime thrillers in Hindi cinema. Baazi was also Sahir Ludhanvi’s first big success besides being Johnny Walker’s debut as well one of the first writing jobs of acting great Balraj Sahni.
Dev Anand also featured in Raj Khosla’s debut as a director in Milap (1954). Khosla went on to direct him in C.I.D. (1956). Khosla came to Bombay with dreams of being a singer and it was Dev Anand who got him hired as Guru Dutt’s assistant on films. Later Anand also acted in his Solva Saal (1958) and Bambai Ka Babu (1960), which remains one of his best roles.
But the two greatest contributions Dev Anand made to Hindi cinema were Kishore Kumar and Vijay Anand. Kishore Kumar first sang for Dev Anand in Ziddi (1948), which was Dev’s breakthrough hit and was produced by Ashok Kumar. Although Kishore Kumar concentrated on an acting career till he shifted gears full time post Aradhana (1969), Dev Anand was the one actor who always insisted on a few songs sung by him for his films.
His early songs for Dev Anand in Munimji (1955), House No. 44 (1955), Funtoosh (1956), Paying Guest (1957), and Nau Do Gyarah (1957) made him inseparable from the actor and theirs become one of Hindi cinema’s greatest actor-singer association that lasted for over 40 years.
Vijay Anand was still in school when he wrote a script that became Taxi Driver (1954), Navketan’s first hit. Following Taxi Driver, Goldie, as Vijay Anand was fondly called, was ready with his next subject but laid the condition that he wouldn’t part with the script until Dev Anand promised him a shot at directing it as well. Dev didn’t want his brother to leave his studies midway but got so engrossed in his narration on a car ride from Mahabaleshwar to Bombay that by the time the brothers reached their destination Nau Do Gyarah (1957) was on the anvil.
No other director has been able to showcase Dev Anand the way Goldie has across decades and films like Kala Bazar (1960), Tere Ghar Ke Saamne (1963), Guide (1965), Jewel Thief (1967) Johny Mera Naam (1970) and Tere Mere Sapne (1971).
Irrespective of how things turned out Dev Anand wasn’t one to mull over anything and he wouldn’t expect it of us either.
His sudden death was just how he’d have loved it –no trips to the hospital, no debate over life support or anything of that sort. It was as unplanned as an idea striking him. In the past year we may not have missed Dev Anand, the actor and showman, but we have remembered him a million times over, sometimes without realising it because he was the man behind so many other unforgettable voices and faces in Hindi cinema. Dev Anand would like that just fine.