"Fame, power and money are the three factors that make you great in the eyes of the world. The moment these desert you, you are like a particle of dust under one’s feet"
Dev Anand, an actor ahead of his time is a fitting example of the above lines taken from his autobiography Romancing with Life (Penguin Viking). For, before he became a big star he once sustained off the road selling his precious stamps to eat a meal. Having seen humungous heights of stardom, Anand’s creative pursuit in the last couple of decades has been an abyss of futility. In fact, you wouldn’t even be knowing several of the last few films that he has acted-directed. In other words, the legendary actor (often referred to as part of the Big Three, other two being Dilip Kumar and Raj Kapoor) has seen both sides of the coin. The harshness of the footpaths in the early phase; the comfort of the most beautiful arms with money and fame to go with; followed again by continual cold shouldering both by Box Office as well as the film industry. He is still revered for the work done many years ago and very few expect him to spring a surprise with any of his upcoming projects. His life as told by him is like a screenplay which has an extremely gripping first half while the second half slackens alarmingly except for a few stray moments here and there (same holds true for his autobiography). Yes, he always wanted to be a movie star. And in a typically filmi style he had left behind his doting family of many siblings, a well educated yet authoritarian father and an ill mother. The flashbacks in a speeding train to Bombay set the tone-n-tenor for the writing style adapted by Anand, an English Honours Graduate eager to show off his polished language with a tendency for coining poetic phrases like ‘wreath of a smile’ and ‘dreams took charge of the reins of my decision making’.
The simplicity with which he reminisces about the cold chaas, honey soaked mangoes or the game of marbles in his home town, Gurdaspur and the reprimanding dad evokes a demure smile instantly. But in the beginning itself, Anand unabashedly sets the ball rolling of an incorrigible roving eye with a shy exterior that developed into an amazingly charming flirt. His first sexual conquest was a Parsi middle-aged-woman who ‘forced’ herself on the twenty-something Dev in the first class compartment of a night train to Poona. This experience emboldened the future matinee star. The book is littered with innumerable sexual and flirtatious escapades involving co-stars, waitresses, air hostesses, interpreters, bar tenders, voluptuous nurses, nubile fourteen year old aspirants, buxom sixteen year old starlets and anything else that you can imagine regarding the female species.
He also gives an insight into his hyped love affair with the darling of fifties cinema Suraiya. This is probably the only time that you find a whiff of fabled romance, concern, affection (more than lust) a need to go the whole hog in any of the relationships he had with the countless women who flitted in-n-out of his life. Yes, he did take his relationship with wife Mona (screen name Kalpana Kartik) very seriously. They stood by each other through thick and thin (But maybe he could never ‘love’ a woman after Suraiya with the same heightened intensity). They had two kids (son Suneil and daughter Devina) on whom he showers consistent love throughout the book.
Dev eloquently speaks about his journey as a film star stretching from 1946 (Hum Ek Hain) till 2005 (Mr Prime Minister). He is as passionate about a musical masterpiece like Hum Dono as he is about a super dud like Sau Crore. That’s where the dichotomy lies. When he is talking about the novel efforts he made in buying the rights of Guide from RK Narayan, getting famous novelist Pearl S Buck to do the English Screenplay and reposing faith in brother Vijay Anand to tackle such a complex subject, one reads on fascinated. But when he believes his 1995 film Gangster was a fine work as it was "lapped up" by people who had a "field day watching it" then it’s nothing but poor judgment.
"Movie Making is a great adventure, an adventure of the mind, soul and body. In a split second your mind crosses millions of miles, weaving together stories and characters from anywhere in the world. Your stories can be set anywhere at all. Which means a thinking writer is constantly on the move, always contemplating on the theme he is focused on, always alive to what is going on around him, living every day with the hope of achieving a brighter tomorrow"
He was part of a very important delegation to Soviet Union at the height of Communism. The details of the visit are poignant, informative and when he acknowledges Raj Kapoor’s immense popularity because of the screening of Awaara, it’s an honest admission of a competitive contemporary. The visit to Charlie Chaplin’s White House in Switzerland, encounter with great novelist Somerset Maugham or the meeting with the ‘look-alike’ (with his own admission and of many others) Gregory Peck bring a lump in the throat.
It goes without saying that Dev Anand is a people’s person. He has always been liked by his peers and people from all walks of life. Greats like Ashok Kumar (who produced Dev’s first big film Ziddi and later did a negative role in Jewel Thief), Ismat Chughtai (famous Urdu writer whose husband introduced Dev to Ashok Kumar), poet-lyricist Sahir Ludhianvi (who wrote ‘Main zindagi ka saath nibhaata chala gaya, har fikr ko dhuen mein udaat chala gaya’), music composer S D Burman and later his son R D Burman, younger brother Vijay Anand (who directed some of his best films like Tere Ghar Ke Saamne, Guide, Jewel Thief and Johnny Mera Naam) had a big hand in his success.
A special mention has to be made of ‘best friend’ Guru Dutt who directed Anand’s first big hit Baazi and later another successful film Jaal. They saw the celluloid dreams together and when Dutt committed suicide, it was a setback as the blue bottle of poison lay unattended while loneliness lingered unabated. Considering close proximity that the two shared, one wished to read details about Guru Dutt’s unfulfilled love for Waheeda Rahman but Anand has not broached upon the subject at all.
Reading further one realises that till the time Dev Anand the actor-producer delegated tasks to a team of people including directors, writers etc. he reigned supreme. But when he got into a mould where he turned writer, director, producer and even the mainstay in the acting department, that’s when his downslide began. He has directed many films but apart from Hare Rama Hare Krishna (A cult film any day) and maybe a Heera Panna (primarily for music) there’s not much substance in any of his other works as a director. Ironically, he considers all his super flops fantastic in their own way. A film like Censor had at least a good thought behind it, but how can one defend a Mr Prime Minister? The perennial obsession with Fatima Sheikhs, Anita Ayubs and Minks of the world doesn’t befit his stature from anywhere. Lurid details of a hernia operation in London take away the sheen from arguably one of the most handsome and stylish cine stars in Indian cinema.
The language and the style of the book are commendable for most parts. Again it has two sides to it. While reading the dialogues (most of the book is in dialogue format) of a young Dev Anand romancing a co-star in the make up room of a film, one can literally feel the virile voice of a superstar talking his way to your heart from a big screen. But when the ageing star utters sweet nothings to a young Tabu about a clandestine meeting, it’s a sorry picture. Expectedly, Tabu never turned up for the date. The much hyped infatuation with Zeenat Aman is nothing but a classic case of sour grapes as apparently she "went into the arms of someone else".
Apart from possessing tremendous zeal for films, Dev Anand also displays a keen sense of country’s politics in his autobiography. The book is also a journey of the shift in ideology from Nehruvian Socialism to Jai Prakash Narayan’s freedom from Emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi. Atal Bihari Vajpayi according to him is a good leader though he found the youthful exuberance of Rajiv Gandhi appealing too. The political upheavals in the country over the span of sixty years and Anand’s views are one of the highlights of the book. In fact the passage on the bus to Lahore is the saving grace of the last hundred pages of this fairly long autobiography. The book also boasts of a few photographs of the life and times of Dev Anand, though one wished to have more pictures with some of his famed colleagues of the Golden Era.
Romancing with Life is a fine account of a superstar who has lived on his own terms and conditions. Yes, it has several superfluous elements in it, but still one can’t ignore the intricacies of a Great Star who continues to look forward to future with a childlike intensity. It’s worth being an attraction in your book shelf.