To interview Amitabh Bachchan is one thing and to interview Dev saab is another. Fondly known as the 'evergreen' star of Indian cinema, Dev saab has shown more colors other than green to his fans, well-wishers and to his latest autobiography 'Romancing with Life'. The book gives you an in-depth look from his early days of the 1930's in Gurdaspur to his struggling years of the 1940's in Bombay, his relationship with his brothers to his bittersweet memories with his close friend Raj Kapoor and from his first directorial debut Prem Pujaari to his forthcoming international project, When heartbeats are the same. In London's Hilton Park Lane, he greets me with his famous smile and offers me the chair kept beside him in his room. I decline and sit next to him near his feet to know more about his book and even more about his relationships and the thing which he can't live without - his passion for cinema.We've seen you more often romancing with actresses on screen, what's the logic behind 'Romancing with Life'?
I released this book in Delhi on September 26, which is my birthday and the birthday of our Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh. You are talking to me, you have come all the way from your house to interview me in my room in Hilton, you've also got a photographer with you, you've seen my films over the last so many years and if you are a fan of mine, you must've seen it with greater interest. I am sitting on my chair and you are sitting on the floor and recording my interview. It is a sense of closeness. You are talking to me and I am talking to you. It's the involvement of love and affection and that is what ‘Romancing with Life’ is all about.
Why did you choose London to launch it again?
I have launched it in my country first. I am going to launch it in New York. I went to six or seven cities in India before going to Stockholm in Sweden with lots of Asian fans. Then I went to the book fair in Frankfurt and came to London. I have my trip planned to New York, Atlanta, L.A, and Chicago. I have also been invited to the Far East, Malaysia, Singapore, and Hong Kong. When people ask me where I would like to settle down outside my country, I tell them - London...and not America because London is the heart of the world.
You are 84. But do you think the book can be classified as an 'evergreen' book?
I am sure it is. It's a life of a man who came to Bombay from Lahore during undivided India at the age of 19 who wanted to be a movie star, which I did become in the very first picture, remained the star until then, and switched over to writing and directing films. That was my own growth. Stars come and die but a Motion Picture maker never dies. ‘Romancing with Life’ is romantic because my own life has been romantic. Thus, the book can also be called 'evergreen'.
It came as a shock to everyone when Jaya Bachchan announced that you were the one who opted out of Zanjeer giving the young Amitabh Bachchan his first big hit and a tag of an 'angry young man'. Do you regret being an action hero?
I've done all kinds of pictures. I've done romantic pictures, I've done comedy, I've portrayed diverse roles in Taxi Driver, Jewel Thief, Guide and Hare Ram Hare Krishna. In Johnny Mera Naam and Gambler I was fighting with the baddies. I am an actor who will rise with the occasion at any given situation. I do not regret on missing Zanjeer.
So does that make you Jack of All or Master of One?
I am Master of All and the only person who makes his own judgments for what he wants to do in his life. I have made all kinds of films irrespective of whether they have done well at the box office or not. I made a film called Prem Pujaari, which reflected on the 1965 conflict with Pakistan. Then I made Hare Rama Hare Krishna on the hippie movement. I made a film on the censorship called Censor and my last picture was a satire on Indian politics after the 2004 elections in India called Mr. Prime Minister. I am the only person who is making films on what is happening in the world.
On one hand you have the Book's success and on the other the Box office failure. Are you afraid of failure?
The point is who knows the box office? Box office just happens. In fact, I am also planning to make a film on the Box office. If there were a set formula for making films for the box office success then all the filmmakers would have been billionaires. As far as the book is concerned, it is a reader’s friend. Only those who like me, know me, or want to know about my past, present, and the future will buy the book. In fact, the first set of books printed in India have all been sold out and I have just one copy with me today which I will sign it personally and give it to you. The second lot is on its way.
But why launch a book in London by Tina Ambani and not any other celebrity?
I launched Tina in Des Pardes in 1978 when she was 16 years old shooting here in London. This time I thought of taking Tina Ambani with me for the release of my book. She agreed and got Anil Ambani, her husband too. Even her husband Anil said in front of the media that if his wife was not Tina Munim, he would not have chased her. Thus, the entire evening was a star-studded affair made special by Tina.
Three names that changed the Hindi cinema for good: Dev Anand, Raj Kapoor, and Dilip Kumar. However, tell us something about your association with Raj Kapoor and Dilip Kumar.
Raj also made his own pictures. He was passionate about film making and acting whereas Dilip never went into movie making. There was not much competition among us as we all were busy with our own films. In addition, to let you know that I was a bit close to Dilip than Raj as Raj was too busy in his own world of Charlie Chaplin oriented films. But both of them were good friends.
Any particular film of your's which still inspires you to carry on further?
I have reached a great height of stardom and so every film is special to me and each film inspires me. I thought that I was responsible to my audience and wanted to give them something new which other people could not offer. I am a thinker and that is what gave birth to ‘Romancing with Life’. The book speaks my language. It is like my structure and is like a screenplay. I am lucky because it is the people who give me such inspiration to do better and bigger things in life.
Tell us about your three best performances which you would like to repeat at this age.
I would not like to repeat because I do not believe in repetitions. It is like going backwards. I want to go forward in my life. There have been many performances, which have been hailed by the world; performances, which were hailed by the critics, some performances that you hail yourself that, go unnoticed. I think every film I have done; I've put in my best. If I were to name a film by which my fans know me till today it has to be - Guide.
You have rated ‘Romancing with Life’ as one of your best works. As far as films are concerned, which script would you rate as your favorite?
My own writing work was brilliant in the film, Censor. I had to present two point of views. One of a liberal mind and the other of a conservative mind, which meant the government. I want to out-play myself in every department, whether it's acting, writing my book or writing scripts for my films. Each day I am growing younger and learning.
Let's talk about the fashionable Dev Anand. You used to wear the most expensive clothes from the film fraternity, girls waited in long queues to have a look at your puffed hairstyle and your way of swinging and talking still inspires hundreds of stand-up comedians. What do you have to say?
I was myself. I was Dev Anand. I did not create a style or set a statement. But I experimented with my style and when you experiment, chances are that you may not be liked. But with me, I set a trend as my fans from all over the world wanted their Dev Anand to be the way they wanted him to be. I still wear one thing, which has been with me since more than three decades and that is my Scarf.
There was one episode with Zeenat Aman, yourself and Raj Kapoor which is sending shock waves to the fans who have read your book. How true is that?
Each and every page of ‘Romancing with Life’ is true. Nothing is false. I cannot talk much in detail about the incident, which happened during the evening party. I had no monopoly over Zeenat. I said one day that Zeenat will be a big star and she did. She became a cult figure. I brought her to the world of cinema and the world took her. I was the one who introduced Zeenat to Raj and for which Raj paid me a compliment. All I can say is that one has to move ahead in life and that is what I did at that time.
Performance wise, whom would you rate as your best co-actress.
I cannot talk about any one. Right now, I can remember that Waheeda Rehman was good in Guide, Zeenat was good in Hare Rama Hare Krishna, Tina grew with Des Pardes and Nutan in Tere Ghar Ke Samne. I have enjoyed working with Suraiya and Hema Malini too.
At 84, do you still dream of having an Oscar Award for the lifetime achievement?
It is a tremendous stimulus for the man who gets an Oscar. They say when you get an Oscar, the revenue of a motion picture skyrockets. It's a great to win an Oscar but even greater is the feeling when you show your film to the world...and that's the biggest Oscar.
What's the best compliment you've received in your sixty years of career?
It has to come from my fans. They say that I inspire them as I have a very optimistic approach towards life. I am full of zest, energy, and passion.
Which of the current actor's work do you admire the most?
Again, I will not single out anybody. The mere fact that the actor is a Star, Badshah or a King proves that the actor has something in him or her which people admire.
Any recent film which you have loved watching?
I see all the films of my contemporaries as it gives me motivation to do something better. It's good to see how these young minds are coming together and making a hit film in today's unpredictable times. The only film, which I can remember seeing, is the Munnabhai MBBS starring Sanjay Dutt. I was invited by Raj Kumar Hirani to see the film before its release. I liked the film.
What food do you choose to eat when you are in London?
I am a vegetarian, except, I do not mind eating good chicken. I like to have continental and Italian dishes too and sometimes you get good and tasty Indian food in London than in India.
There are many actors who are not so approachable in today's time. How approachable are you?
I have to remember that my fans are the ones who have brought me here today where I am. If it pleases them, I will do anything for them. If my presence makes them happy, then I will even go and meet them at their house.
India in your era was different. What has changed India?
India has never changed; it has always grown from strength to strength. I love my country India but that does not mean that I go on beating the drum about my patriotic feeling. India is growing and I am proud of it. There are great young brains today in India, as good as anywhere else and they are going to beat the world. Even in films, there are new scriptwriters, new directors, new technicians, etc. It is a very healthy sign.
What is that one thing you cannot live without?
I cannot live without my films, my cinema, and my work. For me, until I die, movie making and acting will always be my first and last love.
How would you sum up your book ‘Romancing with Life’?
‘Romancing with Life’ is a very positive book. It is I...Dev Anand, its ongoing and it is definitely not all of me yet. There are many things, which are not mentioned in the book because of space. Your evergreen Dev Anand will come again with greater gusto with an even bigger and better something.