Dev saab’s mortal remains were still on hold when this special tribute was on the keyboard. Those close to him could not decide where to take his body. His fans wanted him to be brought to India, but relatives felt his remaining with his fans in London as a memory was equally meritorious. Dev was without borders, and that is the whole truth.
Once the hurly-burly is done, I have a feeling the career of Dev Anand would become a matter of studies in UK, US and perhaps India. This privilege may not come to many artistes from India, but then Dev was Dev Saab. Let me attempt to provide an outline of at least one chapter for any such examination, as and when it happens.
What made Dev and his two great contemporaries, Raj Kapoor and Dilip Kumar, so unique in the history of Indian cinema? Let us find out the similarities and contradictions in their personalities and careers. The trio began their careers when India was yet to attain Independence. Raj Kapoor stepped into films in 1935 as a child artiste in Inquilab; Dilip Kumar found his foothold in Bombay Talkies with Jwar Bhata (1944), while Dev Anand was at the gates of Prabhat Studio in Pune in 1946 with Hum Ek Hai.
As was the fashion of the day, the three actors changed their original names. Mohammad Yusuf Khan became Dilip Kumar, Ranvir Raj Kapoor was reduced to Raj Kapoor and Dharam Dev Pishori Mal Anand transformed into a short and sweet Dev Anand. The three actors enjoyed many commonalities. Each was recognised for his contribution to cinema first with the Padma Bhushan and then with the Dadasaheb Phalke Award.
Between themselves, the three actors covered an extraordinarily complex spectrum of narrative themes. Individually, they contributed to opening new roads for Indian cinema. Raj Kapoor, aged 24, made Awara, which found takers across Asia. He then took his film crew to shoot his first colour film on European locations using foreign funding. Other filmmakers began shooting films similarly in many exotic locations, a trend which has now reached a stage where entire films are made abroad.
Dilip Kumar was the least innovative in his trade. Yet when he produced his only film, Ganga Jamuna, he broke the mould of portraying the dacoit from a romantic typecast and created a drama which has not lost its freshness even after 50 years. On the other hand, Dev was highly innovative. He picked themes that other filmmakers shunned. In Hare Rama Hare Krishna, he took on the problem of drug misuse among the youth, He was the first Indian filmmaker to make an anti-war film, Prem Pujari.
It is in creating new generations of actors and technicians that the three differed dramatically. Dilip Kumar cannot claim credit for introducing any newcomer worth remembering. Raj Kapoor gave us Shanker and Jaikishan. When his early films clicked, he retained the duo as his music composers. He introduced his sons Randhir and Rishi and also launched first-timers Dimple Kapadia and Mandakini. But that is all. Dev Anand introduced new faces and new technicians in practically every film. It could be Jackie Shroff, Richa Sharma, Zeenat Aman, Gautam Sarin, Satish Kaul, just to name a few of the ‘discoveries’.
The three actors loved their heroines, getting hurt or hurting the girls. Raj Kapoor loved Padmini, Vyjayanthimala, Nargis and got himself hurt. Dilip Kumar loved Madhubala and hurt her, and Dev loved Suraiya, Waheeda Rehman and Zeenat Aman and again hurt himself. It was, however, how the acting careers took their respective course which is most interesting. Dev Anand started on a serious constructive note. But every time he took a role which led to a tragic end, the audiences rejected him. But when Dev featured in light musicals, the audience lapped up the performance.
The only Dev Anand starrer in which he died and yet received mass approval was Guide, directed by his younger brother, Vijay Anand. But Dev avoided repeating the type in his later films.
Raj Kapoor, in the early period of his career, allowed himself to be surrounded by leftist writers who were associated with IPTA. Later the same teams wrote scripts which espoused the cause of the man on the street. Raj found the socialist themes good business and stuck to it until popular taste changed and favoured capitalist tendencies.
Dilip Kumar made serious tragic roles his own. His death scenes were high points in his films.
Finally, we should see how the three handled their fan following. Dilip preferred to keep his distance from his fans. He opted for the company of poets and writers. Raj Kapoor preferred the boisterous Punjabi sabhas.
But it was Dev Anand who remained the darling of the masses. Today in his death, each of his fan feels a personal sense of loss. Dev’s eternal presence around was taken for granted
(The views expressed by the author are personal)