Had he been alive, Dev Anand would have turned 97 yesterday. The fact that he was remembered by so many people is testimony to not just his vivacity and virtuosity but also to the timelessness of good art.
The man loves color—that was the first impression that I got when I saw Dev Anand. It was for the first and last time, on September 26, 2007. Bright, dark green suede suit, a lemon yellow shirt, a red apple in hand—this is how the evergreen film star stepped out of the red Santro for a short visit to the Press Club of India here on Wednesday.
Colorful, but not gaudy. Stylish and flamboyant even at the age of 84, but nothing contrived about it. In fact, when he celebrated his 84th birthday, which he shared with former prime minister Manmohan Singh. Earlier in the day, the latter released Anand’s autobiography, Romancing With Life.
Age had certainly taken toll. Anand was thin, almost frail, but not pale. The skin of his face still had glow. The eyes had the twinkle which was seen in the 1950s. And the voice retained the confidence that was evident in his movies. Age had affected his voice, but not much. The diction remained the same, with deliberate emphasis on certain words.
Before entering the Press Club, he said, “I am one among you since I am a member of the Press Club of India. Whenever you call [me], I shall be here at your disposal.”
Anand—along with Dilip Kumar and Raj Kapoor, the famous triumvirate of the 1950s and 1960s—dominated the celluloid world in the period when Shahrukh Khan, Aamir Khan and Akshay Kumar were born. The craze for him, however, was, and is, undiminished. It was evident from the way photographers and scribes mobbed him, asking him questions as varied as the relevance of the coloring of his movie Hum Dono to the political situation in Nepal.
The way he handled the questions was proper; it was an educated, sensible man who was answering them. The adjectives that come to mind while talking about him are elegant, classy, suave, urbane, gentlemanly, chivalrous, etc. On the other hand, when talk about Salman Khan and Sanjay Dutt, the words we think of are crude, crass, coarse.
One reason we remember Dev saab is that he personified gentlemanliness and elegance, which is in contradistinction with the current glorification of punk culture. Munnabhai, for example, speaks is uncouth—and is widely approved of, as evident from various radio advertisements imitating him (vaat lag gai).
In general, the contemporary hero often dresses and behaves like a punk—and again it is welcomed.
On the contrary, Dev Anand never behaved in an unseemly manner. He was often a crook, but never a punk. In House No 44, for instance, he actually aspires to become a “gentleman.”
Arnold Toynbee wrote somewhere that when the masses imitate the elites, it is a sign of ascendance of a civilization; if it is the other way around, decadence has set in. The Munnabhai movies are successful. And Dev Anand is dead.
The saving grace, however, is that we still remember Dev Anand, his movies, his songs, his style, his elegance.
Hopefully, we’ll always do that. Also, hopefully, we’ll stop celebrating coarseness and crassness.