The death of Dev Anand has left us with two important lessons
When I got a call from my brother unusually early in the morning last Sunday, I was naturally alarmed. It turned out to be bad news not for me, but for my generation. When someone like Dev Anand dies, you realise that the earth has been spinning all this while even though it appeared stationary, and that someday it will be your turn.
You didn't expect – rather you didn't want – someone like Dev Anand to ever die. He began acting when my father was a toddler and my mother wasn't even born. And then it was my turn to grow up with him. How can I ever forget the thrill of watching Johny Mera Naam in the theatre, sometime in the late nineteen-seventies? As long as Dev Anand was alive, I felt I was safe, my family was safe. But last Sunday, the protective wall – someone whose presence I had taken for granted – was gone. I feel vulnerable.
But then, as Dev Anand sang, “Main zindagi ka saath nibhata chala gaya.” Life is a game which has its rules; whether you win or lose you have to play along, something he did with gusto. As one ponders over his passing away, one can't help think of the two lessons that his life has left us with.
One, never say die. I have never had the chance to meet or speak to Dev Anand, but fellow journalists who have interviewed him tell me how infectious his energy was. He could liven up your day even over the phone. People often console others – and even themselves – saying that age is just a number, but Dev Anand demonstrated that. Age might have shrivelled his skin but it could do nothing to deplete his energy. A lesser mortal would have faded away long ago and led a quiet retired life, occasionally going down memory lane whenever a journalist visited.
But words like ‘retirement' and ‘inactivity' did not exist in Dev Anand's dictionary. It was simply impossible to imagine him on a wheel-chair or lying on a hospital bed. Always agile, alert and flashing that trademark smile with a glint of mischief in the eyes – that's probably how he was in his last moments before death came. All this, in the face of rejection. The audience long stopped going to the theatres to watch his films. They would rather travel long distances to watch him, at some event or the other, but not his films.
Yet, Dev Anand soldiered on with the same enthusiasm he had stepped into Bombay 65 years ago – discovering new faces, scouting for new locations, to make yet another film that nobody was going to watch. So that's one lesson: if you have the enthusiasm, even advancing age and adversity cannot stop you.
Lesson no. 2: Never fall in love with your own style. Dev Anand, as an actor, worked best when someone else directed him. Some of his most memorable films – Guide, Johny Mera Naam, Tere Mere Sapne, Jewel Thief – were directed by his younger brother, the talented Vijay Anand. The only big hit that Dev Anand himself directed was Hare Rama Hare Krishna, and that was a good forty years ago. Since then, he had been trying to recreate the magic of Hare Rama Hare Krishna, giving himself the central role,his trademark mannerisms intact,but each time he failed miserably. He might have remained evergreen, but his storytelling looked dated.
One need not cow down before age, which he never did, but one must acknowledge age, which Amitabh Bachchan wisely did. Amitabh Bachchan, had he been Dev Anand, would have started directing himself to keep the angry-young-man image alive and would probably be busy making The Return of Amar Akbar Anthony at the moment. But he reinvented himself in the late 1990s by becoming the young old man and staged a dramatic comeback into the hearts of the audience.
But who knows, perhaps it was his love for his own style that gave Dev Anand the endless reserve of energy to live life to the fullest – till death plucked that evergreen leaf of Hindi cinema.
Published in The Hindu MetroPlus, December 10, 2011.