To begin at the beginning. Dev Anand, as the clich? goes, needs no introduction. He is the ever-green Bollywood icon who has never grown old. Presently, a little past eighty, he does look his age, but what does that matter? His heart is young and gay and if you, the reader, happens to be a sexy girl of say, twenty five and chance to sit next to him in a plane, more likely he will ask for a date. His charm is indisputable. Just fancy this: he has received literally thousands of letters from fans which, if he cared to preserve, would have required an entire library to store. He could hardly reply to all of them.
One response to a loyal fan resulted in his getting 3,720 more letters over the course of the years which he threw away. That he should have counted them at all is a wonder. Another time he replied to a teenager'sflood of passionate letters. He replied to about a dozen of them and then stopped. But the day he stopped writing, the teenager took umbrage, even revenge. She put all his letters in a neatly packed bundle and mailed them to him along with a goodbye note, her heart broken. One sympathises with Dev. Actually, he is not just Dev. His parents had named him Dharam Dev. If he had retained it, he would probably have gone down in cinematic history as DD. He dropped ?Dharam? and just remained as ?Dev? which he now says is ?short and sweet and possessive, godly and sexy, intimate to the extreme in bedrooms, in drawing rooms, in the streets and in public squares?. But mostly, one suspects, in the bedrooms. Plural.
He was born in the undivided Punjab, graduated with honours in English from Government College, Lahore. That clearly shows in his writing, one almost feels that Dev has missed his vocation. He should have been a Professor of English or a writer like Mulk Raj Anand or R.K. Naryan. He would have beaten their record in style. It is racy, reader-friendly and highly attractive. Like most young men of his time, he wanted to go to England for higher studies. Who wouldn?t? His father couldn'tafford to send him there, which hurt him dearly. He got rejected for a Commission in the Royal Indian Navy which is just as well or probably he would have romanced in every port, leaving broken hearts behind. Angry with his father, he left his home in Gurdaspur for Bombay with a meagre thirty rupees in his pocket, travelling in third class. In Bombay he was received by his brother Chetan whom he greatly admired and who was then teaching at Doon School at Dehra Dun. In Bombay they stayed in an apartment of a close friend of Chetan. Looking out of the window Dev could see the beautiful wife of Baburao Patel, at that time a respected but dreaded editor of a film magazine, of high standing.
In due course Dev came to know Motilal, then a renowned star, Raja Rao the novelist and Khwaja Ahmed Abbas, a famous film journalist whose column The Last Page in the now long-defunct Bombay Chronicle was the talk of the town. Dev later spent a few months in a chawl in the working class Parel ward having got a job as a clerk in an accountancy firm on Rs 85 a month. Later as the second world war proceeded, he was to serve in a Censor'soffice at twice the salary. Then fate overtook him. Though the good offices of a friend he was literally drawn to act in a film. For Dev, it was a dream come true. He had been hired to play a role in a film made by Prabhat Talkies in Pune. It was called Hum Ek Hain; it was directed by P.L. Santoshi and his co-stars were the famous Durgabai Khote, accompanied by Kamala Kotnis, Rehana and Rehman. After that there was no looking back.
In all he either acted in, or directed some 110 odd films and his co-stars were some of the greatest names in Hindi cinema. But if anyone expects any elaborate analysis of the film world, its stars, its motivations, its highs and lows, its role in the re-making of society, its place in the education of the people, especially the young, its message to a country that has just become free, and allied subjects, disappointment is only to be expected. Dev'spre-occupation, it seems, is with women and romance. And he makes no bones about it.
All the way down to 438 pages, it is women, women and women. His first romance was with a woman who was staying in the same Guest House in Pune as he did and who was attracted by him.
Needless to say this book is all about that never ending search for pleasure and by the time one gets through half the book, interest begins to bag. There are, of course, occasions when he moves on to other matters and Dev writes about the political celebrities he has met like Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and even V.K.Krishna Menon who was to fall from grace and die unloved and unsung. Writes Dev: ?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'sfeet?. Dev also speaks about his family, his parents, his brothers and sisters, his children in fond remembrance, though he had borne a grudge against his father, that is painful to recount. Little is said about his marriage, about his fellow artistes, both male and female and about the India in which he lived. But one can'tblame him. But then that is Dev all over. Dev. Not Dharam Dev. Dharam, apparently, as far as Dev is concerned, is for the birds. He reminds one of Thomas Gray'sfamous lines: ?Where ignorance is bliss, ?tis folly to be wise.?
(Penguin Books (India) Pvt. Ltd., 11, Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi-110 017.)