As the young woman lay dying, she called out to her husband and one of her sons. Holding the boy’s hand, she gazed into his eyes and told her husband, “One day this son of mine will become a very important man.”
With such expectations to live up to, it was no wonder that 19-year-old Dharamdev Pishorimal Anand vetoed his father’s advice to find a secure job in the local bank. Convinced that fame and fortune awaited him in the movies, the young graduate left Gurdaspur, Punjab, for Bombay, with just Rs30 in his pocket.
It was 1943, the height of World War II, and times were tough. But in less than three years he got his break as an actor and went on to become Bollywood’s most durable leading man—Dev Anand. His trademark screen persona of the charming, urbane rake endeared him to millions. And his unique mannerisms—a loose-limbed gait, tilted head, index finger pointed up—were imitated throughout the country. Today, having starred in or directed more than a hundred movies in a span of nearly six decades, Dev Anand often works 17-hour days, his head teeming with ideas for films.
We met Dev Anand in his spacious suburban Mumbai office overflowing with scripts, files, books, magazines, cinema posters and snapshots of aspiring starlets.
RD: What still motivates you at age 80?
Dev Anand: The sheer excitement of my work. Age has nothing to do with it. I’m writing my autobiography. And I’m working on my next film, Song of Life. It’s in English, and I play an Indian musician who discovers he has a gifted daughter from an old affair with an American woman.
RD: Is it about Ravi Shankar and singer Norah Jones?
Dev Anand: No, it’s fictional. But I got the idea in a flash while I watched Norah Jones on TV winning five Grammys. I was in New York, packing to return home, but I was so inspired that I postponed my departure, stayed put at my hotel for a month and wrote the entire script.
RD: Like a journalist, you react to events.
Dev Anand: I see cinema in incidents. My first directorial venture, Prem Pujari, was sparked by the 1965 Indo-Pak conflict. Then, in 1970, I was visiting a place called The Bakery, a hippie hangout in Kathmandu. And there was this brown-skinned girl swaying in the lap of a dirty, bearded, bespectacled foreigner. What’s a nice Indian girl doing here? I wondered. That girl inspired Hare Rama Hare Krishna and Zeenat Aman played her in the film. I made Censor after an unpleasant experience with our Film Censor Board…
RD: But many of your recent films haven’t succeeded.
Dev Anand: They’re good films. But not all good films are successful. Some outstanding ones flop, and some average ones become hits. What makes a film a box-office hit? It touches a chord in people and they want to see the film again and again. Precisely what touches this chord? Nobody knows beforehand.
RD: So you make movies purely on instinct?
Dev Anand: Relying on anything else is more dangerous.
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