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A Day with Dev Anand

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January 2008
A Day with Dev Anand

He is an octogenarian heartthrob of a bygone era; yet he is as contemporary a man as they come. The wrinkles on his face have not discouraged this adorable entertainer from continuing to claim his relevancy in the youthful world of cinema. Hardly any amongst his legions of fans doubt that the one-and-only Dev Anand will be “Romancing with Life” till his last breath.

The legendary actor of Guide, famous for his mischievous smile, lively eyes, and that characteristic vocal style was in Atlanta recently while on a North American tour promoting his book, a biography of sorts called, “Romancing with Life.” Hosted by Mike Patel, Chairman of HavenTrust Bank Group and Dr. Shubang Mazumdar, Devsaab, as he is commonly referred to, met and mingled with fans and well-wishers at the Ashiana Banquet Hall in Global Mall.

The book has been described as a stylized documented history of a struggling actor who came into the film industry without any connections and rose to stardom at about the same time that the nation of India gained its independence.

The format of the program included a personal meet and greet with the star for a select few invitees, followed by his public address and an open Q&A. This was followed by him signing his books for the fans who purchased them. The evening culminated with a sumptuous buffet dinner sponsored by HavenTrust Bank and catered by Ashiana Restaurant.

The colorful star of the evening came dressed in a coordinated corduroy dark green pant-shirt set with his traditional couture of a neck scarf. He was beaming with energy despite a very hectic schedule and stood most of the time greeting people, shaking hands, taking pictures, and enjoying conversations. He is a maverick Bollywood personality and it reflects in his actions with his fans. There were many old-timers in the audience who reminisced about their romances, meeting him in person. There was a gentleman who had carried a photo that he had got with Devsaab several years ago on a film-set in his town, which Dev Anand recollected in full detail, astounding the guest and leaving him completely mesmerized.

After the crowd had their share, Devsaab graciously took time to sit with me for a brief one-on-one. His English diction was as chaste as it can come, and his stressed punctuations were fully complemented by his expressions. It was a pleasure to have a conversation with such a diverse and fully engaging actor, director, and producer.

What prompted you to write this book?

It has been on my mind for a while but there were many factors that enabled me to see it through. Number one was the challenge of it. It is a different feel for me to write something on my own even though I write my own scripts. This book is written in my own style, my language and structure, and is a challenge to myself. One of the early conditions to my publishers was that you cannot change my language. Number two, it covers a tremendous and unique span of time which no one else can claim: that of 62 years in front of the camera. Number three, authors wanted it, publishers wanted it, and people wanted it, and since no one can know me as well as I do, I wrote a chapter as a test and was very motivated. I kept adding to it, chapter by chapter.

Did the recollections come easy?

I just closed my eyes and the material flowed incessantly. The data was crystal clear. I could have done six books. There is a lot of material left that you cannot shove in one book. This book is about an ordinary man, who could be anybody. I was nineteen when I came to Bombay from Lahore (now in Pakistan, then undivided India) and struggled for two and a half years although I was well educated, confident, and always positive, waiting for a ray of special sunshine to fall upon me. I got known to the world very early in life. I got my break in 1945, and by 1947 I was being known and getting established. 1947 is also India’s Independence, and this is the story of my life and the life of my country; the coming in of Independence and the growth of Independence through my eyes. This is not a complete book by any means as many chapters have been left out or shortened.

How has the response been?

Outstanding reaction. It is a sellout in India. Whatever you are now getting is a reprint. I have traveled a lot for it. It started with my visit with the Prime Minister in Delhi— Bombay—then, Calcutta, Chandigarh, Bangalore, and Chennai, which was followed by Sweden, Stockholm, Frankfurt, London, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco? and I have to get back to Bombay in 2-3 days. Every day has been an ovation. Still a lot of people want me to go a few more places, which I would like to for my own learning. I would like to know how people are reacting to my career, my book. People are looking at this with stupendous curiosity, like children. It makes me feel very inspired knowing that in some parts of the world people are discussing me.

You emanate youth. What is your secret?

I am as I was. I am always around young people and so if you do not feel young, you cannot make films with the young people. Doing films is my business and it is a very big business, as it rolls all forms of art in one process. You have prose, poetry, photography, lyrics, songs, music, acting, and more in it. The whole world is at your feet and you are the leader. Unless you can feel all of it, you cannot make a successful film. You do not give in and do not compromise. All my films even today, including the ones that I am planning, are contemporary so you are always looking forward. If you are always looking forward, you are always younger.

Over the years, what has changed in the movie business?

Absolutely nothing. There is no transition except that the world has grown. There is competition from television and satellite programming, but the mind is the same, human relationships are the same, emotions are the same. There is a little more glamour, more money, and more tattle to it. But unless you have a good story you do not have a good film. You have to keep the connection as well, connection with your fans, and that is why I am here in Atlanta.

Earlier, you spoke very fondly about your previous Atlanta visit and have mentioned it in your book.

I am very sentimental about my journey as it is portrayed in my book. I remember being honored by the Indian American communities during my Golden Jubilee year. Atlanta was in the forefront and I have dedicated a chapter to Atlanta in my book. It speaks of the people I met and the honor and love they gave me. It will continue to linger as long as I am here. Hence when I was going to travel to release my book I called Mike [Patel] as he and I go back a long ways, and he was delighted. Atlanta to me is all the people [there is a long drawl on the words “all the people,” emphasis Dev style] of affection with the great smiling faces. Atlanta is Mike for me; Atlanta is Archie for me; Atlanta is Manjeet for me; Atlanta is Razdan for me; Atlanta is Sabrina for me, the young Delhi girl I met many, many years ago; Atlanta is Dr. Mazumdar for me, his lovely wife and the lovely great little tree outside his house that has great white blossoms of flowers that are still in my mind. Atlanta is beautiful and you should be proud of living in Atlanta.

Sidebar:

Do you know what romance means?

During the Q&A portion of the evening, Dev Anand was asked the following question: Your title of the book ‘Romancing with Life’ appears contradictory to what you just said: a solid 62 years of hard working career in the competitive world of Bollywood. Could you please explain?

Dev Anand’s revealing answer could well be the secret behind the youthful charisma of this evergreen entertainer: “You know what romance means? Romance means wonderful living. You are all listening to me intently, all of you from this corner to that corner; I am watching your faces intently. Perhaps each one of you is probing your mind for a question to ask of me, and I am fully engaged to answer all of them. We are all fully involved, and it is this kind of involvement that is romance. We are all romancing at this moment.”

By Viren Mayani


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