Golden . . .
I think this word makes up half of the descriptions of classical world cinema: the golden age, the golden four, the golden canon, and so forth. In the context of Hindustani (or Hindi) cinema, this word has been used, not surprisingly, to connotate three superstars of the 1950s — Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor, and Dev Anand — as they comprised what later became renowned as the ‘Golden Trio of Hindi Cinema’. Being part of that trio was a massive deal, and therefore, it’s more challenging to attempt capturing that sense of superstardom in a few hundred words, more because Dev Anand wasn’t a day’s affair. Interviews after interviews, but the Dev persona couldn’t be ever contained in a box, no matter how large the box is/can be — I don’t suppose he could have even encapsulated himself in his autobiography, Romancing with Life (2007), forget about fans and critics, and especially people like me, writing about him and his cinema.
When I say ‘his cinema’, I don’t imply mainstream film direction. However, he became a director in his later years and gave out some critically-acclaimed films like Hare Rama Hare Krishna (1971) and Censor (2001) — instead, I wish to focus on what could be deemed an actor’s cinema. It’s that kind of cinema where everything gets lost, dissipates, and nothing seems to exist, but the actor, its idiosyncrasies, and its heavily-fuelled persona remains. I am simultaneously insinuating the superstructural dynamics of stardom and how the actor, as the star vehicle, wipes out the presence of distinct identities spread across any film and makes a film their own. Over time, an actor’s perpetual company, marked by similar demeanours, establishes a cinema of/for the star-actor in its own right . . . and that happened in the case of Dev Anand, and even in the cinemas of Dilip Kumar (in his tragic roles) and Raj Kapoor (in his Chaplinesque image). There was something suave about Dev Anand’s style; it had a more urban appeal, and it was fresh. I recall Jackie Shroff’s reflection on the legendary actor, as he shared with India Today what made Dev Anand a truly iconic chapter in Hindustani cinema:
. . . he was the heartthrob of the nation. He was the epitome of style in Hindi cinema. The way he walked, looked and talked had andaz [style]. He brought sartorial style too, be it with his shirt collars or the scarves he wore. He was flamboyant, but always dignified.
I think Shroff’s observations help us summarise the salient features of Dev Anand’s character: the andaz, and the flamboyance, coupled with this restless fascination for vogue fashion. There were certain accessories that emblematised the Dev persona, and those included jackets, a flat cap, scarves, and all colours — all found in a variety of ways across his cinematic graces. I think he was unmatched by his contemporaries in the way he assimilated the anti-hero with the boy-next-door vibes, and that’s what gave him an edge over others — he established the convention of a new romantic hero; he indeed became romance. Romance was analogous to Dev Anand. I’d recommend watching him in Taxi Driver (1954), Munimji (1955) or Kala Pani (1958) — he was exceptionally beautiful there, bubbling with charisma and panache. His later films paved the way into exploring questions like idealism, philosophy, and identity, and this is where I recall Guide (1965). The film becomes a turning point not only for Dev Anand but for his production company Navketan, as it stimulates a collective introduction to larger, more critical themes.
I cannot point out any culmination of these ideas, because it doesn’t happen. We might feel Hare Rama Hare Krishna (1971) was that cinematic pause of Dev Anand’s philosophy, but it just expands over and over, later taken up by other directors quite arbitrarily. I told you — Dev Anand was hard to contain, and why wouldn’t he be? He became one of India’s most celebrated actors, the G.O.A.T. in a very realistic sense; he created and subverted conventions and norms of the cinematic landscapes in India. Written and erased, and rewritten; a subject of countless articles, tributes, research, nonfiction, videos . . . Dev Anand yet retains his enigmatic signatures. So, forgive me if I couldn’t gather the courage to fathom and contain a legend in a few words.
Hard truth: I cannot, and I would not. I don’t see the point, but I’d really encourage you to look up the name of Dev Anand today.
You might see his name written in golden . . .
(dedicated to Aesha Dave, a Dev Anand fan and . . . my “BFF”!)