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- Published 6.12.11
What is stardom?
Stardom lasts for five years, six years, seven years, maximum 10 years. After that it’s very tough unless you do something beyond that. I dabble with ideas. I have grown beyond acting, I am a motion picture maker. That is why I am alive.
For example, my autobiography, Romancing with Life (2007), is a book of a man who is alive. I write in my own handwriting. I write my scripts in English, I switch over to Hindi at times but most of my thinking is in English. When I start writing, the words just flow. When I was doing the book, I sent all the pieces to my publishers and they liked them.“Don’t do any corrections because it is my language, it’s me Dev Anand, if there are any grammatical mistakes by all means correct those but don’t change the style.”
My life is an open book. I have not done anything in my personal life for which I can condemn myself. It is very clean, totally clean.
People know of my love affair with Suraiya, for instance. When I joined I was new. She was big, she was moving in a Buick or a Lincoln and I was travelling by train. She was a big singing star.
What is beauty? Stardom makes you look beautiful because you are a star. When you are a star then stardom is your look. Your singing talent is your look. Suraiya had beautiful eyes, she was young, a nice person and we got friendly with each other very quickly but she was a total prisoner in the hands of her family. She was never an independent girl, controlled by the family members.
I did love Suraiya. It was my first “calf love”, I cried for her, I did not get her, but I am glad I didn’t get her because the course of life would have been different.
I think today’s (female) stars are more liberated. They are not chaperoned that much by their parents, by the people who look after their interests, they are bolder, in fact they would do anything to come into the limelight. It’s very evident. Same with men.
My highwater mark was Guide (1965) and Jewel Thief (1967). I came to a stage in my own mental growth, in my maturity, when I felt I must control the medium; I want to say to the world what I can say and nobody else can say.
I talked to R.K. Narayan when I made Guide, I had never met him. I called him from California and he was bowled over. “Which Dev Anand? The star? Oh, the film star.” We were together, there was location hunting.
Hindi Guide is not the English version of Guide. They are totally different films. I prefer the Hindi, though it was fascinating speaking English, they made it well. It was released in America, I was there, meeting with the stars, including Pearl S. Buck. The Indian Guide had a peculiar spiritual slant to it.
Guide is very satisfying in all its aspects. I have met people who have seen Guide 35, 36 times.
i, Dharamdev anand
I was born on September 26, 1926, in Gurdaspur, Punjab. I not am Devdutt, I am Dharamdev and I have cut out the Dharam part of it. I wanted my name to be very brief. Anand is the surname. Dharamdev Pishorimal Anand Pishorimal is my father’s name.
I don’t know why some (Muslim) actors changed their names. It was probably a trend or something. I think one should not change one’s name. I won’t change my name for anything. I was born with a certain name. I want to retain that name.
When Partition took place in 1947, I was already in the movies. I joined the movies in 1945. I struggled for two-and-a-half years but I had tremendous self-confidence, good education, I was on the go, optimistic, like I am going to get it, I am going to get that ray of sunshine falling upon me one day. Once I had got it, I never looked back.
I remember when I gatecrashed into the office of the man who gave me the first break, he kept looking at me — Babu Rao Pai of Prabhat Film Studios. At that time he made up his mind that this boy deserves a break and later mentioned to his people that ‘this boy struck me because of his smile and beautiful eyes and his tremendous confidence’.
I played a Hindu boy, a lead in a film called Hum Ek Hain (1946), about Hindu-Muslim unity.
Today you cannot make a film which infuriates the sentiments of a religious community. My Prem Pujari was based on the 1965 conflict with Pakistan and there was a fundamentalist lobby which slashed the seats in the auditorium. In Bengal they had Prem Pujari removed at the point of a gun because there was a sequence about the cultural revolution in China. The CPM and Jyoti Basu had the picture removed and in Bombay they slashed the seats.
Today’s films are more flashy, with more use of flashy lighting and strong lenses, and 200 girls dancing in a sequence with some extravagant costumes and great modern dresses and red and green and blue and the yellow. You get carried away by the flashiness of it all but the main soul of it is missing, the spine of the whole story.
TRAIN FROM LAHORE
When I boarded the Frontier Mail from Lahore for Bombay with my mind set to be in the movies I was 19-and-a-half years old. I did not realise then in 1943 that the place I was leaving would no more be a part of India. I went back to Lahore after 55 years with Atal Bihari Vajpayee on the famous (friendship) bus ride.
They see all the videos (of Indian films) in Pakistan. I had a wonderful meeting with my fans; a man kept playing my songs on flute — “Devsaab, tell me any song and I will play it for you.” I was very touched. I asked him his name. His name could have been the name of an Indian. Same language, same faces, same expressions, same everything, same culture.
I do wonder about Partition and the creation of Pakistan. Why did we split? This was one of the most tragic acts that ever took place in the world. We could have stayed together as a country. Imagine there is no Pakistan, no Bangladesh, one India; one India means India, Pakistan, Bangladesh together, part of the modern world, a great nation. The belly was cut in three pieces. Could we have lived together? Aren’t we living together in India, Hindus and Muslims?
It was a tremendous moment for me to return to Lahore; my hosts took me to my college, the same corridors, same architecture, same structure on the lines of Cambridge and Oxford. Same hockey ground, same everything and it was a great feeling.
BYE, BYE DADDY
As for my childhood memories, my father was my greatest tutor. He was a lawyer and a great scholar. He knew Arabic, Persian, and he taught me the Bible, the Gayatri Mantra and then he put me in the Sacred Heart (School), Dalhousie, it was then in the Punjab but today it is in Himachal Pradesh. I did my matriculation and then I went to college. I went to Dharamshala first, also then in the Punjab, and then to Lahore Government College for my honours degree in English.
I did my honours in English. I wanted to go for my Masters but could not because my father at that moment was financially poor. I said in that case, “Bye, bye Daddy”. I had a little money in my pocket and I boarded the train and I started the journey.
My father wanted me to do a job in a bank, but I said no, I am not meant for banking business, I want to just fly. I suddenly decided I wanted to be in the movies. That’s why I came to Bombay. I thought I could be a fine actor. Literally, I had 30 rupees in my pocket.
There was no cinema in Gurdaspur, we had to go 20 miles away to see a movie in Bhatala. The main township did not have a theatre. Amritsar had theatres, Lahore had theatres and Gurdaspur. That was 1943. Time has gone so fast.
My first exposure to cinema was in Lahore. I saw all the films — that was the period of MGM, of Fox, of Paramount, of Clark Gable, of Gone with the Wind, Hold Back the Dawn, Charlie Chaplin in The Great Dictator. I met Charlie Chaplin later. That was 1954. In Montreux, where he had settled down after being thrown out of America for allegedly being involved in un-American activities.
The war in Europe ended in 1945, but before that I did some work for the military censors. I would censor letters from the military personnel back home to their wives, their sweethearts, to their families. The war was on, the British regime used to censor letters from (Indian) people fighting on the front back home. I got 165 rupees a month.
rs 365 a month
I remember the day when Gandhi was assassinated. I had bought a new car, a Hillman Minx, and I was very proud of owning that machine. I was driving on the roads and I was driving very fast and came to the studio. I had already become a star; I had done four or five pictures, and then I could afford to buy a car.
Today when somebody becomes a star they have huge cars at their beck and call. But imagine I started on 365 rupees a month as a leading man and I thought it was big money. I was happy but today 365 rupees is like throwing a tip to somebody.
They said there’s no shooting on because Mahatmaji is dead, assassinated. There was big gloom all over.
There are fundamentalists all over the world, look at today’s modern times.
The movie industry is the only profession in the world where Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs and Jews share the same platform because the whole motivation, the dream is common, the dream is to be known to the world, that dream of achievement is stronger than just being a bigoted, narrow-minded fundamentalist.
When we went to the Soviet Union as part of the Indian film delegation, the Soviet Union was only making films to promote their own ideology. For the first time they were seeing films of tremendous escapist entertainment, songs and dances, they loved it. Raj Kapoor’s Awara became so famous and then Pandit Nehru went to Soviet Union after that and Awara was being sung by the entire nation. My films were also being shown — Rahi by Abbas and Aandhiyan.
When Panditji came back and we met him at a party. I was at the same table as him and he was smoking away with his typical cigarette holder. People were asking when he went to the Soviet Union how come Raj Kapoor was so famous?
We have been good colleagues (Raj Kapoor and Dilip Kumar); we had a real actors’ guild of India with me as the president. It became defunct. We used to meet quite often though we were never great pals. Every time there was a need for us to meet there was friendship; none of us had any axe to grind.
indira, rajiv and rahul
I met Mrs Gandhi also, I met her many times and one exclusive meeting lasted for 45 minutes in her office. She was never a great talker, she was a great listener.
When she was losing grip of her rule she declared Emergency, which was bad for her. During Emergency, I was the first to come out openly against it. It was a very risky thing to do but I did it out of my conviction because I met Jayaprakash Narayan in Nalanda. I was shooting, he was standing, watching the filming. I went and paid my respects to him and then he invited me to his ashram for two hours.
Then Janata came into power, the leaders were only interested in sitting on the chairs, they were power hungry. They lost in three years and elections were declared and the National Party of India was formed by the movie industry and they made me the president. But people started deserting me so we wound it up.
Say what you want to say in a movie and the world follows you....
Amitabh Bachchan going into politics — he should not have done it but I think he was dragged into it by Rajiv Gandhi. The only prime minister I never met. Had he been alive the Indian political scene would have been different.
Rahul? They are building him, I can see that, only time will tell. Today people are a little more mature to decide for themselves. If Rahul deserves it, if he has the merit there’s no reason why he should not be there. But merit has to be very, very important.
WHAT IS HISTORY?
It is not written in a day, in a year or five years or six years. History is written after 50 years, 100 years. I met James Mason at the Berlin Film Festival, I met Alec Guinness in New York — today when I meet Hollywood stars I meet them as equals because I have matured. Today my perspective on Chaplin would be different but in 1954, we all sat at his feet. Today as time marches on we are maturing with the world, the mental attitude is not the same as 25 years ago.
In London I have watched Alec Guinness on stage; I watched a very important British actor Sir Ralph Richardson years ago and Jimmy Stewart in a play called Harvey and I had seen a movie of that, utterly fascinated.
Back in India, Taxi Driver was a huge hit. We did it on a shoestring budget. Aandhiyan had not done well. We would carry the cameras on our shoulders, do filming all day long and we finished in 54 days and we dubbed the whole track later.
Among the leading ladies, Zeenat (Aman) became a cult figure. I found a girl like her in the lap of the hippies in Kathmandu when I was attending the marriage ceremony (in 1970) of the late King Birendra who later got assassinated. A German friend who was making a documentary took me to a place called The Bakery. I saw an Indian girl in the lap of a hippie and chased the girl, found her story and Hare Rama Hare Krishna was made (1971).
Guru Dutt was my equal though he was not always big. He made a big hit called Baazi and I worked in CID which was also a big hit that he produced. He made a very fine film called Pyaasa and he made a picture called Sahib Bibi Ghulam. He made his biggest commercial disaster in Kaagaz Ke Phool which is now acknowledged but then it was a super duper flop. He could not recover from that and he never made a film after that.... Kala Pani won me my first award in 1955, the inspiration from A J Cronin’s 1953 Beyond This Place.
WAS I HANDSOME?
When I was young, people said so but I don’t know, what is the definition of “handsome”? I think presentability is handsomeness. If you have a good personality, you are handsome. It’s in the eyes of the beholder.
My life is still going strong. Can you beat it?