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Dev Anand: The Last Jedi


Dev Anand picks up the phone, dials a number expediently. 'Hello. Hello. Commissioner Sahib, app Jaldi say...'. Or maybe its the Inspector Sahib he wants on the line, the purpose of the call is to inform the Inspector Sahib or the DIG that he has cracked the case, he has the killer but he needs the backup immediately, reach falana-falana place. Other voice on the phone promises to be there. A simple set-up, a simple scene from Dev Anand's Hum Naujawan (1985) but one small detail makes the scene baffling and Dev Anand great. If you hear the voice of Police in the scene carefully, you realize that's not the voice of some film extra but the voice Dev Anand himself. What is going on? Maybe on the dubbing day, for that particular scene he had no one, he was alone, so using his great acting skills and applying the art of voice modulation which all great actors master (maybe specially those who are Producer cum Director too), Dev Anand dubbed Police in his own voice. And not many people noticed. So in that scene, that's Dev Anand talking to Dev Anand. Is he great or not? Definitely Great.

Sheer quantity and quality of sprezzatura that Dev Anand has added over the years (and not just his later years) to Indian Cinema is awe-inspiring. Imagine him running in slow-motion in wheat belt of Punjab with a big net chasing Butterflies for Prem Pujar (1970) and in the same film freeze posing with that big butterfly net hat-on in Waheeda Rehamn's day-dream. Prem Pujar is unique for another reason too. Didn't you ever want to see a film in which villain's henchmen have a strange sub-conciousness of their own own. In this film, in one scene henchmen (one of them being Amrish Puri in his first screen appearance. Trivia alert: Is that actor/lyricist Piyush Misra in the film as an Indian Intelligence agent in Europe?) refuse to do killing in a church because Mother Mary was watching. Didn't you ever want to see a film in which villain's henchmen know a thing or two from the book of Marx. In this film, henchmen except to get paid even if the job was not done. Didn't you ever want to see a film in which villains are in the end revealed to be just a bunch of bumbling idiots who were somehow just there, not essentially on any merit, very corporate like, when the crime syndicate took off. Actually that last wish is fulfilled in most of the good Indian films but Dev Anand reveals this irony in most shocking manner. You have to see him beat an Al-Qaeda operative with a teacher's stick in Mr Prime Minister (2005). 'Humnay is chadi say achay achay ko seedha kiya hai! Batao Kon hai tumharay aur is sari saajish kay peechay! Batao. Main kehta hu Batao.' Fataak! Al-Qaeda man quivers and belches out the name. 'Osama'. Teacher is satisfied. Very satisfied. 'Oosama'. Dev Anand isn't known to be a fan of Mandarin Kung-fu dramas with gut-busting Masters. But for this scene he manages to come up with that kind of drama on his own talent. That's originality. And Dev Anand isn't someone ignorant of the Islamic world. He had Nadia Gamal's belly dancing for him in Prem Pujar, she even extorted a kiss for the charming-handsome man. But the man only gave an innocent head kiss. That pretty much sums up India's relation with the Arab world of the time.

And now. If Dev Anand were to sing about color of flowers and heart's pen among cute European kids, the kids are likely to taunt him as Osama. If those European kids were somehow Indian, they would probably throw him out of the running train. How can they mix up characters and identities? What has this world come to? He must often think to him self. Why are people so messed up? So confused? Can't they distinguish between right and wrong? Don't they realize only personal convenience crawls in the middle way, not good or bad. Either the force is with you or it is against you. What happened to the world? Are they all mad? Do you have vanilla flavour? [Read those questions again, read them like Dev Anand doing internal monologues in any of movies. 'Woh Dekh Raju tera shehar, tera ghar, teri zindagi, teri khushiya, teri yaadien...' ] Mr Prime Minister is proof of all that thinking. And no one better than Dev Anand to understand and handle the postmodern world that is all about multiple identities.

Go through IMDB and check out the films that he has worked in. Check the cast. For lot of his movies, the bests of his movies, against his name you will notice multiple character names. Names like Kala Ghoda, Popat Lal, Monto , Peter Andrews, Yik Tok, Rocky, Sustram, Natwarlal, Chhupa Rustam, Wing Commander Bhagat, Jim Darcy and Swami Dada. You see he has been handling multiple identities for a long long time. An old hand. No don't call him young. Accept that he is old and pay your respect. He has seen all the action, world is a big circus and there are ring masters. Watch the end sequence of his 1984 film Anand Aur Anand, the film in which he launched his son Suneil Anand (hence the name or may be an acknowledgement, a Dev Anandian wink - 'Yes I play the name game'). A wild heard of animals, a stampede, helpless humanity in the path, death, mayhem, lot of dust, Dev Anand up on tree with a sniper gun doing what must be done. And the plot of for film takes off from Dev Anand's character has an affair with his personal secretary. What! It happens. Animal stampede is just symbolic of what follows.

This man always had women swooning over him and most of the time it resulted only harmless flirting that made for cute Indian cinema and countless (some memorable beautiful) songs. And when he actually did something, the next step, the stepping out, the world wasn't ready. The 'zipping up' scene from Guide (1965) was censored in India (even though in 1960 film Kala Bazaar he used Waheeda Rehman's sari to climb up a cliff), no stepping out of pants on screen, only the mature audience of USA can handle it. So some Tom, Dick and Harry in US got to see Dev Anand zip up after spending a night with Waheeda Rehman but no Ram, Shyam, Ghanshyam in India got to see it. And in 1985 for Swami Dada when he got a Jane from US to get out of her dress, that too was chopped out. Interestingly, in this film the girl isn't satisfied with just a peck on the forehead from the Swami, she gets a baby out of him. Very American. This might have affected the censor boards decision to snip the scene. But that didn't deter Dev Anand. Some simple people say Censor (2001) was Dev Anand's reply to the Indian censor board's decades of tyrannical and tardy handling of his films. They couldn't be more wrong. Censor was a sequel, a post-script. Dev Anand had already replied back in 1994. Dev Anand knew that having to sit through (or in some case even hearing names of) all those movies made in India gaves the bored members of the honourable board a thick skin. How to get though that thick layer of intellectual fat that protects the morality of the citizenry of this great nation? He came up with a genius ploy and applied in his film Gangster. He took a clean above the belt villain - Ajit (at the time a new addition to the octogenarian Indian actor club) and as Ajit's right-hand man he picked classic nasty baddie - Joginder Shelly. The two represented best of the two different schools of villainy that flourished in popular Indian Cinema of the 70s. One of them would never get his hands dirty and the other, well the mere sight of him made people want to take a Ganga aShran. Even though both portrayed bad guys, their portrayal don't have been more different and distinct. Ajit's villain was suave (even when in the grab of a dacoit) and generally wouldn't touch a hapless girl, he might have thrown her in a tank liquid oxygen but only occasionally go for the proverbial Izzat whereas Joginder's villain was always loud, boorish and the kind the would have thrown a girl in liquid oxygen, thrown in some surf and jumped right in after her. You get the point. Now Dev Anand took these two in Gangster and then, in one of the most horrendous graphic scene of exploitation ever filmed in India, he let them loose on some film extra in a barely there wet white sari. And in that scene the man trying to get his hands dirty was Ajit while Joginder kept watch. An ironic twist. West has a term for this kind of cinema, it is aptly called 'Exploitation Cinema', and even though Indians did experiment, in classic 'inspired' manner, with the genre even right back in 70s. This cinema even became a topic for hot discussions and write-ups during Indira Gandhi's Emergency period. Interestingly, even V. Shantaram's Dr Kotnis ki Amar Kahani (1946) under its English title 'Nightmare in Red China' is labelled 'Exploitation' by some western enthusiasts of this genre.[video link]. That might shock most Indian but then most Indian viewer would have a tough time recognizing Dev Anand's contribution to Exploitation Cinema. And Dev Anand arrived at it on his own just walk-dancing his way through films for so many years. In early 1990s Bombay film industry was crumbling, getting buried under its own debris, exploitation cinema was all it had to offer but it was only Dev Anand and not some I. S. Johar who really made some really bad but good cinema and topped it all with the crudity of Gangster. That should have burnt some of the fat off the the thick scissor happy fingers of Indian censors. He was holding a mirror and saying 'This is what things have come to. Do you see?'. Or maybe he was just simply making another bad movie. Going with the flow of time. Keeping up with time. Maybe his brother Vijay Anand and Chetan Anand indeed were the real genius behind all that is generally considered good about a Dev Anand movie, indeed the ride does become abruptly bumpy after Bullet (1976). Maybe he was alone. The last Jedi  putting up one last stand, a very long and excruciating stand (not just for the viewers), fighting the evil force.

There was a time when Indians had problems with beauty pageant. That would be in 90s. Right. Wrong. In late 1970s there were anti-beauty pageant protesters who carried placards reading "Don't Sell Women To Limca or Dev Anand" and they were surely not referring to Dev Anand's cold-drink waltz with Parveen Babi in Bullet. *

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*That odd trivia comes from 'Link' , Volume 21, Part 3 United India Periodicals, 1979. Using Google Book's handy snippet preview. From what I can gather it was some College level beauty contest sponsored by Limca and being judged by Dev Anand. And there was some rioting on the podium.

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