People generally do not speak or write ill about the deceased, especially if they are public figures. This is particularly true about Indians. Taking a critical view of any deceased public figure is blasphemous. You either build eulogies on the platform available or you shut up to avoid being looked at with horror-struck eyes.
For the past few days, media of every form has appeared an extension of a condolence meeting in memory of Dev Anand. But now that the adulatory remembrances are done with, one can hesitatingly write a few words on him to put the accomplished actor’s achievements in perspective. But before that a disclaimer.
By the time I started seeing other elements in a film besides songs and story, Dev Anand had become a ‘has-been’. A few years before this – when I was barely into my teens, Hare Ram Hare Krishna finally came to my small town a couple of years after its release. At that time it mattered little to me that Kancha was Dev Anand. Only two things made sense – Dum Maro Dum and Zeenat Aman.
At New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University where friends and the film club introduced me to serious film viewing, Dev Anand or anything remotely to do with popular cinema was anathema. So I never told anyone that Zeenat Aman had been my first erotic fantasy and Dum Maro Dum our first rock song to which we swayed in the afternoons when the mothers visited each other.
People in JNU and other places in the ‘circuit’ that we went to, talked about the likes of Tarkovsky, watched Bunuel and De Sica whenever the cultural centres screened them and spoke glowing about Ritwik Ghatak and Mrinal Sen but always reserved some disparaging remarks about Satyajit Ray.
Quite correctly, the highbrow approach to film criticism has given way to a more democratic approach. It is no longer considered that only the film which is difficult to understand, is a good one. It was when this turnaround came around in the film appreciation circles one moved in, that films like Guide began to make sense. I accepted that I had always liked his performances in Guide, Johnny Mera Naam and Jewel Thief but was scared to publicly admit this fearing intellectual ostracism. But beyond acting in them, Dev Anand did precious little – after all, the film were directed by his brother, Vijay Anand.
Even if one tries to be fair to Dev Anand when talking about his films since the late 1970s, it would be impossible to credit him with any meaningful film. Post HRHK, age neutralized his male eroticism and unlike Raj Kapoor he could not reinvent himself as the peddler of female eroticism.
One flop followed another for almost three decades but the man refused to give up because of being in love with his own image. He built – and lived – in his own Shangri La which existed in the midst of the rough and tumble. In the end he remained what many Indians believed – that he was the Indian Gregory Peck – a star who shone in his prime. Nothing more, nothing less.