For those of us born in the 1950s and going through an entirety of school through the 1960s, Dev Anand was the quintessential heroic figure. There were the others too, Dilip Kumar and Raj Kapoor, for instance. But where Dilip represented, almost always, the tragic that could come to wrap life in its hard grip and Raj kept alive the thought that a man in love could indeed afford to dwindle into a comic figure when he chose to, Dev was one for whom romance was forever a tale of unadulterated innocence. Tens of thousands of women in the subcontinent would do anything to have him flirt with them. And there were the hordes of men who felt, at some point, that Dev was what they had always wanted to be but could not be. They saw him in the movies. And then they imitated him, often ludicrously.
Not surprisingly, some of the best of songs in the black and white era of Indian cinema came to be attached to him. And he did justice to them, of course. In one of his later movies, it is the wounded lover in him who defies society, shows his back to the crowd of the pretentious as he sings for a perturbed Anita Raaj: dil aaj shayer hai gham aaj naghma hai / sab ye ghazal hai sanam / ho ghaeron ke sheyron ko sunnewale / ho iss taraf bhi karam. It is an angry and yet passionate Dev who sings, in the inimitable Kishore Kumar voice. You come away with the feeling that the heart being a strange thing, it is never too late to begin to love anew or to keep it going until the end of time.
There was a naughty gleam in Dev Anand's eyes when he serenaded his women. The impatience of the lover said it all. His eyes were focused on the face of the woman and yet there was that particular way of knowing that they were going everywhere. It was a poet which lurked in the lover, who liked what he saw. And he saw the sensuality, even in a demure, gloom-struck Waheeda Rehman as he sang tere mere sapne ab ek hi rang hai / wo jahan bhi le jayen raahen hum sangh hain. It is one of those songs that have made Mohammad Rafi famous. It is a set of lyrics which have forever preserved in our sensibilities the image of a young, love-brimming-over-with-passion Dev Anand. Recall, halfway through the song, Dev holding out his hand to Waheeda even as the twilight sky burns crimson across the river, in the expectation that she will take it. She hesitates, in trepidation, and then lets her hand go out to the one stretched out to her. What Dev does next is what we in our youth, in our middle age, have dreamt of doing. He gathers her, swiftly and with throbbing heart, to him. The song goes on.
The lilt of life is what gave meaning to the thespian in Dev Anand. He had a way of tilting his head slightly to the left as he spoke or sang, with one hand looking as if it were hanging somewhat loose. That was typical Dev. Not many could copy that style, but, yes, there were many who, once they were outside the cinema hall after a spell of the actor, made a slight effort at being Dev. The results may not have been perfect, may indeed have been silly, but what mattered was the infectious charm of the Dev persona. It waited on the hills outside the town that the evening was beginning to bathe in fluorescent light, for its woman to come. And the woman came, in the shape of Sadhana, she who once made even schoolboys go wild over her beauty and the special way in which she wore her hair. She came, only to pretend to want to leave. Dev Anand, again, stopped her in her tracks with abhi na jao chhorh kar / ke dil abhi bhara nehi. She joins him in melody that remains a profound hint of the depths which could bring a man and a woman to fruitful union. One other song Dev sings for Sadhana is ik ghar banaoonga tera aur pooja karoonga.
And remember that movie where Dev, armed with a song, goes looking for Nutan? Tu kahan ye bata iss nashili raat mein is an expression of love you cannot easily forget.
That was Dev Anand --- light-hearted and light-footed, Casanova to the nth degree, even on a ride on public transport. Hemant Kumar's voice and Dev's versatility gave us the immeasurably beautiful hai apna dil to awara / na jaane kis pe aaye ga. But then, being versatile, Dev Anand could imagine life, the essence of it, draining away from him in the smoke wafting forth from his cigar. Think of a mustachioed Dev Anand, think of cigar smoke. And think of the Rafi number: main zindagi ka saath nibhata chala gaya / har fikr ko dhuen mei urhata chala gaya.
The writer is Executive Editor, The Daily Star