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Conversations with Dev Anand

To mark Dev Anand’s birth centenary on 26 September, excerpts from conversations in which the actor talks about two of his classic films

Dev Anand and Vyjayanthimala in 'Jewel Thief'. Image courtesy Film Heritage Foundation
Dev Anand and Vyjayanthimala in 'Jewel Thief'. Image courtesy Film Heritage Foundation

Next week marks the 100th birth anniversary of actor Dev Anand, who died in 2011. Four of his classic films will play in theatres once again on 23-24 September: Guide (1965), Jewel Thief (1967), Johny Mera Naam (1970)—all directed by his brother, Vijay Anand—and Raj Khosla’s C.I.D. (1956). The retrospective, “Dev Anand @100—Forever Young”, is the work of the Film Heritage Foundation in association with PVR, who had also collaborated on the Amitabh Bachchan and Dilip Kumar retrospectives. These films, which haven’t been seen in wide release in several decades, will play in over 30 cities.

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To mark the occasion, Lounge is publishing exclusive excerpts from interviews Nasreen Munni Kabir did with Anand, in which the actor talks about Jewel Thief and one of his celebrated roles, in 1961’s Hum Dono. Kabir says on email: “For various television programmes made for Channel 4 TV, UK, starting in 1987, I interviewed Dev Anand over the years. He was always warm and gracious, giving generously of his time and attention. He was the ultimate gentleman and talking to him about his career and his views on life and cinema was a great privilege. During an interview, I mentioned to him that I thought a star must look good in close-up. He added, ‘And he must have a winning smile!’ And that he indeed had.” The following are excerpts of longer interviews:

On ‘Hum Dono’

Goldie (Vijay Anand) and I were forming a very big team—director and star. Navketan was being established in a very big way. Navketan fans wanted us to come out with great pictures, so after Goldie directed Kala Bazar, I said: “Let’s do something different!” And somebody came up with the idea of me playing a double role.

Hum Dono was a great double role. I played Captain Anand, and I played Major Verma, the “Haw-haw” British type of major—moustache and all. If you remember, in 1962, there were remnants of British colonialism in India, and the Indian Army was patterned on the British Army. I modelled Major Verma’s character on a major I knew who lived near Poona. He had the same mannerism, the same laugh, and even had the same central parting in his hair. I’d say that gave a little difference in look and mannerism between the two characters. When I look back and see that movie, I think Major Verma was well done. Yeah. Very well done.

Jaidev as composer rather than S.D. Burman

S.D. Burman was a part of Navketan. We looked up to him. A lot of decisions were taken with him when we planned a film. He was a great master, and he had given some very fine hits for Navketan. Jaidev was brought to Navketan by Ustad Ali Akbar Khan to work as his assistant when the world-famous sarod player was on the payroll of Navketan for Aandhiyan. When Ustad Ali Akbar left, Jaidev stayed on and became assistant to S.D. Burman.

Jaidev was a good composer. He had a classical style. So, we asked S.D. Burman: “Look, if we give this picture to your assistant, would you mind?” He said: “No, go ahead, give it to him.” Jaidev then took over the score of Hum Dono and he composed excellent music. And Sahir Ludhianvi wrote some beautiful lyrics for the picture. People still remember those songs, including Main Zindagi Ka Saath Nibhaata Chala Gaya. It’s philosophy.

The other song in the film, Abhi Na Jao Chhod Kar. You know Sahir Ludhianvi was a great poet of Urdu literature. And there was another great poet of Urdu literature who went to Pakistan around the Partition called Hafeez Jalandhari. He was the poet laureate in Pakistan. He wrote a famous poem, “Abhi to main jawan hun.” It’s a very famous poem in Urdu literature. I told Sahir: “On these lines, on this meter, rhyming these words “Abhi to main jawan hun,” write something.” And he wrote “Abhi na jaao chod kar ke dil abhi bhaara nahin.” We gave Sahir the rhyme scheme, the pattern of the lyrics, but the thought was completely Sahir’s.

On ‘Jewel Thief’

After Guide, Goldie was thinking hard, and I was thinking hard, and he suddenly says: “Let’s do a suspense picture”. The idea of Jewel Thief came from a film writer called Mr Narayan. It was just a story outline which Goldie and I liked. The basic plot belonged to the writer and was developed in totality by Goldie. It was in a totally different category. This film was not based on any Hollywood film. Jewel Thief was real and genuine and original. If you look at the graph of Navketan right from the year 1949 to now, every film had a different thematic content. If you look at Navketan’s history, our music, in particular, has been outstanding! Absolutely! I mean 50-55 years of music composed by almost everybody, led by S.D. Burman, R.D. Burman, Jaidev, Bappi Lahiri, Rajesh Roshan, Laxmikant-Pyarelal, and now my film Love At Times Square has six composers. Everybody’s composed for us, except for perhaps A.R. Rahman, who’s flying high now.

A poster for the Dev Anand retrospective
A poster for the Dev Anand retrospective

On casting ‘Jewel Thief’

I was a star and with Dilip Kumar and Raj Kapoor, we used to be called the Big Three. I had worked with almost everyone except for Vyjayanthimala, and she was also keen to do a picture with me. We thought why not Dev and Vyjayanthimala? She was a big star. I think it was a good box-office scheme of things, so let’s have a new screen couple. Waheeda Rehman was in Guide, Vyjayanthimala in this picture, Hema Malini was in another picture. That’s how we cast Vyjayanthimala and she did very well.

There was a dance number near the end of Jewel Thief which was fantastically done by Vyjayanthimala. We needed a dancer, and one looked around for dancers in the movie industry at that time. There was Waheeda Rehman and there was Vyjayanthimala—who else?

We wanted a different location. We wanted something very mysterious, something out of the world. Something that would be different from other films. I said to Goldie: “Look, everybody goes to Mussoorie, Simla, or Darjeeling, why not explore a different location?” Sikkim was unexplored then. Now it’s an Indian territory. In the 1960s, it was not a part of India.

So, for the shooting we went to Gangtok, and I think we were the first film unit to go to Sikkim. At that time, Sikkim was ruled by the Chogyal of Sikkim, who had an American wife called Hope Cooke. Gangtok is between India and China and beyond is Nathula Pass. We got very friendly with the Chogyal, and we became good friends with the army units on the border. We had a glorious time filming for 20 days in Gangtok.

Once we finished the outdoor locations, we built the interiors in Bombay studios based on photographs we took in Sikkim. Because the exteriors and the interiors had to match. In Sikkim, there are great monasteries with their heavenly look, their gongs, etc.—it’s hilly and otherworldly. We had to match that look on set. If you remember the last sequence, the song Honton Pe Aisi Baat, the whole thing was planned from visuals we had of Sikkim.

We always worked very fast. We didn’t take three or four years to make a film. From start to finish, it was eight to 10 months in execution, maximum. But you can take longer to write a script. The idea is born first, and then you start writing. It can take many months and sometimes not. It can go very fast if your mind is focused. But once you start shooting, it should not take more than 8-10 months. And then of course there’s the postproduction, 3-4 months. It takes time to find a distributor and release the film, etc., once the film is ready.

Why cop and gangster roles interested him

Basically, you change your concept of characterisation according to your age. I mean, they always said: “Dev has a romantic image”. I didn’t mind it. That’s okay. But I think an actor likes to do all types of roles, so I did romantic comedies, serious dramas, suspenseful pictures, the good-hearted boy who’s a bit of a nasty guy, naughty and mischievous too.

People also accepted me as a cop. It was not a deliberate choice. The story came first and then the character. I never said: “Give me this character and build a story round him.” I always said: “Let’s pick up a good story. And with a good story we’ll see what sort of character we have.” I liked doing all types of roles and Jewel Thief was one of them.

Jewel Thief was a big hit. Like Guide was a big hit. Goldie became known as a very fine, big director. And more so, because he was not repeating himself. I think the most creative man is the one who does not repeat himself, who makes different type of pictures every time.

On seeing his old films

When I see my pictures that I did many, many years ago, I start criticising myself. Because time has gone by and your mind has progressed and you start thinking to yourself: “My God, if I had done this picture now, it would be like this. My performance would have been different, the script would have been that, etc.” But it’s too late. Maybe my thinking is wrong. One never knows. I normally don’t see my old pictures. They were yesterday’s films. I’m mostly involved with the pictures that I’m doing at this stage of my life.

When you talk of Indian movies, you have to talk about the films we made at Navketan—no book is complete without that—you can say that with your hand across your heart.

Nasreen Munni Kabir is an author, a documentary film-maker, curator and subtitler.

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