November 12, 2007

Romancing With Life

The whole idea behind an autobiography is, naturally, that the subject in question should have something wonderfully expansive to write about. Dev Anand has had, and continues to have, a voluminous life that he could crow about it till kingdom come. So naturally I was happy to learn that the 'evergreen' superstar had decided to pen his story. I picked up the book, Romancing With Life, the evening it was released. It took me some time in getting around to read it but finally did and now I wish I hadn't.

The book starts off post 9/11 and before you start to question why the hell should Dev Anand's autobiography kick off in this manner, let me tell you that Mr. Anand decided to pen his memoirs sitting in cozy confines of the Waldorf Astoria in New York as the television in the lobby beamed images of the Twin Towers going down. The first few pages make for interesting read as for the first time Dev Anand tries to set the record straight. He is pissed off at people getting his name wrong; he isn’t Devdutt as popularly believed but Dharam Dev. He dropped the Dharam for he felt it was too long and too old fashioned!! Unable to pursue further education in London, a young Dev Anand decides to go to Bombay and try his luck at films. The way Dev Anand describes the Bombay of late 1940’s is unlike anyone of us would see it today. Those were perhaps the best years of his life doing a million things at the same time- working, flirting and of course looking for the elusive big break.

Once Dev Anand achieves stardom the book starts to plummet. The initial heady days of being a superstar, his travels to Russia and other European countries, his interaction with the heavyweights of Hollywood are breezy but that’s just about. The issue with the book is that most of the glorious films are talked about in the passing and once you leaf through the pages describing the making of Jewel Thief you can forget about films. Though the biggest turn-around in Dev Anand’s life, according to me, was when he decided to don the director’s cap. Raj Kapoor had always been making films and Dilip Kumar ghost directed a film but it was Dev Anand who had an eye for picking up diamonds from dust. He was the one who gave a break to Chetan Anand, Guru Dutt, Raj Khosla, Vijay Anand, Zeenat Aman, Tina Munin, Waheeda Rehman, SD Burman, Jackie Shroff amongst others.

The book, just like the man’s life, comes to a bizarre turn when Dev Anand starts directing. From that point onwards it becomes a fly past account of the man’s (mis)adventures. Besides the numerous encounters with women, some of them end up reading like some cheap soft porn novel. You are expecting too much from a book or a story when your eye jumps a few paragraphs to detect something more exciting. The man, sadly, has ceased to be even a pale shadow of his former self. There are hardly any new details about his mysterious life; he barely talks about his wife, his children just get a passing mention, his love for Zeenat Aman takes a few pages. Perhaps I was expecting a lot from the book and it didn’t let down on certain accounts; Suraiya for one has been talked about a lot. Reading about his early life, days in Lahore and first of the many trysts with the opposite sex and his early days in Bombay and how he just took off to Khandala in his car whenever he felt like makes me wonder perhaps they had it better then. The style of writing, the words is very reminiscent of a time gone by but that being the whole idea of an autobiography isn’t enough to sail you through unless you are a die hard Dev Anand aficionado. There is a lot of ‘Dev Anand’ that some how manages to transcend on to most of the 417 pages and you can’t help but get infected by the effervescent charm of the legend. I couldn't help but smile when I read that he wanted Imran Khan to play the role of pissed off cricketer in Awwal Number and flew to London just to meet him!

Dev Anand's been an old favorite of mine. I was and still am enamored by his nuances. Like millions I have enjoyed his films and my DVD collection has more Dev Anand films than any other actor. The only problem being that some years ago I realized that I possess mostly Vijay Anand directed films! Many of us who have enjoyed a Dev Anand film can't help but wonder why the hell is the man churning out crap with amazing regularity? A man who made classics like Jewel Thief, Guide, Tere Ghar Ke Saamne, Jaal, Baazi now be associated with crap like main Solah Baras Ki, Censor and Pyaar Ka Tarana and Mr. Prime Minister? But is it that simple? Here lies the classic catch- this is where lies his zest for life. If he were to stop making films, I believe that the man would die.

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