01 January 2008

Some Guys Have All The Luck

Romancing with Life: An Autobigraphy
By Dev Anand
Pages 438
Rs 695

It’s difficult to imagine another man more full of himself and an 84-year-old with a libido so high. By the third chapter of his egregiously puffy, exasperatingly charming and divinely readable biography, Dev (that’s how he like his fans to call him, ‘Just ‘Dev’, short and sweet and possessive, godly and sexy, and intimate to the extreme.’) is quick to establish his credentials as a louche, aged star. Girls chase him, almost right from kindergarten onwards, beg kisses of him, give him the eye, telling him to come hither, and soon go all the way with him.

Dev writes in the Preface that his idea of a biography is that you drop the drab bits and spice up the more interesting ones. The already spicy bits being spiced up more? That’s Dev for you, the incorrigible skirt-chasing romantic, who sometimes even reads just like that stalker, that molester, that lecher in a Best bus. And most of the times he seems to be making it up like a man who wants it badly. On his way to Pune by a local train, the prefered conveyance of the film stars including Dev and Dilip Kumar, to begin shoot of his first film, Dev claims he almost lost his virginity to a woman in the berth above. He ‘involuntarily’ climbed up, unable to resist her flashing her bits at him.

The florid, leering style, that uncannily reads like him speaking in his famous in-a-single-breath manner, might put the faint-hearted off. It's languid tone recalls Dev's droopy shoulder shuffle with arms hanging limp on the sides, the head that keeps on nodding, while the eyes rolled under the beautiful arch of those eyebrows making Dev look like a cock of some strange bird species courting the hen. But ludicurous as it may seem now, it charmed us witless.

But little patience and tolerance will make Dev Saab’s bio a memorable read. For instance, the start of his romance with his famous contemporary Surayia, that began with the realtive new-comer Dev and star Suariya flirting uncontrollably while her grandmother, uncle, and maids along with the director, camera men and other technicians look on. Reading so delicious, it marks a turning point early in the book, enabling reader’s acceptance of Dev for what he is or was.

But though he tells us why he is called Dev Anand, why he buttons his collar up to his neck, how Kishore Kumar was inspired by him to start yodelling, his first car, his romancing his leading ladies, and his meeting his ‘original’, Gregory Peck, Shirley MacLaine, Pearl S Buck, etc., we become certain that Dev is playing to the gallery, giving the fans what he thinks they want -- his real story remains untold. And then you feel that Dev perhaps has no idea how deep a part is of our subconscious he might be. And that we could be interested in him too, rather than his stardom alone.

It’s amazing how Dev seems to have very quixotic a notion of the Essential and the Decorative, the Superfluous: not a single passage that makes a serious attempt to analyse his circumstances especially his large family of which he was one of the nine siblings or his relationship with other siblings, stars, and artists, or grapple his reality! Instead, Dev prefers to make up things in a shallow narrative about him alone and his appetites and dreams.

But he is easily caught. Like his momentous Frontier Express-journey from Lahore to Bombay. He fashions a maudlin poor-little-me account of travelling into the unknown with just thirty rupees in his pocket. The reader is sympathetic until Dev reaches Bombay. There, standing at the platform, is his brother Chetan Anand who takes him to a Malabar Hill bunglow in a Victoria!

Little later in the book, the cereberal Chetan Anand introduces him in a circle of intellectuals and artists like Khwaja Ahmed Abbas, Raja Rao, Balraj Sahni, Ravi Shankar et al at Chetan’s Pali Hill house, giving him the support he needed to fulfill his dream of becoming a star.

While the autobiography is poorer for it, it is still rich enough. We should be grateful that a star of his stature has taken pains to write an evocative and entertaining account of his times, a bold piece of self-revelation that blows smoke rings in the face of Respectability. Where we expected an elegiac note, he gives us ebullient chords.

Perhaps, the reader will in turn come to realise that Dev Anand’s famous style and mannerism as well as his self-aggrandisement might have been a mask once, but they have become the man. And a star, an incomprehensible and lonely one.

Na dukh hai na sukh hai
Na din na duniya
Na insaan na bhagwan
Sirf main, main, main!

(There is neither joy nor pain
No days, no worlds
No man, no God
There is only me, me, me.)

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