About the Book
Dev Anand has long been known as the evergreen star of Hindi cinema. Navketan, the production company he started in 1949, is as perennial too. It has come to be known for stylish, contemporary films and some of the finest film music ever produced in India.
But Navketan is more than just its films. It spans a crucial phase in the growth of the Indian film industry, from the early, post- independence phase of black and white films to the glorious, music-filled colourful cinema of the 1960s and '70s. It has been a training ground and school for many famous directors, producers, composers and technicians. It has also launched several actors who went on to become big stars in their own right. Some of the landmark films of Indian cinema have been produced by Navketan, from the noir classic Taxi Driver and the cultish Hare Rama Hare Krishna, to the all-time entertainer Jewel Thief and Guide, which features in every list of the ten best films ever made in India.
The story of Navketan therefore is a parallel history of the Hindi film business and indeed a social history of India. By interviewing scores of people in front of and behind the camera, and after poring over archives and through old, faded cuttings, Sidharth Bhatia has put together a fascinating saga of the creative partnerships which spawned an organization that defined popular film-making for decades. Profusely illustrated with stunning photographs, stills from Navketan's films, publicity brochures and posters-some of them never seen before-Cinema Modern is
a collector's edition for anyone interested in Indian cinema.
About the Author
Sidharth Bhatia has been a journalist for over thirty-five years, working both in India and abroad.He is a regular commentator in newspapers and on television on current affairs, society and culture. He was awarded the press fellowship to Wolfson College Cambridge, in 1990 and made an associate fellow of the college in 2001. A foreign correspondent in South Africa during the transition to democracy in 1993-94, he moved to Mauritius in 2003 to start a media company. He was on the editorial board that launched DNA in Mumbai in 2005 and ran the editorial page of the paper until the end of 2009. He is passionate about old cinema, Indian and Western, and about Mumbai, where he lives with his wife and two daughters.
In September 2009, I accompanied Dev Anand to Delhi where the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting was hosting a two-day festival to mark the sixtieth anniversary of Navketan, the production house that he had set up with his elder brother Chetan Anand. By then I had conducted many interviews for this book and he had kindly invited me to come along to attend the inaugural function. Five films were due to be shown at the Siri Fort Auditorium in two days and the organizers had listed Hum Dono as the opening film. It was an interesting choice; the film had recently been colowized. Would today's audiences be interested in watching a forty-five-year-old film? Would they find its pace slow and ponderous? Most importantly, did Dev Anand mean anything to them, apart from being a famous actor from their parents' or even grandparents' generation? I was worried that the function would be a well-meaning flop show.
I was pleasantly surprised to see that my concerns were unfounded. Siri Fort, which can hold hardly six hundred people, was brimming with them. People sat in the aisles and stood wherever they could get a foothold. More than two hundred weren't even able to get in. When the actor went on stage, a huge roar went up. And the packed hall saw the film in silence, except for the moments when the songs, each one a classic and still lovingly remembered, came on. A large proportion of the audience was young, under thirty-five years of age; it mobbed the star, touching him, shaking his hand and reciting dialogues from his films.
Film stars enjoy a demigod-like status in India and so it is not news for them to be mobbed thus, but what we were seeing was an eighty-six-year-old actor whose last big hit was released in the early 1980s. True, he had a phenomenal run as a top star and his longevity was unparalleled; but most of those who were present at the show that evening couldn't have been born when his last big film was released. Their memories of the actor would have been second hand at best.
An additional thought struck me: How many present-day stars would get this kind of affection fifty years from today? Would the big names ruling the screen now have fans from all over the world crowding them when they entered their eighties? And yet here was Dev Anand, whose first film was released in 1945, before India got its independence, shaking hands with girls young enough to be his granddaughters.
Part of the reason for this kind of popularity of a star from the Jurassic era of Hindi cinema is pure nostalgia. Nostalgia not only for him, or for great films and songs that still buzz in our heads, and for a period universally called the 'Golden Era of Hindi Cinema', but also the longing for a simpler time when the world was a different place. Many old Hindi films do not travel well over generations-the acting is stilted, the pace slow and the production values fairly basic-but they generate a sense of loss in the simple values they espouse and the innocent love they portray. This is no value judgement on the quality of today's cinema or indeed of societal attitudes, but there is no denying that the patina of age has made us imagine and reconstruct a different and uncomplicated India through the films of that era. A star like Dev Anand represents a link with that period. For those who lived through that time and grew up listening to the music first hand on the radio (and stood in queues to get inside a hot theatre to watch the films on the first day), the nostalgia is real and tangible.
But that does not fully explain his undying popularity. There are many other actors and actresses of that vintage still around-hidden away from the public eye, maybe-but it is a fair bet that they would not evoke this kind of hysterical public response. The Delhi crowds were not unique; wherever he goes, Dev Anand is mobbed by fans of all ages.
Much of it has to do with Dev Anand himself, with the man and the actor. To his fans, Dev Anand has, for over six decades, spelt a sense of optimism and joy in life, a never- say-die spirit, the willingness to face odds with a smile and a song. His various roles-whether in the black-and-white 1950s, when he usually played a down-at-heel cabbie or con artist, or in the 1960s when he matured, and even later-were all marked with a 'can do' spirit; maudlin self-pity was not his style. Alas, maudlin self-pity is often seen as a signifier of acting talent and of gravitas, which is why students of cinema never took Dev Anand seriously.
In real life, the man is not very different from the persona he portrays. The flamboyance on the screen, with all the familiar markers and fashion statements-the scarf, the checked shirt, the buttoned collar, the baggy pants, the puff-was as visible off-screen. Fans like their stars to be familiar in all their avatars-too much deviation can disturb the image, which is why it is said that great actors/ stars essentially play themselves on the screen.
Unbridled optimism and good cheer are Dev Anand hallmarks. He often says that the song 'Main zindagi ka saath nibhata chala gaya', written by his dear friend Sahir Ludhianvi, is his life's motto; it was written for him and about him. In many of his other movies, there are songs that suggest his own philosophy of moving towards the future, unmindfulof the burdens and vicissitudes of life: 'Hai apna dil to awaara', 'Hum hain rahi pyar ke', 'Yeh dil na hota bechara' -all songs of a man on the move, literally, metaphorically, musically.
This joie de vivre seems to have clicked with audiences over the decades and across generations. Younger viewers especially took to him not only because of the charisma he exuded, but also because of the youthfulness he projected. For the girls, he was the handsome boy next door, teasing, flirting, joking and singing. Despite his anti-hero roles, Dev Anand never looked menacing or mean; he was always pleasing and charming.
Dev Anand's own world view was reflected in the films of the company he set up with his brother in 1949. N avketan has always been known for a particular kind of cinema-stylish, contemporary, modem and urban. The brothers Anand, who came from an educated background, surrounded themselves with people they could relate to on a social and intellectual level, which helped them make their films.
The two early successes of the company were Baazi and Taxi Driver, both set in the badlands of Bombay in an environment of night clubs, seedy bars, dancing girls, crime, and featuring characters that represented the underbelly of the city. Dev Anand played a small-time gambler in the first and a taxi driver in the other, enacting the roles with panache but displaying vulnerability too. Both films were huge successes, consolidating his image as an urban hero (and often, anti-hero).
RAISING THE BANNER
TAKING A GAMBLE
THE ROAD TO SUCCESS
ON A HIGH
OLD WINE NEW BOTTLE
THE JOURNEY CONTINUES