Dev Anand Unplugged
Part II of Dev Anand's interview on his 80th birthday anniversary.
Your Guide had an adulterous heroine. How did the censors spare it?
Guide was made in two versions in the early and mid-1960s. Nobel Laureate Pearl Buck and I co-produced the English one with Hollywood’s Tad Danielewski as director. So that gave it an international halo, and suitably impressed people in India. I decided however to shoot the Hindi version afresh with Goldie as director. We wrote a new screenplay retaining the basic theme, but deviating somewhat from R.K.Narayan’s novel. The then I&B Minister Satyanarayan Sinha panicked, saying people are complaining to the ministry about the adultery angle. ‘Didn’t your government give the novel a Sahitya Akademi award at the hands of Pandit Nehru?’ I asked him. That settled it.
But you had no qualms about our audiences accepting the heroine?
Guide was tough to make – its budget was huge. Worse, the distributors were wary of the adultery angle. When it was finally released in 1965, the first audience reaction was one of confusion. I remember we at Navketan were all so depressed. Then slowly, people began to find something thought-provoking in it. It grew on them, and snowballed into a major countrywide hit. That year the Bombay monsoon was delayed, and the city was thirsting for rain. And the day Guide – in which the hero fasts unto death for rain – was released, it poured over Bombay. Our posters said, ‘Guide Brought The Rains!’ Sometimes, even the elements favor you.
You never released Guide’s English version in India?
I saw no point in doing that. Thanks to Pearl Buck’s efforts, it was to be screened at the White House, though President Kennedy was assassinated before that could happen. The Hindi version was India’s entry for the foreign-language Oscar, but it didn’t even get nominated. Several Hollywood personalities who saw both versions however thought the English one was no good, and that the Hindi Guide was outstanding.
And what did the novelist R.K. Narayan think?
After your long innings as an actor and film-maker, are you anywhere close to discovering the box-office mantra?
There is no mantra, no formula. Several good films fail, while some average ones become hits. What’s a box-office hit? Something intangible in a film sets off a certain vibration in the audience’s collective mind. And all of a sudden, people are drawn to it. This phenomenon can’t be explained. You just have to let your instinct dictate your creative decisions. Relying on anything else is more dangerous. If you set out to make the greatest hit, it invariably turns out to be the biggest disaster. I’ve had my disasters – Ishq Ishq Ishq was an out-and-out musical with a very thin plot. Perhaps it might have worked with western audiences.
Your recent brush with the censors brings to mind your 1977 protest against Indira Gandhi’s Emergency.
Several film stars are now in national politics. Vinod Khanna represents Gurdaspur in the Lok Sabha.
They’re enthusiastic, but what is their commitment and their contribution? Our entire political system is rotten. The level of poverty in India is appalling because we haven’t grown as a democracy. What sort of a democracy would allow tribal areas to exist, and encourage slogans of minorities and Dalits? Why should a Dalit be proud to be called a Dalit?
So what’s your prescription for better governance?
Get the country’s best people to make laws for us in parliament. And fill every administrative post according to merit. You can only fight today’s system with literacy. A literate, enlightened people will not allow goondas to rule them. Educated youths with liberated minds must enter active politics. India is a great nation, and we Indians have a raw intelligence that’s probably a legacy of our ancient culture. But our people are also very religious and emotional, and therefore easily swayed. As a film-maker, I take my ideas across through my films. If I were a politician, I’d reach out to people with plans to modernize the country – that was the NPI dream. And I’d do it the right way. When you’re a leader, you should look like one. Not only in your thinking, but also in your speech and dress.
Are you suggesting a dress code for our politicians?
Critics say your acting ability seldom goes beyond your mannerisms.
But you so often depend on props like headwear and scarves.
What’s the secret of your youthful personality?
My mind. I’m mentally and therefore physically active. I can work 17 hours a day. My sorrows don’t stay with me because I’m an optimist. And I forgive easily. That’s a great quality – it makes you live long. I don’t follow any exercise regimen, but neither do I smoke, drink, or eat meat. I gave up smoking because it stained my teeth. I used to guzzle beer and colas, and stopped that too for my digestion. Man’s greatest disease is losing control of his habits. I threw and attended lots of parties earlier. I stay out of the current film-party circuit because it’s boring: the people, the conversation, the self-promotion.
What relaxes you then?
Your skills as a man-manager are well known. You got the best work out of a short-tempered eccentric like composer Sachin Dev Burman.
Rafi sang that one. But what made you select Kishore Kumar as your screen voice?
You chose Jaidev as music director for Hum Dono.
Jaidev came to Navketan as assistant to Ali Akbar Khan who was our staff composer. After Aandhiyan, Khan left but Jaidev stayed on to assist S.D.Burman. And being in the company over the years, we gave him a break in Hum Dono. It’s his best work. But we didn’t really drop him after that. S.D.Burman was there all the time as the mentor. And Jaidev had branched out because he got outside assignments.
What prompted the switch-over to R.D.Burman?
Do you miss working with your earlier composers?
Several of your films were shot in the mountains – in Nepal and Sikkim.
As a busy star, have you been a good father?
Do you believe in role-models?
Who were your favourite Hollywood actors?
Your all-time favourite film star?
Your favourite films and film-makers?
The great musical West Side Story and Frank Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life. I met Capra in Hollywood, and he came over later for a film festival in New Delhi, and we became good friends. I saw It’s A Wonderful Life with Guru Dutt in Poona, and we both had liked it so much, I remember we saw the film again in back-to-back shows. Elia Kazan was another fine film-maker. I met him in his Broadway office in New York City.
Your favourite roles?
Your favourite book?
Anything you wanted to do in life, but couldn’t?
In all your travels, which VIP of world renown impressed you the most?
Were you personally affected by the Partition?
Do your Muslim friends who migrated to Pakistan echo these sentiments?