“A REVOLUTION,” said Mao Zedong, “is not a dinner party, or writing an essay, or painting a picture, or doing embroidery; it cannot be so refined, so leisurely and gentle, so temperate, kind, courteous, restrained and magnanimous.” If Mao had seen Guide instead of leading a cultural revolution in 1966, he might have conceded that you can knit a revolution with film spools.
It is only fair to note that Dev Anand never thought he was writing a manifesto for the future; he was projecting his own convictions through the form of a story. It worked because he believed in what he was saying and did not shy away from a paradox: he was both in love with a rebel like Rosie, played by the immaculate Waheeda Rehman, and the orthodox manager who fell out with his protégé over the rewards of success. As Raju, he recognised his moral failure and left the world, only for the world to seek him when, by pure accident, he became a saint. He promised some gullible villagers that he would fast unto death until penance and piety brought rain for their famished crops. Raju had no intention of doing so until he did so.
Guide, as I have also noted elsewhere, is the only film in which Dev Anand dies. Guide was the high point of his career, the apex of his Diamond Decade from 1961 to 1971. His bejeweled career took off in 1948 with Ziddi, hit an early peak in 1951 with Baazi, and climbed to a crescendo with Kala Pani, Bombai Ka Babu and Hum Dono
Value of common sense
Dharamdev Pishorimal Anand had the uncommon quality of understanding the true value of common sense. He knew that his birth name was too heavy for cinema, but Dharam Anand did not possess the ubiquitous genius of Dev Anand. He wrought change with a big smile, convinced that serving mass consciousness did not mean surrendering to conventional. He was always experimenting, from the explosive start to the lingering demise of a long career. If Guide was radical, then Bombai Ka Babu, released five years earlier, was startling, for it touched on the theme of potential incest. At another level, there was a touch of the extraordinary by Hindi cinema’s mores in the 1950s even when Dev Anand was singing ‘Hai apna dil to awara’ in Solva Saal. He was wooing a beautiful woman on a night train in the company of her boyfriend, not a dutiful lady searching for marriage. The wonder is that the customer loved each experiment.
Mystery of the scarf
Dev Anand wanted to live on the screen, sometimes with a switchblade in a hand, more happily with a song on his lips, and always with the certainty that life was worth every moment of existence. He knew the inevitability of death but hated the cruelty of age. That explained the mystery of the scarf as he slipped into his sixties and slid into his seventies.
Our last conversation was in the breakfast room of the Washington Mayfair Hotel where he stayed on his regular visits to London, and where he died in 2011. I saw him by accident; we greeted each other warmly and he invited me to join his table. One forgets the specifics of this conversation, but I cannot forget the furrows on the face, outside the reach of any scarf. The eyes were still bright and spotless as ever, and the smile remained beyond the reach of time. That memory will not fade until one’s own time comes.