Dev Anand – Eternally Young or Trapped in Time?

Cine Durbar was once again instrumental in organizing through the IFFI, a panorama of Naveketan films to celebrate 60 years of the film producing company owned by Dev Anand. Mr Dev Anand was himself present as a bonus for the audiences along with the premiere of the coloured version of a Dev Anand starrer, Hum Dono. The theatre was packed with eager viewers from every generation awaiting the arrival of the star on the event. As soon as the star of the 1950’s arrived, notwithstanding the 50 years that stood between the times that his films were first released and now, the audiences mobbed him, jostling for autographs or a hand shake, or even a glimpse of the star. The compeer was pathetic; in a voice quivering with intense excitement at the sight of Dev Anand she was completely taken over by the star’s charisma. While the compeer repeatedly appealed to the audience to leave the star alone as he soon would be on the diaz, the mob around the old frail man was unnerving since one cannot guarantee the well being of such elderly when they find themselves trapped in a whirlpool of such volumes of carbon dioxide emitted from the mob that was falling on him, touching his feet and shaking hands. One fails to understand why the organizers did not bring Dev Anand directly on the diaz though it is possible that he needed some rest in the chairs and gather himself up before he could climb the steep steps to the podium.

The event was as badly planned as it could be as there were two very low level officers who struggled to open the cellophane packet from which they segregated a shawl, barely being able to open it up from the folds to make it of adequate dimensions that could be better settled around  the star’s ageing and drooping shoulders. Just before the gifting the shawl the Ministry gave a bouquet of standard sunflowers and carnations for the star to hold which he had to clutch all through the shawl ceremony and while delivering the acceptance speech. The compere was so stunned by the star continuing to be amazed at whatever Dev Anand did in her shrill quaky voice that it did not occur to her to lend the star a helping hand.

Dev Anand started by objecting to the contents of the felicitation speech; he said that the felicitator has stressed too much on what he had been when she should ideally have said what he is, continues to be and will emerge shortly as his new film releases. It is interesting that Dev Anand continues to make films and uses a felicitation ceremony as an occasion to promote his forthcoming releases. The Ministry officials were commenting on the delusion of grandeur that Dev Anand seems to be suffering from because notwithstanding his flops and the complete abandonment of Navketan by the financiers, he continues to believe that he can and that she should make films and that too for the good of the nation.

As Dev Anand continued to make his speech, three things came out very clearly. Firstly, the makers of popular Hindi cinema see themselves as serving the nation. Indeed, in the programme called Vishesh Jaymala in the Vividh Bharati of All India Radio and the television programme Jai Jawan almost equates film artists with the military, both as serving the cause of the nation. Secondly, Dev Anand believes that his cinema in particular and cinema in general is most successful if it speaks of timeless and eternal truth. One could immediately see the star-director-producer’s problems in failing to align himself with the times. Dev Anand insists that he is always modern and indeed he is very receptive to images of modern men and women, and to modern technology and techniques, to modern professions and occupation structures and to modern personalities, he convinces himself that there is no specific politics of the modern and hence he cannot capture the drama of changing times. In short, in the mindscape of Dev Anand, the world is timeless and eternal; it only changes on the surface. Such a belief system has been his failing as much as it was his success in the 1950’s.

Popular art uses the politics of its age in order to project the victories of the present power struggle as an eternal state, and this is the utopia into which the popular must escape into. Successful films are sensitive to the specific contradictions of their age but also clever enough to use narrative strategies and cinematic techniques to project such conflicts as an eternal truth when resolved in favour of the protagonist. The problem with Dev Anand is that while he very successfully pursued the utopia, he missed the trees for the wood because he was unable to address the conflicts and contradictions that emerged in a variety of ways over the past 60 years of Navketan’s existence. Is there a sociological reason for this? Yes, perhaps there is and my surmise is as follows.

We have to understand the politics of the Hindi cinema in terms of its basic ideological and political agenda which is intricately located in its history. The Hindi commercial cinema in particular and the Indian popular film in general were products of the new middle class intelligentsia that saw itself as the leader of the Freedom Struggle and as creators of new India. The Indian Constitution was considered as the ideal state of affairs and the cinema was supposed to imagine this idyllic state. For Dev Anand, since the idea of the ideal did not change, he felt no need to change cinema. What he missed out on was how changes of everyday life postponed the attainment of the ideal and therefore, what his cinema subsequently missed was an understanding of the concrete and temporal reality.

But what Dev Anand brought to Hindi cinema is perhaps no less than Phalke himself because his works marked out much of what cinema looks like today. If the Hindi film is formulaic, then it was none other than Dev Anand who had much to do with the setting out of this formula. Dev Anand had himself selected four of his films that showcased what he is all about – Hum Dono, Baazi, Guide and Taxi Driver. All his creations are variations of these four films. Of these, Guide is in colour and Hum Dono, an original black and white film has been rendered into colour. In the course of his ruminations about himself and his work, Dev Anand said that when he closed his eyes he sees black and then slowly the darkness emits strong light, the cinema. His cinematic images are thus not out there but those that reveal themselves from the background of nothingness. No wonder he has excelled in the black and white with strong images that are not contrasts of darkness against light but aporia of light through darkness. Hence his images and montages illuminate to reveal themselves. No wonder then Dev Anand films have dealt so much with mysterious happenings in our society in which the rich and the powerful are the villains. Further, if the rich man happens to be the father of the girl the hero loves then the former would have to be the villain. In this essay we will discuss Baazi and address through an analysis of the film how and why Navketan has played a central role in the formalization of the Hindi film

In a Dev Anand film, the hero is an underdog as always is the case but he is innocent, very often, innocent of what is the good and the bad. In this innocence he makes some “mistakes” that in today’s world would be considered as grave and unpardonable. For instance, he teases a well-meaning woman doctor, sneering at her generosity in running a free clinic and also for her being beautiful and professionally qualified and also for being the daughter of a rich man. There is vigilantism, depravity and above all bad taste in this depiction of the ideal male. Though the hero says later in the course of the narrative that he had misbehaved and was indeed sorry but the depiction of the bad behaviour was depicted as being suave and smart. The director, writer and of course the actor all of who had arrived at a consensus in creating the hero persona revealed to almost similar levels contempt not only for the female in the public space of a knowledge based profession but elevated the hero who had the “guts” to hurt a woman, pure in her intentions and untrammeled by poverty because of her riches. Dev Anand’s depiction of the ideal male thus attacks the women folk of the privileged in order to make his point against poverty. He establishes social envy of the have-nots through contempt for the haves by harassing, insulting and sometimes to the extent of emotionally violating their women.

Baazi is one of the central films of Navketan. Guru Dutt has directed the film, Balraj Sahni has written the script and Dev Anand plays the main protagonist. The hero is an underdog, a taxi driver by profession who falls in love with a rich, educated doctor, the only daughter of a rich lawyer. Romance is not the main story though it is the peg on which the tale hangs. The main story is that of the protagonist, the trials and tribulations he faces as he tries to manage a “normal life” through poverty. The idea of a “normal” life is the bond between a brother and a sister, the brother who looks after the sister and be with her through thick and thin. The image of the hero is therefore the protector brother, who can go to any extent in order to sacrifice for the sister. In Baazi, the sister is ill and the brother enters into the world of crime in order to be able to meet the expenses for his sister’s medical treatment. But that is too little and he has to go in search of a doctor who treats poor patients free of cost. But as soon as he encounters the heroine, who will eventually be the hero’s beau, he forgets about the sister and looking at this educated, beautiful, rich man’s daughter who dedicates her life to persons like he, the hero’s ego is ruffled and in a bid to cover up his own feelings of inadequacy in front of such a perfect picture tries to tease her, sabotage her efforts, insult her and destroy her confidence in every possible manner. Despite such insults, for being very capable and yet charitable, the doctor, played by Kamini Kaushal comes on her own to treat the sister. The hero feels even more humiliated at her kindness because he can, in no way match up to her. He calms down manageably when the heroine falls head over heels in love with him perhaps for his excellent looks and smart demeanor. Dev Anand helped his viewers to place a lot of value on appearance and style and in a way quite convinced his viewers that good looks could launch one anywhere in the world.

The hero of course would never imagine taking any help from a “woman” and especially as the woman has already fallen in love with him. The sister talks of the doctor as her “bhabi” and in this sense there is a possibility of marriage between the hero and the heroine and hence the hero, keeping to the social convention that the man must earn more and become the provider of women, proceeds to become an even larger gambler that what any gambler can possibly be. It is at the gambling den that he meets the vamp, who too falls in love with the hero instantly and later, also sacrifices her life for him. The Paro-Devdas-Chandramukhi triad is achieved, something that has been very central to the image of Dev Anand. The two women, one noble and one fallen both pine for the hero; the hero sets his own image vis-à-vis both women. Both women are well meaning and equally noble but they are set apart by the kind of choices they have. Rajni, the doctor can marry any well-qualified and well-settled man and yet chooses the taxi driver, our hero. Nina, the bar dancer can marry any rich man yet she chooses the hero. The hero passes tests in both worlds and thus, in the eyes of the viewer emerges a winner among all kinds of men at all available to women of any kind. Dev Anand, through two women set widely apart in the society, exhausts the social space as the best man who ever walked the earth. The principal narrative function of two women is to help the hero pass tests as the best man.

As the hero earns enough money to pay for his sister’s treatment and hence he is free of the heroine’s charity, he gains in confidence and starts meeting Rajni openly and soon attracts the ire of Rajni’s father. One day when on the way back from the sanatorium where the hero’s sister is admitted, the hero listens to Rajni and her father talking in the rear seat he immediately identifies the voice because as a taxi driver he is used to listening to people talking in the rear seat. The voice belongs to none other than the mysterious owner of the gambling den who people only heard but never saw. As he is about to spill the beans to the heroine, the father lays a trap for the hero and through unexpected turn of events, Nina is murdered trying to save the hero and the hero is charged with murder and sentenced to the gallows. The investigating police officer, the heroine’s childhood friend and presently head over heels in love with her was ill-disposed towards the hero but now rises to the occasion and investigates the matter. He proves that all evidences pointed out to the hero’s innocence but the hero, who the villain, the owner of the gambling den and Rajni’s father has threatened of dire consequences for the ailing sister refuses to budge from his confession to the crime. In the end, the police officer through his cunning extracts a confession from the villain and gets him and the accomplice arrested and the hero is let off scot free.

Nina, the ‘other woman’ dies sacrificing for the hero, which is, in the narrative, less of her loss and more of a gain for the hero. Since Nina is a fallen woman, death appeared to be her best option as she could not have possibly emerged into society. The vamp or the prostitute has always died for the hero because while they are used to portray the hero’s sexual powers and erotic charm, they are usually dispensed with because in genteel society such women have no place. But, in the film narrative, the best songs are sung through her and the songs “ tabdeer se mara hua taqdeer bana le, apne par bharosa hai to ek daun laga le” and “ samay guzarta jaye… so na na, kho na na” set the principles of the hero’s character. It is interesting as to why the vamp should articulate the basic principles of the hero’s character and his state of being and not the heroine.

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About secondsaturn

Independent Scholar. Thinker and not doer. Too lazy to succeed. Indifferent towards career. But pursues excellence.
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