24 October 2007

Romancing With Life, an autobiography















A Guide to self-love

Author: Dev Anand
Pages: 417
Publisher: Penguin
Published in: 2007

Love or hate this book by Dev Anand but if there's one thing going for it, it is the fact that, unlike most autobiographies that are ghost-written, this one is, without a shred of doubt, penned by the man himself.
How else do you explain the fact that the book has the exact trajectory for his career-- from delightful to delusional?
The fun part of this book is that it doesn't necessarily require you to read it in sequence. I for one, was quickly drawn to pages in the middle where he talks about how he fell in love his protegee Zeenat Aman and was jealous when Raj Kapoor 'made advances' and took her on for Satyam Shivam Sundaram. He says, "A hint of suspicion crossed my mind. A couple of days earlier, a rumour had been floating around that Zeenat had gone to Raj's studio for a screen test for the main role in his movie. The hearsay now started ringing true. My heart was bleeding."
Another part that I noticed while I was browsing it and stayed to read, was the phone call that the actor made to writer R K Narayan, requesting the rights to make The Guide, which eventually ofcourse, turned out to be one of the highlights in the actor's career.

Clearly, the first 200 pages or so of this book are extremely readable and abound in many interesting anecdotes. From his intense love story with Suraiya to his enchanting bicycle rides with Guru Dutt in the serene lanes of Pune (then Poona), from his guilt at driving rashily and hurting co-star Geeta Bali to his child-like excitement at creating avant garde cinema with his charismatic elder brother, Chetan Anand....all of it points towards a man deeply romantic, eternally optimistic, with an insatiable desire to be loved and lusted after.

In many ways, Dev Anand's nervous energy and creative longing to break free from established cinematic norms perfectly reflected the zeitgeist of the 50s and 60s, a period that was looking pregnant with possibilities.

That he had an exaggerated sense of himself and his works even at the height of his stardom is quite obvious. But to give him his due, his passion for cinema mixed a perilous streak for taking risks is what gave him an edge as an actor and producer. Additionally, Dev Anand was blessed to have two phenomenally talented filmmakers as his brothers.

Understandably, Dev Anand talks with great enthusiasm and pride about his milestone, Guide, a film which, he says, everyone thought would come to a big naught. But the actor chose to go ahead in a reckless spirit of creative revelation and the results were there to see.

Undoubtedly, these were the best years of the actor's career and somehow, the honeymoon for the book pretty ends here too.
Yes, it's passable till the point the actor talks about Zeenat, Tina Munim ('naughty, mischievous and frivolous')and his ventures like Hare Rama Hare Krishna (inspired from the hippie culture he saw in Nepal), Ishq Ishq Ishq ('my biggest disaster...but an inspiring, exhilarating experience'). Here, I must add that the actor's penchant for travel allows him to come up with some inspired pieces of writing now and then.
While it's amply clear that Dev Anand's career was fast fading even as a filmmaker by the 80s, the actor isn't willing to entertain these thoughts, in the firm belief that he is still considered God by fans.
Given that the actor is a true blue Libran, a perennial optimistic, who has preferred to see the brighter side of life, this could be viewed in a more compassionate light.
And mind you, it is this very trait that allowed him to tide over several disappointments. Even in the chapter where he describes his searing hurt at Zeenat opting for Raj Kapoor, there is no element of malaise and the actor always ends it on a positive note.
Dev Anand chooses to gloss over his failures and over highlight the achievements, but that is exactly how the actor has led his life.

However, even with this consideration, it's difficult not to be amused by some of the claims he makes. He calls his film, Awwal Number with Aamir Khan as 'ahead of its times' and that it 'found a resonance later in Lagaan'!
Similarly, he's taken in by a supposed comment by someone that India should have chosen his film Censor, as it's entry for the Oscars. He also prefers to defend all his duds (even horrible ones like Gangster and Main Sola Baras Ki), using the convenient excuse that the quality of a film has nothing to do with its boxoffice fate.

But these irritations are minor when you compare it to the actor's incorrigible obsession with nymphets. Without any exaggeration, every second page has a description of a nameless woman who delighted him in some part of the world. He even tries to do a Mills & Boons writing a sexual encounter with a young woman.

Disappointingly, the actor prefers to focus on the likes of his discoveries(?) like Mint and some others of her like, rather than talk a little more about his leading co-stars like Hema Malini, Asha Parekh, Sadhana etc.
There are no great revelations here (In fact, Dev Anand doesn't even reveal his age anytime in the book once he turns 31!) but the autobiography does well to provide a portrait of a man, hopelessly in love with himself and derived his strength from it.
The book is recommended for the wonderful references it brings forth, right from politics to world cinema. The last few pages are especially painful and a film buff is most likely to scoff at it.
Yet, it has its moments, particularly parts that depict the efflorescence of one of Hindi cinema’s most charming actors.

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