Many of us new era Bollywood fans consider the trend of an actor turning into other avenues of filmmaking such as production or direction, to be a new thing; young and hip creative stars trying their hand in other avenues to explore their creativity beyond the camera. You know, cool guys like Farhan Akhtar and Joseph Gordon-Levitt.
But with every trend, there has to be a realization of what perpetuated it. And contemporary Bollywood fans need to revisit the Golden Era of Bollywood to discover an influencer filmmaker that is directly responsible for many of our cinematic experiences today.
So let's take a look at the late Dev Anand and his contribution to Indian Cinema.
'Evergreen'. Someone who retains their best qualities throughout a period of time, never wilting. The term is almost all too often thrown around to describe yesteryear celebrities. The true meaning of the word when it relates to an actor, refers to their ability to stay young, relevant and successful within the industry.
It is the most appropriate description for an icon such as Dev Anand, an actor whose career spanned 70 years, from the early days of the Indian Film Industry, during which time he paved the way for some ideas and people who have since changed the landscape of the Indian Industry, and whose contributions still influence Bollywood today.
When most casual Bollywood audiences think of Dev Anand, they're thinking of that young actor with a quivering voice who used to express himself through his hands and a coy nodding of his head; known most notably during those soulful songs that our parents watched. Such an animated style of expression was so popular, that it became a trademark for the actor. So much so, that it's often been imitated as a method of depicting a care-free character, devoid of the insecurities of the common man. A character of confidence and swagger that oozes charm and appeal.
Given that air of importance and self indulgence, Dev Anand was often compared to his Hollywood counter part Gregory Peck; a comparison he wasn't too fond of himself.
So while those mannerisms are what made Dev Anand memorable and popular among the masses, few seem to remember the intense and dramatic leading man who has succeeded in every aspect of filmmaking, arguably more so than any of his contemporaries in the same industry.
Aspiring to be an actor, after being influenced by an actor himself, Dev Anand's first film came in 1946 with 'Hum Ek Hain'; a socially relevant love story between a Hindu man and a Muslim woman. His first film can also be attributed to the kind that Anand himself would have an interest in during his career, not only as an actor, but also as a filmmaker whose work touched upon various facets of social issues and topics that raises awareness of important subjects crucial to the cultural trends of the time.
This film is also when Anand made some crucial friendship with Guru Dutt that would prove to be quite significant to his career.
After his first break, Anand was offered many roles as the male lead opposite Suraiya, a more established actress at the time. This period of Dev Anand's life proved to be very significant for both his professional and personal life. While he established himself as a credible actor capable of holding his own, sharing the same screen space with veterans, the two actors also became involved in a sort of clandestine relationship. While the relationship didn't work out, working with Suraiya caused Anand to acquire some detractors, who assumed that he was riding her coatails. This gave Anand something to prove.
If hearing of Dev Anand's life so far sounds familiar, it's because it's a story we've heard many times. The legendary filmmaker's early career sounds almost like that of a Bollywood movie in and of itself. A bright eyed boy falling in love with his more established co-star, only for it to end in heartbreak, fuelling his ambition to become more successful in his chosen profession; a story straight out of the silver screen! And that's exactly what Anand did.
Wanting to prove himself to critics, Anand was offered and acted in his first commercial success in 'Ziddi' in 1948. 'Ziddi' would be supremely significant in Anand's career, as being the first movie to solidify his commercial viability as an actor in the industry, but also due to his relationship with another would-be legend, Kishore Kumar.
With only 3 films under his belt, Dev Anand decided to do something that even most new comer actors don't do today within Bollywood; open his own production house. To this day, Nivketan Films remains one the most influential film studios in the Indian Industry, not because of its current operations, but because of the talent that walked through its doors, and eventually became major forces in Bollywood.
Dev Anand the actor had successful movies in every decade of Bollywood, almost from its early years, all the way as recent as 2011. While I always proclaim that Akshay Kumar is the only actor in the industry now who walks the fine line between commercial and substance driven art house films, it was Anand who can be considered a pioneer for that type of multi tasking. His commercial successes like 'Guide' (1965) and 'Tere Ghar Ke Samne' (1963) painted Anand as the romantic leading hero image that most people today associate with him. However, Anand acted in quite possibly the most varied genres of films in just as many varied roles with thrillers like 'Kala Bazar' (1960) and 'Jaal' (1952), playing anti-heroes and characters with many shades of grey.
"The only film I signed without reading the script was 'Awwal Number' ... I am grateful to have worked with such a cinematic legend."
-- Aamir Khan
Despite being known only as a chocolate hero, Dev Anand's contribution to the Indian Film Industry is undeniable. Through his friendships, discoveries, innovation and most notably his film studio of Nivketan Films, Anand has been directly responsible for the launch and success of some of the biggest names in the Indian Film Industry, the legacy of whom still has an impact on the industry today.
Working together as their acting debuts in 'Hum Ek Hain', Anand befriended then-actor Guru Dutt, who both agreed to cast each other in their directorial ventures. Guru Dutt then went on in his career to become one of India's revolutionary filmmakers, both technically and from an artistic perspective.
It was also in the Dev Anand starrer 'Ziddi' where the first ever song featuring playback singers Kishore Kumar & Lata Mangeshkar was recorded. Since then, the singers have been featured in almost all of Anand's films for the next 40 years. Dev Anand's elevation of musical talent doesn't end there, as he closely worked with Rahul Dev Burman for many of his films, and the late R. D. Burman (as is he is more commonly known) is now considered to be one of the greatest music composers of Indian Films.
Anand also helped bring Burman's son, S. D. Burman to the forefront as well, carrying on his father's legacy. Anand is also credited with encouraging Rajesh Roshan, who has since gone onto compose the songs of films like the 'Krrish' franchise.
In starring roles, Anand discovered talented yesterday actresses like Zeenat Aman and Tina Munim, who went on to become famed actresses in the Industry with Aman becoming an icon in her own right. While other actresses were catapulted to fame after starring roles in Dev Anand films like Waheeda Rehman & Hema Malini. ('Sholay')
Other actors that contribute their big break to Dev Anand are Jackie Shroff, ('Parinda', which I discuss extensively on my Podcast) and Shatrugan Sinha. (father of Sonakshi Sinha) Anand's Nivketan Films was also the proving grounds for many other filmmakers like Guru Dutt, who have since carved out iconic statuses of their own, within multiple film industries all over the world.
Yash Johar, founder of Dharma Productions, started out as an uncredited actor in Anand's 'Guide', graduating to Production Controller in his other films like 'Prem Pujari' and 'Jewel Thief'. Since his death, Dharma Productions is now the same studios responsible for films like 'Ae Dil Hai Mushkil', 'Dear Zindagi', 'Kapoor & Sons' and is now considered one of the major production companies of the Indian Film Industry.
Another famous director who has since gone on to make films exclusively in Hollywood, is Shekhar Kapur, nephew of Dev Anand himself, who got his start also under Nivketan Films. Kapur has since gone onto director Hollywood films such as 'Elizabeth' and 'Four Feathers'.
While at first glance, Dev Anand is most memorable as the high stylized pretty boy of Bollywood from the 60's, the reality of the man himself is far deeper than that. The larger picture of his contribution as an actor, writer, producer, and director is overwhelming when trying to contextualize for today's Bollywood generation.
However, one thing is undeniable; Dev Anand's ambition and talent in every facet of filmmaker has definitely shaped the Bollywood that exists today.