From Byword- India Today (December 9)
Dev Anand hated death as intensely as he loathed the consequences of time. Age itself was an unbearable coffin; and in some unfathomable way he believed that death could be postponed indefinitely. He thought of death as some kind of personal defeat, and defeat did not enter his vocabulary. He might falter, but never fail. For a six-decade superstar life does not imitate art so much as become an art form.
His movies always had a happy ending, and there was no way he was going to deny himself the same privilege off screen. He was not quite a Peter Pan, the child who froze time, but he remained rooted in his Twenties, unable or unwilling to step beyond a bracket that distilled the exuberance of existence into love, sex, success and adulation.
But a body does not have the flexibility of the imagination, and Dev Anand chose to wrap his neck in flowing scarves to curtain the tell-tale desolation of skin stretching away from flesh. He could hardly hide his face, but a miracle occurred each time I met him. The years visibly peeled off, through his eyes, driven out gradual layer by layer by the dazzle of his smile and the mystique of memory as conversation crept inevitably back into the past. There was nowhere else to go. The past was the only golden age, and if gold needed constant burnishing to glisten, it would get all the massage it required. In that exultant narrative, Dev Anand was both his name, a God of Joy, as well as Kama Dev, God of Love; the two were indistinguishable.
The one startling variation in a resplendent career was Guide. The film had very little to do with its origins in R.K. Narayan's book; Dev and his brilliant younger brother Vijay, who directed the best of Dev's oeuvre, threw it out of the window and made their own movie. Guide's Rosie, played exquisitely by Waheeda Rehman, was not mere rebellion, but a revolution that injected gender independence into the consciousness of an India still wandering through the fog of social norms.
Guide is also the only film in which Dev Anand dies. But this death was a strategic manoeuvre. He resurrects triumphantly as eternal truth, beyond the tragedy of time. No ghost has ever been so handsome.
While Dilip Kumar made a lachrymose fortune as part of his public persona obligations, and Raj Kapoor evolved from saving his trousers in Awara to saving the nation in Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai, Dev Anand stayed faithful to an insouciant street smile, whether in Baazi's cheap gambling dens, or amid diamonds in Jewel Thief. He seemed ambivalent about smart theft; his loyalties were securely with law and order, but there was always a faint suggestion that his heart belonged to the panache of sophisticated crime.
Dev Anand was 42 when Guide was released in 1965. He solved his unacknowledged midlife crisis with style. He created the 1960s look with a sequence of memorable hits: Kala Bazar, Hum Dono, Bombai ka Babu, Asli Naqli, Tere Ghar ke Saamne, Guide, Jewel Thief, Johny Mera Naam, Tere Mere Sapne and Hare Rama Hare Krishna. He was the Sixties. His high collar shirts, exotic hats and ankle-length corduroys ended the baggies era. His heroines were a cast from heaven: Waheeda Rehman, Nanda, Sadhana, Suchitra Sen, Nutan, Vyajayantimala, Hema Malini and finally the only woman who broke his heart because she went over to Raj Kapoor for a role in Satyam Shivam Sundaram, Zeenat Aman. As he grew older, his girlfriends became younger. He had broken so many hearts it was but fair that someone should break his at least once.
When history is written, as it should be, the tipping point will be a subject of legitimate debate. When did the decline begin? His hand, it is true, began to go limp from the wrist in Kala Bazar (1960), but that remained no more than a personal oddity even when his pistol in Jewel Thief notoriously pointed 45 degrees south instead of straight at villains. The ebb began with Gambler, offered to a shocked public in 1971: Dev Anand had a straight handlebar moustache that Groucho Marx would have shunned. The icon of charisma had lost it. By the 1980s his films were nothing more than a tawdry list of embarrassments. But, to use a phrase that has never seemed more appropriate, it was "Never say die".
Dev Anand had the rare ability to make a stranger seem a friend, and a friend feel irreplaceable. Anyone who entered his aura returned with at least an anecdote. Alas, now that there is no one to contradict them, stories about personal encounters with Dev Anand will both magnify and multiply. But that is how a life becomes a legend.