Romancing with Life

21 Aug

Nothing can quite prepare you for Romancing with Life, Dev Anand’s autobiography. All the reviews, the excerpts, the interviews, the soundbytes – all of it, including this post, becomes ultimately comparable to describing a rainbow for a blind man.

Consider this: At the very outset of this rather blog-style narrative, he tells you that his ultimate aim in writing his memoirs is to reduce the reader to a state of complete adoration for him, The Star. Anything else, he informs us, wouldn’t be worth his time and effort or befit his status as the beloved of millions. He then proceeds to dole out (sometimes graphic) anecdotes about his sexual exploits with married women, his own adulterous affairs, his jealousies, his despondencies, his vague spiritual flights of fancy (if you’ve seen Guide, you know what it is), and a laundry list of people he’s met in all the places he’s been. All of which make it increasingly difficult for you to feel anything even resembling the blatant adoration that he feels is his due.

Occasionally he writes of little incidents that have could possibly have been heartwarming in the right hands like the time his daughter cut her hand and he took her to the doctor in tears – once the trauma is over and the screaming little baby is all stitched up and soothed, she automatically sticks her thumb in her mouth. But after informing us in great detail about his suffering over her pain, he ends the little tale with the information that he later made Zeenat Aman (or rather the child who played the younger Zeenie) suck her thumb in Hare Rama Hare Krishna. The audience quite liked it, he assures us.

There are quite a few anecdotes like this one – the one in which he begins Navketan Films for the sake of his brother Chetan Anand is another one that sticks in my mind – but they all wind up making you grateful that you weren’t the recipient of his magnanimity. For instance, by the time we learn, rather early on, that Chetan repaid his younger brother’s magnanimity by eventually looking at him as the problem not the solution, you can’t help but feel there must have been something to it for Dev is already beginning to sound like a man you would rather not be indebted to – not because he’s a monster but because he wouldn’t understand that his idea of a kindness and yours might be considerably different.

But these are secondary things, as are his memories of his various colleagues and the films he made. The main theme of this book is Dev Anand’s love life, forever chased by a horde of panty-flinging women everywhere he goes.

It starts early on, as we meet a young, shy, and beautiful Dev, much cosseted by his family, a bit of a Peeping Tom and tortured by his unrequited love for the prettiest and smartest girl in his class who doesn’t even know he’s alive. Instead, he’s relentlessly pursued by another girl for whom he has no use – she’s “dark-skinned” and “smell[ed] of sex” and likes to chase him into secluded corners where she can plant one on his unwilling lips. I might have felt bad for him if he hadn’t all but drawn a diagram of a boner on the page with a neon arrow pointing to it.

The older Dev, according to his autobiography, is still shy and beautiful. However, we don’t see any of that shyness once he starts fooling around with (mostly married) women. The more successful he becomes, the greater the frenzy amongst women for a little taste of him. They throng around him, demand to act opposite him, kiss him, giggle at his jokes, exchange a great deal of tedious (and tediously recorded) banter and occasionally sleep with him until pesky things like husbands and children interfere.

I felt uncomfortable precisely twice – once when he described his first extended sexual encounter up to and including oral sex (my eyes!! my eyes!!) and secondly when he described his “courtship” of his wife Kalpana Karthik a.k.a. Mona. The way he describes the latter leaves the impression that Mona, dazzled by all the shiny toys he owned, pretty much begged him to marry her while he used her to get out a deep funk that was interfering with his work and life, getting stuck in the relationship before he could figure out a graceful way to end things in the absence of a waiting husband and pitiful children wailing for mommy at home.

The payoff for it, as far as I’m concerned, comes in an incredibly funny sequence towards the end of the book when Mona finds an injured Dev lying in bed studying some “sexy” blow ups of Richa Sharma, the future Mrs. Sanjay Dutt (although none of them knew it at the time) whom he first meets as a winsome 13 year old wannabe actress whom he invites into his hotel room in New York. Glaring at him without a word, Mona gathers up the photos and spitefully puts them where he can’t reach them with his broken ribs in a cast. Which makes him mutter to himself, “Why you gotta do me like this woman? Didn’t I always come home at the end of the day and sleep in my own bed?” I paraphrase. And then he painfully drags himself out of his bed, gets the pictures, triumphantly pores over them and hides them away in his bedside drawer where no one else could get at them.

Thus, it’s perhaps predictable that the only two times he ever actively pursues a woman (we’ll skate over his man-crush on Jawaharlal Nehru), it’s both tragic and unintentionally hilarious.

They’re falling in love right there!

The first is Suraiya, who wins his heart at the first meeting by carefully refraining from disturbing his puff (that thing on the front of his head? It’s known as the puff. So now you know). He rewards her by bestowing a fond nickname on her – “Nosey” because her only “defect” is her long nose – and soon he’s channeling Barbara Cartland. I’m not kidding. If you ever read Cartland’s description of an orgasm, then you’ll know how Dev Anand thinks of cuddling his chaste beloved. However, Suraiyya’s grandmother, whom he hilariously calls “granny” throughout the episode, wasn’t about to let her little baby marry some Hindu with a puff in his hair and Suraiyya was convinced to throw her feelings for him along with his very expensive ring into the sea. She never married and he rebounded with Mona. The (miserable) end.

Where are the rustic boobies?

The second was Zeenat Aman whom he impressed by bumming a cigarette from her so he could blow smoke in her face. Once she was dazed by it, he dragged her off to Nepal to watch Mumtaz act so she’d know what to do in front of the camera and hey presto! Hare Krishna Hare Rama was made. Once that got over, he took her to South India, stuck her in a bikini, posed her in a hammock, rescued his fly away cap from the “bulging breasts” of some village belle surprised to see what a freak dust storm had blown her way… and just when he was about to declare his love for her, went to a party and found a bloated, drunken Raj Kapoor discreetly feeling her up. “Humiliated”, he went back home and tried to think happy thoughts.

I think I’m supposed to feel bad for him but I couldn’t really concentrate with my skin crawling at the thought of that scene – the young sexy woman and the two old men jousting over her. It’s nothing I didn’t know before, but it’s still creepy as all hell.

And yet… in the middle of all this there is a note of sincerity and honesty. He has nothing but praise for his contemporaries, especially Dilip Kumar and Ashok Kumar, the man he calls his idol. It’s true he gives them about as much space in the book as some random pretty girl who blows him a kiss on the street but I believe him when he says he cared/cares for them, as well as Kishore Kumar and Guru Dutt, a great deal.

Generally speaking, Indian movie stars simply don’t do things of this sort (for good reason it turns out) but not only do I think Dev Anand wrote this book on his own but I think he made a conscious effort to be as frank as he could be.

The oddities of this book emanate from its author, for it becomes increasingly clear that over the past sixty years or so Dev Anand has devoted himself to his image as a movie star to such an extent that it’s managed to completely imprison him. There is always an unconscious whiff of a man who has spent a great deal of his time in front of a mirror trying to divine what it is that others see in him, and not being able to spot it himself, has arrived at his own (inaccurate) conclusions.

He wears a hat and dangles his “goggles” because he thinks of them as a sort of calling card, a part of his silhouette that announces to the world “Here Stands Dev Anand, Movie Star”; he nods his head and smiles a special smile for special people that he’s convinced is his “most charming smile”; he believes in the infallibility of his cinematic taste where every failure at the box office is the fault of the little people who lag behind his own exquisite sensibility; and lacking any real demons to fight, he gives a splendid speech highlighting his unique position in the film industry to a flummoxed set of film association people who didn’t appreciate his sticking up for the media at a time when they’d all decided to boycott what they called its yellow journalism.

As I reached the end of the book, I was about as far away from adoration as you could get. But what I did want to do, was take him by the hand and tell him it’s okay – he’ll always be Dev Anand even if he loses the scarf and the goggles and doesn’t nod his head… or chat up women young enough to be his granddaughter.


Posted by on August 21, 2008 in Books, Celebrity, Entertainment, Review


Tags: , , , , , ,

27 responses to “Romancing with Life

  1. Pitu

    August 21, 2008 at 4:13 pm

    HAHAHAHA!!!!!! Fab write-up. Dude, I actually laughed out loud and I’m at work! This is hysterical. I need to read this crazy book!! Where didjoo get this drivel?

  2. OrangeJammies

    August 21, 2008 at 4:38 pm

    Applause!!! You managed to *get through* the book. Or didn’t you notice? 😉

  3. S

    August 21, 2008 at 4:49 pm

    The man appears to be slightly delusional, thats abt it.

  4. ana

    August 21, 2008 at 7:37 pm

    😀 Why doesn’t any of this surprise me? I think I will pass on the evergreen Dev, and stick with Peter O’Toole and Tony Curtis. (whose names i picked on purpose – rhyme, yeah)

  5. Rada

    August 22, 2008 at 5:13 am

    Not surprised by what you are telling us.

    Have you watched any of Dev Anand’s TV interviews? Don’t. The man is so full of himself, you will switch off the TV in less than a minute, I assure you!

  6. pitu

    August 22, 2008 at 8:06 am

    Actually, it’s funny that stars of that era were so open and unapologetic abt their promiscuous lives whereas stars today try v hard to sweep all that under the rug. Why only Dev Anand, I’ve heard and read numerous accounts of Raj Kapoor and Shammi Kapoor, both of whom seem to have been very active in their bedroom pursuits..

  7. memsaab

    August 22, 2008 at 10:24 am

    I think you have written THE perfect review of this book. I couldn’t even begin to try once I’d read it. I felt…just…bemused, befuddled, and the mixture of pity and “ewwwww” it engendered I could not even describe.

    But you have! Thanks 🙂

  8. memsaab

    August 22, 2008 at 10:27 am

    One more thing: at the beginning he says that people have accused him of narcissism and that he doesn’t believe he’s narcissistic—and then he writes THE MOST narcissistic book about THE MOST narcissistic life any psychiatrist could ever dream up!


  9. M

    August 22, 2008 at 10:39 am


    the book sounds a hoot! Is it available in the US?
    I caught an interview of his on TV Asia – yup – full blown narcissism! He even insisted the he didn’t copy the puff from Gregory Peck, and that he thought of it himself!

    Poor Zeenie – she seems to have really got the short end of the stick in Bollywood…the Kapoor family’s amorous/lecherous tendencies are well known, yes, but it is still quite eww-making to read about them in detail!


  10. Pitu

    August 22, 2008 at 10:53 am

    M- Parveen Babi too..

  11. Amrita

    August 22, 2008 at 2:57 pm

    Pitu – It was lent to me by a very nice auntie who thought I’d enjoy it. I don’t know if I want to ask her if she’s actually read the damn thing. Re: them being more open, I think it was because they didn’t have the kind of press they have today. If Aaj Tak was reading boatloads of meaning into every lift of their eyebrow I wonder how they’d have taken it. But more than that, they were oddly sophisticated about certain things – all of them sound horribly conservative at home but it’s like once they were amongst the other film folk, the gloves came off and everything went.

    OJ – I can get through anything if it’s written down! Sometimes I’m stuck in hotel rooms without anything to read so I read the room service menu with my chai.

    S – a little bit more than slightly. Sometime I think he recognizes it, sometimes I think he has no idea.

    Ana – the info isn’t what surprises you, it’s the bloody book. It’s … an experience.

    Rada – I saw one thing with Simi Garewal which was interspersed with lines from his songs (like this book, incidentally – yes, his OWN songs are the soundtrack to his life) and it was absolutely hysterical. He out-Simi-ed Simi.

    Memsaab – awww, thank you – I had to work at this thing. It was so easy to just slip into poking fun at him. And yes, omg, lol, I remember the narcissism thing. The odd thing about him is sometimes he’ll say something like how exxagerated his accent was in Hum Dono and sounds absolutely cognizant of the fact that he’s horridly narcissistic but excuses it on the grounds that he owes it to himself – and the very next instant its like he has no clue.

    M – My copy is loaner but I believe you can get a copy on Amazon. I’m just glad he didn’t accuse Gregory Peck of copying it from him 😀 There’s this absolutely marvelous pic inside of him standing next to Peck and the poor man looks like he’s certain he’s going to end up like the bunny rabbit in Fatal Attraction.
    The thought of both Zeenie and Parveen and the total bastards they attracted makes me depressed.

  12. karan j

    August 22, 2008 at 5:15 pm

    great comments- the only comment i have – like everyone he has his weaknesses -shortfalls- and a more than normal high ego-but had you ever dealt with him for any business/personal need you would vouch for his honesty and simplicity- i have and although i hate his artificial screen persona- his shoddy/ludicrous movies- I sill say the man is a gem- a perfect gentleman and down to earth simple in real life.

  13. bollyviewer

    August 22, 2008 at 5:27 pm

    The Chronicles of Narcissus in his own words! I have to get hold of this book even though it appears from Memsaab’s comment that the book isnt as funny as your write-up makes it sound! 😀

  14. dipali

    August 22, 2008 at 9:46 pm

    Ooops- I’d borrowed this from my library and gave up after the first few chapters. I suppose I would finish it if I had absolutely nothing better to read than a telephone directory. Did you see the CD that came along with the book? The man’s narcissism and high self-esteem are both amazing. I do admire his spirit:)

  15. ana

    August 22, 2008 at 10:10 pm

    I think I know something of the “experience”, rather than the “non-surprise” in reading the autobiography of one of my favorite musicians, Miles Davis. There was something rather narcissistic and ugh! about his exploits as well. . .

  16. Sachita

    August 23, 2008 at 2:20 am

    oh no, I meant it in a sarcastic. Clearly that man is a whacko and I should not attempt sarcasm in the future.

    You know the sad thing, I had some sort of liking for this guy, watched guide and have heard ” abhi naa jao chood ke” – uncountable times. Now, I doubt I can recall these without recalling his delusional existence.

  17. Pitu

    August 23, 2008 at 11:08 am

    Actually his annoying behavior off-screen does nothing to lessen my enjoyment of his movies. Hum Dono is one of my fave movies as is Guide and he was FAB in both. He acted well and in some of his older movies he had the sort of wink wink nudge nudge sex appeal I love. I always preferred him to roti shakkal Dilip Kumar although Dilip Kumar in real life seems like a nice, normal person.

  18. memsaab

    August 23, 2008 at 12:28 pm

    @ Bollyviewer—it is well worth reading esp. for a fan of old films like you. It’s great insight into his world and his mind…also he does tell some good stories along with the TMI.

    And despite this somewhat disturbing autobiography, I do love his early movies too, along with the ones he made with Goldie.

  19. Amey

    August 24, 2008 at 4:00 pm

    Goes right to the bottom of my “Don’t even try” list… Somehow I feel I am not going to watch any of his (old, needles to say) movies without remembering this.

  20. Kanan

    August 24, 2008 at 8:59 pm

    sick sick sick.
    ugh! I won’t even attempt to get my hands on that book. Not a big fan of his movies either. Don’t know what people went gaga over with that scarf and chex shirts he wore. I like so many other Bollywood men better than him.
    For some reason I don’t find these men good looking or appealing who show no respect to women either on screen or off screen. Weirdos!
    Thanks for the review, Amrita.

  21. Pitu

    August 25, 2008 at 12:33 pm

    Oh but Kanan he was so cute in Hum Dono and Teen Deviyaan 😦 And he was very respectful and sweet towards his heroines on-screen. Really. You shd see him with Madhubala in Kalapani- so cute!

  22. Amrita

    August 25, 2008 at 1:38 pm

    Karan j – down to earth simple might be stretching it but he doesn’t seem to be malicious the way some others in his line of work can be.

    Bollyvier – It all depends on your mood. I thought it was hysterical, then I thought it was sad. But the prose is kind of wretched.

    Dipali – no 😦 my copy arrived DVD-less. Did it contain home movies? 😀

    Ana – try Dizzy Gillespie’s autobiography. It’s great.

    Sachita / Amey / Kanan / Pitu – Awwww, see, I’m with Pitu, I don’t care how much of a weirdo he is, his b&w movies and selected color movies were fantastic. And I thoroughly enjoyed them. Esp because unlike Raj Kapoor’s movies,. he had the same high level of writing (I’m talking of both their early periods. Bhagwan bachaye from their later work) without bundling it with a “message”. Some of Raj’s messages made me want to blow a blood vessel. But Dev was always entertaining.

    Memsaab – The thing that really disappointed me about this book was how little he concentrated on the movie making aspect of it. There’s no sense of history there except what little he throws in while mentioning XYZ person and his relationship to them. I’d have loved to have a sort of Bollywood history through the eyes of Dev Anand, a lot more than learn about his sexual prowess. Oh well.

  23. Pitu

    August 25, 2008 at 4:06 pm

    ok now I have a visual of a portly, chaar bachchon ka baap RK romancing a barely-dressed, nubile Zeenie aboard a cruiseship in Gopichand Jasoos. Gahhhh!

  24. Amey

    August 26, 2008 at 9:07 am

    Well, even if you like his movies, when you watch any of his movies next time, won’t your mind be going, “here’s the guy who wrote all that crazy stuff”.

    Then again, every time I see him in a song or something, my mind is going “Here’s the guy who created stuff like Mr. Prime Minister and Censor”, so I am not the best person to comment on Dev Anand 😉

  25. Amrita

    August 26, 2008 at 3:39 pm

    Pitu – yechhh! Or my favorite: Dream Girl where he’s a college boy romancing a teeny tiny pixie like Hema Malini. LMAO.

    Amey – oh no, I always think the worst of people in real life so whatever they do on screen is never affected by it. 😀 If I let myself think about Clark Gable running people over with his car and letting the studio hush it up or sleeping with married women or committing adultery or fathering children he never acknowledged because it would be bad for his image, I’d never watch at least three of my fave movies. The brighter the star, the more grime underneath, my friend.

  26. Pitu

    August 26, 2008 at 5:15 pm

    Clark Gable did wot? Noooooooo! Oh well, my two janejigar janemans are the bestest human beings so I will cling to them- Gregory Peck and Tom Hanks 😀

  27. dipali

    August 27, 2008 at 6:48 am

    The DVD had him tell us how great and beloved he was, and then there were some excerpts from his hit films. I don’t think you missed anything!

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