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25 September 2011

The Greats: Dev Anand

26.09.1923 - 03-12-2011
A man who truly knows how to live in the present, and work toward the future. Who, in his eighties, irrespective of hits, flops, criticism, even open laughter at his latest ventures, still finds the time, the energy and the inclination to make movies. Whose irrepressible indomitable spirit has probably never heard the word 'impossible', and who wouldn't know what to do with it, if he did. That is Devdutt Anand. Dapper, suave, handsome Dev Anand.

It is part of common lore now, of how an English (Honours) graduate from Lahore came to Bombay with stars in his eyes; how his big break came because his idol, Ashok Kumar, spotted him hanging around the studios (he had already acted in Hum Ek Hain and a couple of other movies by then), and signed him on to star in Ziddi (1948); how he fell in love with Suraiyya after saving her life in a boating accident during the shooting of Afsar (1949); his friendship with Guru Dutt and a pact that he honoured when he signed Dutt to direct Baazi (1951)...

Part of the troika that ruled over Hindi filmdom in the fifties and sixties, he was as different from Raj Kapoor and Dilip Kumar as chalk from cheese. Unlike the other two who could switch into dehati mode quite easily, and did so, in fact, many times in their career, Devsaab was at his best in an urban setting. He was the ultimate sophisticate; the natty dresser who managed to look polished even when he was scruffy. 

He hated his role in Insaniyat because he was uncomfortable with a moustache stuck to his face; he never signed any period film because he was uncomfortable in that milieu... he was never 'country bumpkin'; he was always city urchin if not the city sophisticate. He was lawyer, and architect, and police inspector when he was not being pickpocket, thief, and smuggler.

What also differentiated him from the other two was that he was attracted to, and tended to pick roles that had greyer shades than most. His 'heroes' were not heroic in the accepted sense of the word. They were not men who were pure and good and strong, and won over every life obstacle. His heroes were men - flawed, weak-willed, sometimes-going-with-the-flow, and sometimes totally bad ('Tony' in Jaal) men. And unlike today's heroes who play negative roles which are justified somehow in the last two reels, his heroes rarely had any backstories. Yes, circumstances may have turned him bad, but they were usually the result of his own choices. It was refreshing to say the least. 

While the latter part of his career has done nothing to increase his reputation as an actor, he has had very many excellent roles in his black and white avatar to be proud of. In fact, I would say that it is very easy to divide Dev Anand's career - his shwet-shyaam phase, where his directors (usually his brothers) mostly reined in his propensity to go over the top; and his rang-birangi  films, a majority of which were unbearable to watch, as the once nattily-dressed star gave way to his inner hippy and became more and more flamboyant, and dare I say, garish.

Yet, the man himself, is a joy to interact with - widely read, intelligent, with a sense of humour and rapier sharp wit. And not an ounce of charm has diminished over the years. Like fine wine, he has only improved with the keeping. He was, is, and will always be a gentleman in every sense of the word. 

So, here, on his 88th birthday, are some of the best performances (purely subjective) of one of my favourite actors, in no particular order. Happy Birthday, Devsaab...

1.Jaal (1952)
One of the fledgling Navketan banner’s earliest films -  they had struck an average, with their first film (Afsar) being a commercial loss while their second film Baazi (Guru Dutt’s big break) based on a script by Balraj Sahni was a stupendous hit. Set in a little fishing village in Goa, Jaal was unique in that it did not stereotype Christians, more specifically Anglo-Indians in either speech or behaviour.  Jaal saw Dev Anand play Tony, a bad coin through and through. A smuggling job gone wrong sees a young woman on the run from the police; helped by a young girl, Maria (Geeta Bali) selling fish with her partner, the woman hides the gold in her benefactor's garden. Tony (Dev Anand) needs to find a way to get it back, and hires himself out as Maria's helper. It does not take Maria long to fall in love with Tony; the young woman, his partner, is in love with him, herself, and reveals the truth about Tony. Still, Maria finds it hard to resist her attraction to the man. Tony has no saving graces; even his turnaround in the end is not his redemption because of his love for a 'good woman'; it just shows that everyone, however bad, has some kernel of good (sometime) in them. It was a role that was defined by shades of grey, and was a limited commercial success. However, it gave Dev Anand the courage to do roles like these again.

2. C.I.D (1956) 
Directed by Guru Dutt protege Raj Khosla, C.I.D was a stylish noir film, a part of the urban thrillers that Guru Dutt had made popular with Baazi and Jaal. Dev Anand played Inspector Shekhar, a C.I.D inspector investigating the death of a fearless newspaper editor. His investigations lead him to a very rich and influential man, Dharamdas (Bir Sakhuja). Unfortunately, Dharamdas' influence reaches farther than the reach of the law. Inspector Shekhar is framed for the murder of Sher Singh (Mehmood) and not even his superior officer (KN Singh) can save him. Soon, Shekhar is on the run and the only person who can help him is a mysterious woman, Kamini (Waheeda Rehman), whom Shekhar sees at the weirdest of places. Poor Shakila, ostensibly the heroine, was completely overshadowed by the vamp - Waheeda Rehman, in her stunning Hindi debut.

3. Kala Bazar (1960)
Another role with varying shades, Kala Bazar's Raghuvir (Dev Anand) is different from Jaal's Tony because Raghu is not inherently bad. Unemployed, and at his wits' end, he ends up becoming a blackmarketeer. Until one day, plying his trade outside the cinema halls, he hears a young woman excoriate her boyfriend for buying cinema tickets in black. It has a profound effect on Raghu, and he not only changes tracks, but tries to convince his gang to do so too. But a life of crime, petty though it is, is not that easy to get out of, as it is to get in. And Raghu finds that out the hard way. The film was important for many reasons - the script, for one, which took a very mature look at the man-woman relationship. Alka (Waheeda Rehman) is in love with Nandakumar (Vijay Anand) and is ready to wait for him to return; wooed by Dev Anand, she resists but yet remains his friend. When, later, she finds herself attracted to Raghu, she tells Nandakumar directly. (And no, lightning bolts do not strike her dead.) This was also the film in which all three brothers acted together - Chetan Anand plays the defence lawyer. Geeta Dutt sang for Waheeda Rehman for the last time. And a shoestring budget meant that they shot many of the blackmarketing scenes for the film at the real-life premiere of Mother India.

4. Solva Saal (1958)
One of the earliest road movies in Hindi cinema, Solva Saal has all the action taking place overnight. Laaj (Waheeda Rehman), in love with Shyam, is told that her father is arranging her marriage with someone else. This prompts her to take the extreme step of running away. Somewhat reluctantly, she also takes a heirloom necklace with her. The eloping lovers run into a newspaper reporter, Prannath (Dev Anand) on the prowl for an interesting story. He overhears their conversation and decides to stick closer than a limpet to the two. Only, Shyam has other plans for the necklace. Finding her boyfriend's feet of clay does not make the heroine dissolve into a puddle of tears - her only thought is to get the necklace (which belonged to her mother) back and get home in time to wake her father up in time for his journey. And she is not very happy with Prannath either, even if he did try to help her. Throw in a few twists to the proverbial tale, a strange couple who fall in love with each other practically overnight but are forced to go back to respective arranged marriages,  a plethora of songs by SD Burman, wonderful chemistry between the leads, and deft direction by Raj Khosla and you have a complete entertainer on your hands.

5. Kala Pani (1958)
It is only as a young man that Karan finds out that his father, whom he had thought dead, is actually in prison for a murder that he did not commit. He is adamant that he will get the case re-opened and his father cleared. But how? It involves meeting the witnesses who testified in court, and looking for a trail that seems to be cold. However, when Karan meets the investigating officer, he gets a lead - to a local tawaif. She has with her, a letter that may be proof of his father's innocence. He also gets the help of the lovely Asha (Madhubala), a journalist. Another feather in Raj Khosla's cap, Kala Bazar showed that Dev Anand could also act. And how! Gone were the mannerisms, the Noddy-like shaking of the head - in its place was a pained intensity, a determination to seek justice at all costs, and never mind if he has to pretend to be in love with the tawaif in order to procure the final proof. It was a performance that was to silence critics who were wont to cast aspersions on his acting abilities and win him the Filmfare Best Actor Award that year.

6. Tere Ghar ke Samne (1963)
A frothy comedy that paired Dev Anand with his Paying Guest (1957) and Baarish (1957) heroine, Nutan. She was making a comeback after the birth of her first child, he had just turned forty. Their onscreen chemistry was electrifying. They play Rakesh and Sulekha, whose love story is almost derailed by the nonsensical oneupmanship between their fathers. Om Prakash and Harindranath Chattopadhyay play the two crusty old men who are (literally) at each other's throats in their attempt to show the other up. And so, they both hire Rakesh to design their new homes (Harindranath Chattopadhyay not knowing that the rising young architect he hired is his arch-enemy's son). Now Rakesh has to play a cat and mouse game to keep both his clients from knowing that he is designing a house for the other.

And when the truth is out, as truth will out, he first has to convince a shocked Sulekha, which is a lot easier than convincing the two oldies. Vijay Anand's direction was perfectly pitched, and the zany comedy did not ever get out of hand. I do wish the climax had not beat the film's message into my brain. I get it, I get it, especially when it is hammered continuously into you through visuals and dialogues and even a song. But the other songs were so beautifully and imaginatively picturised and the direction does not falter one bit in building up the light romance, so one can, and must forgive the man.

7. Hum Dono (1962)
A double whammy this time, as two army men meet at the Burmese front during World War II. Captain Anand (Dev Anand) is in love with Mita (Sadhana). Humiliated by her father who tells him that his daughter spends in one day what Anand would earn in a year, he joins the army (that seems to be the profession of choice for sad lovers), where he runs into a lookalike (Major Manoharilal Verma / Dev Anand) who outranks him. (And no, they are not identical twins separated at birth.) When the Major goes missing, believed dead, it is left to Captain Anand to break the news to his ailing wife Ruma (Nanda). Only, she mistakes him for her husband, and Captain Anand is forced to keep up the pretence for the sake of her health. Now, Mita is afraid that Anand no longer loves her, while Ruma has to deal with an emotinally (and physically) detached husband and the fear that her husband has found another woman. And in the midst of all this, the Major returns...

It was to Dev Anand's credit that he infused the two men with completely different personalities. The flamboyant Major was based on an army captain he met at the cantonment in Pune, while Captain Anand was a man who is hiding so many secrets without anyone to tell them to. It was a subtle portrayal and thankfully, he kept his Noddy persona far away from both men. He was ably assisted by Sadhana and Nanda (a lot less irritating in this film) and a fantastic score by Jaidev. And I do wish they hadn't coloured the movie; it would have been so much better if they had cleaned up the print and restored it to its pristine black and white self.

8. Guide (1965)
A lyrical journey through the life of a flawed character - the swift-talking tourist guide Raju (Dev Anand), whose insecurities lead to a personal tragedy and paves the way for a future redemption. When Raju meets Rosie (Waheeda Rehman), she is merely the spouse of Marco, an archeologist who has hired him. He is the older sophisticated man, she is his (much-younger) trophy wife. Left alone to her own devices as Marco explores the famous local caves, the repressed Rosie finds herself being attracted to Raju, who, in turn, fully supports her love of dancing, having seen her break into an impromptu dance on one of their outings. Emboldened by his love, Rosie leaves her husband and moves in with Raju, much to his mother's angst. Raju takes over as her manager, and soon Rosie becomes a star. Only, this brings out Raju's insecurities, which eventually alienates Rosie and lands him in prison. This was one of Devsaab's finest performances, and he was matched perfectly by Waheeda, who took a risk playing an adulteress. (The role was originally offered to Vyjayanthimala.)

9. Jewel Thief 
A jewellery heist, a supposed doppelganger, a multitude of red herrings, much female pulchritude (Vyjayanthimala, Tanuja, Helen, Anju Mahendru, Faryal), and you are all set for the roller coaster ride of a lifetime. Is Vijay Anand's Jewel Thief Vinay (Dev Anand), the son of the police commissioner, or his lookalike Amar? Vinay is not above flirting with the jeweller's daughter Anju (Tanuja) so he can get a job at her father's shop. Did he do that with an ulterior motive? Anju is young, very pretty and totally open about what she wants - Vinay. Unfortunately for her, Vinay is not in the least bit interested - at least, not seriously. And when, at her party, a visibly distraught guest, Shalini (Vyjayanthimala) claims him as Amar, her fiancé, Vinay is intrigued enough to agree to finding the 'real' Amar. The slick thriller sets its climax in Gangtok, and even today, its ending is a bit of a shock. Devsaab at his debonair charming best, even while walking with a plastic fish.  (And I wish Tanuja had got him in the end!)

10. Bambai ka Babu(1960)
When a movie begins with a murder and there is no doubt the hero has done it, you have a hook right there. And when said hero flees, instead of handing himself over to the law like a morally upright person, you begin to perk up and take notice. And there is more to follow. Babu (Dev Anand), on the run after the murder, is forced to impersonate the missing son of a local zamindar. The zamindar's family, including his blind wife and his beautiful daughter unquestioningly accept Babu as their missing son and brother, Kundan. Only, Babu begins to feel attracted to his (supposed) sister. She, on the other hand, is happy to have her brother back, and is busy setting him up with her friends. The scenes between them are disturbing - even if we, the audience know that Babu and Maya are not brother and sister. We feel, palpably, the discomfort that Maya feels whenever her 'brother' is around. He cringes when she calls him Bhaiyya. And she begins to feel the tug of attraction too, and is disturbed by it. When she finally learns the truth, she cannot reveal it, for her parents' sake. And when Babu finds out that the man he inadvertently killed is Kundan, he is at a moral crossroads. Which path will he take?

Raj Khosla deftly directs a romance with serious incestuous undertones; Dev Anand simmers with unexpressed passion and later, the anguish of a man who is facing the consequences of his own actions. There is a sensuousness to the passions that are aroused, and it is to Khosla's credit that he did not shy away from the 'adult' romance. And Suchitra Sen, in one of her rare Hindi film appearances, sizzles as the young girl who is, at first, disturbed both by her 'brother's' behaviour, and her own reactions to it, and later, the deep sadness of a woman who realises that much though she loves him, the relationship just cannot be.

While researching this post, I came across an old article by Varsha Bhosle.  It's an intensely personal piece, even though the second part is an interview. I think it's worth putting up here, because it brings Devsaab alive in a way that a typical interview would not. And equally importantly because I knew Varsha in better times. Our paths crossed on a couple of occasions when I was working, and for a long time after that, after I moved here, we kept in touch through email, until a comment over something she wrote brought our correspondence and our acquaintance (I hesitate to call it friendship) to an end. However, reading this article again reminded me why I used to like reading Varsha, and why I wish that she would overcome whatever demons she is battling against, and write again!

27 comments:

  1. THIS was definitely worth the wait! Thank you, Anu. And I agree with your 'very subjective' list of movies. I would also add Teen Deviyan, Taxi Driver and Johnny Mera Naam to this list.

    Happy Birthday, Devsaab. I hope you read this tribute.

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  2. That was a very satisfying read, Anu - thank you! Dev Anand is an actor about whom I've had very definite likes and dislikes. I am very fond of his early roles without those Noddy (what a fantastic adjective!! :-)) mannerisms, but as you mention too, most of his colour films aren't really my cup of tea. Jewel Thief, to some extent, perhaps - and Mahal, which while it didn't have Dev Anand in his prime, was a very good suspense thriller nevertheless. Guide is one of those Dev Anand films I've not particularly liked, despite the fabulous songs.

    From his B/W era, I like most of the films you've listed - especially CID, Solva Saal, Kaala Paani and Tere Ghar ke Saamne. So watchable, each one of them! I am also very fond of Munimji and Nau Do Gyaarah. I think those two are also amazingly good films and with consistently superb music.

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  3. I think his B&W avatar (or as my husband calls it DASS - Dev Anand Shwet-Shyam) was definitely better than his DARB (Dev Anand Rang-Birangi) avatar. Off hand, the only three colour movies I *really* liked him in, were Guide, Jewel Thief and Johnny Mera Naam. Umm, add Tere Mere Sapne also to the list. His later movies became in college lingo 'unsahikkable' (unbearable).

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  4. Dev Anand is an actor about whom I've had very definite likes and dislikes.

    Totally agree. I really wonder how an actor who was so suave and sophisticated in his early days could turn almost clownish in his later ones. And he is NOT an unintelligent man - doesn't he see?

    About the 'Noddy' adjective - LOL. That's who he always reminded me of - I think I coined that when I saw the Khoya khoya chand sequence on Chitrahaar. :)

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  5. Noddy?! Do you still read those books? They are amongst my favourites, as much as the 'Magic Faraway Tree' series. Oh, you brought back such memories! And ROTFL at the thought of Dev Anand as Noddy. You are right, though. He did go around nodding his head. A lot.

    Nice write-up. Like Sridhar up there, I hope someone shows this to Devsaab. :)

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  6. I love 'Noddy'! :) I bought every single one of them I could find on the sidewalk between Fountain and Churchgate when I was pregnant with my older son. (Not the bowdlerised version you get in bookstores now.) The Magic Faraway Tree series are another favourite. I have almost all the Enid Blytons. :))

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  7. I was wondering if any of the old film lover sites would write about Dev Anand on his birthday, and sure enough there it was.
    Thanks Anu for a very pleasant read. Like everyone else B/W Dev for me. No, no, to his colour ones.
    Happy Birthday Dev Sahab, and thanks once again Anu.

    BTW, do you really have all EnidBlyton's books? She must have written nearly 300 of them. Have you read Mr Twiddle series or Mr Muddle series. They were quite funny. I remember my father reading Mr Twiddle's books. He enjoyed them :)

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  8. You are welcome, pacifist. :) I thoroughly enjoyed revisiting his films for this post.

    At last count (6 years ago when I moved, and catalogued my books), I had 203 Enid Blytons - all her major ones. The Five Findouters, Famous Five, Secret Seven (not all), the Adventure series, the Mystery series, all her school stories, Noddy, Mr Pink Whistle, some of her Mr Muddles and Mr Twiddle (very few), all the Magic Faraway Tree and Wishing Chair books, the o'clock Tales books, the Book(s) of Fairies, Pixies, Gnomes, and sundry others that defy classification. I can still read her, you know. She's timeless.

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  9. I love Dev!
    Correction: I love pre 70s Dev!
    Even with his 'Noddy' mannerisms, a very handsome guy and a good actor to the boot!
    I have seen and love all the films above except SolvaSaal and Bombai ka Babu! I am sure I would like them if I watch the film!

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  10. I think we are all in agreement about there being two distinct Devs, and who we like best. :)

    And you *should* watch Solva Saal - it's a light movie, as frothy as Bambai ka Babu is dark. Yes, I wager you will like them both. Dev was really good in the latter.

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  11. Scrumpilicious again! Dev Anand was so debonair in his heydey, wasn't he? Rishi is already shaking his head - he says it's very difficult to compete with the likes of Dev Anand and Shammi Kapoor. He knows when he is beaten, poor guy!

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  12. I agree *totally* with you - so much charm, so much grace... *and* so goodlooking!

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  13. Khoya-khoya chand? That loose-limbed sequence? I remember us watching that on Chitrahaar when I was a kid, and my mum saying, "He's swinging his arms like a gorilla!" :-D

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  14. Ha, ha, ha... He did look like an endearing monkey in that one, didn't he? Yes, that's the one. There is one part where he is making puppy eyes at Waheeda, and nodding his head simultaeneously. It immediately brought Noddy to mind. Then, call it observational bias if you want to, I began to notice his nodding in almost every film. :)

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  15. Oh wow! I wish I had collected them too. Read over 200 by the time I was in class 7, all from the school library and class mates.
    My world was just these books then.
    *sigh*
    Nice talking about them. :)

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  16. If you are in India, try trawling the second-hand book stores; I got most of mine from the footpath bookwalas between Churchgate and Fountain in Bombay, apart from the ones that I'd jealously guarded from childhood. I truly find her entertaining even now and can go back and read a few, while chomping on mangoes. :) My six-year-old finds it amusing that I'm reading his books!

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  17. Noddy, hahahaha! Very apt!
    My mom used to tell me that in those times, girls were so hopelessly in love with Dev Anand, many committed suicide over it.. a little sad!
    But you are very right, as far as I know, he was any day a better city fella than a gaon-wala. :) Loved reading your post!

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  18. Thanks, Neha. :) Let me make it very clear that I LOVE Noddy, and mean no disrespect whatsoever to Devsaab, whom I positively adore!

    Read his autobiography and you will know all about how the women reacted to him. Heck, why then? A friend of my husband's in Madras went to the book signing event when they released his autobiography, and came back disgusted with the way the women at the event behaved. :)

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  19. What a lovely list, Anu. I have been lying here after dinner, listening to every song in your list - even the Malayalam songs you linked to. Yesudas sounds divine! I have never liked him singing in Hindi - while his notes were so clear and true, his pronounciation used to turn me off. But in Malayalam - god! And I don't even know the language!

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  20. Oops, I meant to post this under the Salilda post :(

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  21. His voice *is* divine, Ruhi. Not for nothing is he called 'Gaana Gandharvan' in Malayalam. As for knowing the language, I don't think music is a barrier when it comes to enjoying music at all. :)

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  22. You know what's funny? *I* didn't notice you'd commented on Salilda under the Dev Anand post either! So, all izzz welll. :)

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  23. The only movie I have yet to see from this list is Jaal, the rest are amongst my favorites.
    My brother keeps saying that nowadays DA has more fans outside India than within India. His post 80's movies have probably lead most Indians to dislike him/ridicule him/laugh at him. However, he does retain his popularity with several Indians who went abroad prior to the 80's, and obviously for good reason. My first BWood movie outside India was Jewel Thief in 1971 at Tehran Iran, so technically I am one of those pre 80's NRI/OCI's. However, as I have mentioned earlier on your blog, I did like his 70's movies in the 70's in India. A close friend of mine remembers Purab Aur Paschim & Des Pardes being very influential and successful movies in England in the 70's.
    Although Des Pardes for the most part was a fairly typical 70's DA Masala entertainer, I believe it matches my outlook towards the West much more than does PaurP (what limited was there, at least there was no West-bashing & India-glorification.).
    Anyway, thanks for yet another detailed great review, really enjoyed reading it :)

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  24. I look at his movies these days, and still see very original, very topical plots, but I think his insistence on casting himself causes too many problems. Plus the fact that I really do not think he is as good a director as either of his brothers were wont to be. *Or*, his egotism gives him blinders. And funnily enough, when you meet the chap, you really do not have to bow down and kiss his feet. He treats you like an equal. While I wish someone would gently tell him to stop making a fool of himself, I cannot but admire the enthusiasm behind the endeavours. I mean, how many people his age can boast of a tithe of his energy?

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  25. You too use that word "unsahikkable"? I thought I was the only one who knew that word!
    I had to come back and read this post of yours after reading about Devji's passing away. I woke up hubby, gave him also the news, then I have been going through his songs on Youtube, and now I am going through the blogs.
    This is a great post on Devsaab, and I just want to add one of my favorite songs here:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O4frWRP0WnA

    I really like the part "jo bhi pyar se mila, hum usike ho liye ..." - characterizes the man Dev saab was - the eternal romantic!

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  26. What a wonderful piece -- thank you for taking the time and sharing! Especially all the photos and links. I used to sneak from class and go for matinees and have thus seen most of these films on a big screen. What a joy it was then, and continues to give pleasure at the mere memories ...

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  27.  Thank you, Sunit, for reading and taking the time to comment. I'm glad to have refreshed your memories.

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