Few directors have enjoyed the kind of staying power Vijay Anand has — films like Kala Bazar, Tere Ghar Ke Samne, Guide, Jewel Thief and Johny Mera Naam continue to hold us in their lyrical sway. With their outwardly youthful and urbane aesthetic, breezy style of storytelling and a fierce commitment to feel-goodness, Anand’s movies are still watched and referenced today. Perhaps the most remarked-upon aspect about him is the unusual ways in which he exploited the potential for music and song. “Dil ka bhanwar kare pukar” (Tere Ghar Ke Samne), “Aaj phir jeene ki” (Guide), “Hoton pe aisi baat” (Jewel Thief) and “Pal pal dil ka paas” (Blackmail) are just a handful of the popular numbers that suggest Anand’s unique command over song picturisation and placement. Aamir Khan, Sanjay Leela Bhansali, Naseeruddin Shah and Farah Khan count themselves among his admirers. Director Sriram Raghavan is the most diehard and vocal of these Vijay Anand wonks. For the Andhadhun maker, Anand is simply ‘the boss’ who he can’t get enough of.
Born in 1934, Anand was influenced by his elder siblings, Chetan and Dev Anand, to pursue filmmaking. It would have been easy for Vijay Anand to languish under their gigantic shadow at Navketan, but he preferred to forge his own path. From 1950s until ’70s, the Anand brothers were Bollywood royalty. Their role in building modern Hindi cinema has been recognised in the last few decades. Fondly called Goldie by those close to him, Anand’s films weren’t typical Bollywood fluff. They had imaginative songs and sometimes maudlin plot, but there was always a rich texture to the story and layered characterisation, particularly progressive female heroines, at a time when overwrought melodrama was the order of the day. How original these films were, however, is up for debate. Goldie’s son Vaibhav Anand — himself an actor and filmmaker who most recently starred in Alt Balaji’s The Verdict: State vs Nanavati as Dev Anand — says his father and famous “Dev uncle” were drawn to Hollywood, especially the movies of Hitchcock, Frank Capra, and even Godard and Federico Fellini. “Dad’s cinema was an amalgamation of modern camera work and Indian aesthetics and he stuck to that,” says Vaibhav, presiding over at Ketnav in Mumbai. The family home-cum-studio is a shadow of its former self, but Vaibhav hopes to restore it to its halcyon-day glory by year-end, alongside reviving his family (Vijay Anand Pictures) banner. We caught up with him on the eve of his father’s 87th birth anniversary. “It’s just me, mom (Sushma Anand) and my aunts. So when the birthday comes it’s just like any other day,” Vaibhav says, explaining why after Anand’s death in 2004 (he was 70), “it was very difficult to get over the loss.”
Excerpts from our conversation:
Let’s begin right at the beginning. Did Vijay Anand get interested in movies because of Chetan and Dev Anand who had obviously established themselves before him?
Chetan Anand was the eldest, so everyone called him bhaiji or bauji. He was the father figure to both Dev uncle and dad. When Chetan uncle moved to Bombay, he lived in a rented apartment at 41, Pali Hill. This is where greats like Balraj Sahni, Kaifi Azmi saab, SD Burman, Kamleshwar, Raj Khosla, Sahir Ludhianvi used to come. There was a continuous bustling of creativity going on. A new picture of cinema was being painted, and my father was learning dialogue from scripts in this environment. He was good at Hindi in Podar school, and later he learnt theatre while at St Xavier’s college. The biggest influence for him was definitely Chetan uncle who first gave him a platform. Uncle’s wife Uma didi and dad would do script reading. Dad used to get involved as a prop. All this instigated his writing skills. At home, the mahaul (environment) was already there. Uma didi insisted that Chetan uncle take Godie into scripting. Chetan uncle first introduced him as an actor in Agra Road (1957). (Laughs) But for some reason, the actor in the family was Dev uncle. Everybody moved behind the camera because Dev uncle took centerstage. But for all three, the first love was always acting. Even Chetan uncle acted. He was the lawyer in Kala Bazar and some more films. I’d meet Chetan uncle with dad more often as a young boy because I was his pet. When I’d go to their shack in Juhu, both the brothers would be sitting and discussing movies. For me, Goldie Anand was more of a father and less of a filmmaker. It was only after watching his films that I understood how his knowledge of cinema came mainly from his love of Hollywood movies, the Gregory Peck-Cary Grant kind. In fact, Dev uncle was called India’s Gregory Peck. He even met him in Europe.
You said you discovered your dad through his movies. How would you describe his style?
His cinema was an amalgamation of modern camera work and Indian aesthetics. His movies have an Indian theme with a modern outlook. Look at Jewel Thief (1967). There’s a father-daughter theme in there. Teesri Manzil (1966) is the story of a woman who has lost her sister and coincidentally falls in love with the same man. But then again, it’s a story about discovering how the sister died. So that emotional context is always there in his films.
Chetan Anand’s cinema wasn’t that Western, when compared to Vijay and Dev Anand.
Chetan uncle was trained in Sanskrit at Gurukul Kangri University. Even though he studied in England, he had an Indian base and preferred applying Indian themes. Even his instruments and poetic dialects were Indian. Neecha Nagar has music by Ravi Shankar.
Chetan uncle was taught to be here. He’s the elder son who came back and took family responsibility. That’s not the case with Dev uncle and dad. They would go to watch English movies at Excelsior and Regal theatre. When they started earning well, they flew abroad to see more Hollywood films. Back home in Gurdaspur, their father was a stern man who was fluent in seven languages. But he had an Indian mindset and promoted only Indian things. When their mother was ill, Dev uncle nursed her and took care of her. The mother had an international outlook. After she passed away, Dev uncle, dad and the two sisters packed their bags and came to Bombay.
What’s your favourite Vijay Anand film?
Tere Mere Sapne (1971). It was also my father’s personal favourite, always close to his heart. Because he was very fond of the book The Citadel by A.J. Cronin on which it is based. The reason is he had once gone through a bad time while shooting in a coal mine for one of his films after which he developed kidney stones. Actor Raaj Kumar knew a famous doctor who took dad on, but they operated on the wrong kidney. Raaj Kumar created a fuss, but my father was bedridden for 11 months. And then the person who nursed him was Amarjeet. That’s why he promised him a movie. That movie was Hum Dono. Amarjeet has the director’s credit in Hum Dono while everyone knows who directed it. Anyway, the doctors apparently were fighting over him on the surgery table. That’s why they goofed up. He made Tere Mere Sapne out of this personal experience of the things that go on in the medical profession. In the film, the doctor (both Dev and Vijay Anand play doctors) becomes materialistic. He doesn’t care for the village patients. I’ve watched it many times.
I still can’t get over the song “Maine kasam lee”. That’s my favourite song. Dev Anand and Mumtaz stop midway, they go off into the mustard fields, and then they get back on the cycle. Superb song.
Would you like to share any other favourite soundtrack or any anecdote behind the making of his more popular songs?
That song “Tere mere sapne” from Guide (1965) is made up of just four shots. They wanted to shoot it before twilight, so they woke up early in the morning. It was finished just before sunrise. They had a small window for it. Tere Ghar Ke Samne (1963) was the first film permitted to shoot near Qutub Minar. Parts of the song “Dil ka bhanwar kare pukar” were shot in Mehboob Studios. Not many people realise that it is the set that’s revolving while the camera is steady. Dev uncle and Nutanji are climbing the stairs. They go up and down, up and down. That’s it.
Talking about Guide, Vijay Anand replaced Chetan Anand as director at the nth hour. Goldie wasn’t even in the reckoning.
Yes, Chetan uncle was initially involved in Guide. And I have the script which was written by him. My father wanted to make an Indian version for Indian audiences which would then go international unlike the English version of Guide. Waheeda Rehmanji said I will do this film if Goldie does it. The first scenes showing Raju Guide being released from jail were in fact shot by Chetan uncle. But when permissions for Haqeeqat, which was his pet project, came through, Chetan uncle ran. Imagine both the brothers went their ways and made masterpieces, Haqeeqat and Guide.
Dev Anand’s act is a winner. Everyone knows him as a self-indulgent demigod. But here, he invests his performance with a philosophical intensity not expected from him. Generally speaking, Goldie was one of the few directors to tame his brother’s manic energy and extract good performances out of him. Can you recall what was Goldie’s relationship with Dev Anand like and what made their partnership so successful and long-lasting?
As brothers, I think they were thick as thieves, if you can say that. Always there for each other. Professionally, my father was the boss on the set. And what he wanted Dev uncle to do, he did. Dev uncle couldn’t say no because he knew his drawbacks, which he never wanted to publicly admit. Dad knew which camera angles were right for him. Dev uncle used to consult my father a lot in his later films. And dad was like, ‘Bhappe nu bol bol ke thak gaya ki yeh picture bana hi kyun raha hai.’ After that Dev uncle stopped consulting. His ego was hurt. He was like, ‘Main bana raha hun.’ Dad’s advice was, ‘Keep a pivotal role for yourself but take an outside director.’ In the early years, Dev uncle used to tell people, ‘Goldie ke paas ek script hai, sun le.’ Goldie was the younger one, so it was easy to tell him, ‘Tennu ki aanda hai.’ But my father had proved his worth by writing Taxi Driver (1954) with Uma Anand. Dev uncle knew that this boy had the knack as far as cinema was concerned and number two, he knew how to handle him. Both were well-read and English majors. You sit with them and they have a mastery over the language, storytelling, music and rhythm. They both knew what tune they wanted. That’s why Navketan music flourished. Individually also their music did well. My father worked with Dharamji in Blackmail (1973). The song “Pal pal dil ke paas” was shot before the music was even made. You can’t say Dev uncle and dad didn’t have their share of tu tu main main. On the set, the ego was there, but they both knew their jobs.
Do you have any memories of the TV show Tehkeekat, in which your dad played a detective?
I remember going to a Juhu bungalow when Ashok Kumar was on the episode. Dad and Dev uncle both looked up to Dadamoni who had helped Dev uncle in his first film. In Jewel Thief, Dadamoni got top billing. Dev uncle loved the limelight and to be always on top, but this time, he didn’t object. That’s the respect they had for Ashok Kumar.
What about his years as Censor Board chief? Did he enjoy his time there?
He was the first Censor Board chief in forty years who visited all the Censor Board offices in India. He travelled to Assam, Bengal and Hyderabad to understand how to inculcate modernism into censorship. You need money, infrastructure, manpower but most importantly, you need willpower. The final thing you need is a modern and international outlook which he had. He was the first person to say that Hindi cinema is an industry and should be designated so as it generates revenue, workforce, taxes and income.
Lastly, how do you think he would have reacted to the rise of OTT? With his liberal outlook, one assumes he’d have been an easy fit in today’s time.
He would have loved the diversity of OTT space. Things have become a little more straightforward today. Everyone’s talking about nepotism, but Navketan gave a break to some of the finest young talents of their time. The brothers always stood for unity. They never discriminated on the basis of religion or caste. Dad’s battle was always with censorship — from the time of Kala Bazar which ran into censor trouble. The Censor Board said it’s not enough for the black marketer to be reformed. He must be punished. So a new ending was made. When he was part of the Censor Board, the government didn’t want to see ahead of their time. He kept saying censorship should be free. He was unhappy with that, as well as very disgruntled with the mendacity that was seeping in at that time in filmmaking. That phase lasted a long time. He had a zest for life and used to say that I’d rather die making films. Unfortunately, a huge talent like him had to retire out of frustration.