Anand, on 42, Pali Hill is a rubble of wet cement and glass. Hidden partly by foliage and fortressed by high walls, the three-storey building, being rebuilt, housed Navketan Films and the Anand studio, the workplace of cinema legend Dev Anand.
Timeless: (top) Anand at his home in Bandra; (above) a scene from the colour version of Hum Dono, to be released later this year. Photographs Courtesy Mohan Suriwala
When I met Devsaab recently at his new, makeshift office close to Anand, he urged me to take a look at the old building. His joie de vivre was infectious. In his animated, hyperbolic way, he said: “I’ve done only a few films outside of Navketan; it’s really my favourite baby. You should go see, there are so many memories...” When I requested him to accompany me, he said, “I’m not going there until the work is done.” He hopes to return to a compact, spanking new studio.
I visited Anand on the same rainy afternoon that I interviewed its vivacious, octogenarian owner. Behind the imposing wooden gate were heaps of construction debris. In Pali Hill, home to many of yesteryear’s film stars, Anand is a landmark.
It stands next to where Dev Anand’s elder brother, Chetan Anand, once had a bungalow. It doesn’t exist any more, but that was where Navketan, the banner, was born, named after Chetan Anand’s eldest child, Ketan.
Chetan Anand, a teacher at Doon School, Dehra Dun, arrived in Mumbai in the 1940s with his wife Uma and moved into the bungalow. Uma Anand writes in Chetan Anand: The Poetics of Film, a book she co-authored with son Ketan: “We found a big, rumbling, tumble-down bungalow on a hillside in Pali Hill, Bandra. We could see distant hills and woods from the window...Bandra was considered far out and Pali Hill an exclusive retreat.”
An intellectual and creative coterie soon began to form in what the family fondly calls “a chummery”. Balraj Sahni, Geeta Roy (later Dutt), Zohra Sehgal, Ravi Shankar, Guru Dutt and others talked movies and art in the bungalow’s sprawling rooms.
This chummery was a Mumbai institution of sorts in the 1940s— stories and stars were born, scripts were written and friendships formed and broken.
The banner came into being in 1949, formed by Chetan and Dev Anand after the successful run of Chetan Anand’s first film, Neecha Nagar (1946). Around 40 memorable films since then have ensured Navketan a place in film history, but it hasn’t been an easy journey.
Brothers Chetan and Vijay Anand, both dead, went on to form their own banners. Dev Anand’s Navketan Films is being managed by his son Suneil Anand, but there is no creative successor to speak of. After Vijay Anand split from Navketan, Dev Anand was consumed by the idea of writing, producing, directing and acting himself, often with disastrous results. The last big film he made was Hare Rama Hare Krishna (1971), which launched Zeenat Aman.
In its 60th year, Navketan continues to be nurtured by Dev Anand, but its legacy rests on films made by all three brothers. Chetan Anand, a lover of Sanskrit and Van Gogh paintings, who spent five years of his childhood in a gurukul in Haridwar, completed his master’s in English literature in England, and later became the only Indian film-maker to have made a film, Heer Ranjha, entirely in verse. Dev Anand, also an English literature graduate from Lahore College, whose screen persona is larger than life, remains a star at the age of 86. Vijay “Goldie” Anand, the youngest brother, completed his college education in Mumbai and went on to become a master storyteller and visualizer.
In the 1960s, after he directed Guide (1965) with Dev Anand in the lead, he was considered one of Hindi cinema’s big hopes. Author and documentary film-maker Nasreen Muni Kabeer says: “Vijay Anand did not encourage the camera to show off its skills nor allow anything gimmicky to distract us from the poetic and deep meaning of the words. In the famous song Abhi na jao chod kar from Guide, the director knows what he’s got and what will carry the scene. Forty years after seeing the film, I can close my eyes and see the scene unfurl.”
Dev Anand will celebrate the 60th year of Navketan with the re-release of one of his many hits, Hum Dono (1961), in colour. Written by Vijay Anand, with a beautiful musical score by Jaidev, it will be in theatres by October.
HarperCollins India has commissioned a coffee-table book to be penned by Mumbai-based journalist Siddharth Bhatia. Bhatia, who has already interviewed Dev Anand a number of times, says: “Navketan is an uncelebrated, unsung hero. It is the longest single-owned company in the industry and some of the films are path-breaking.” Ketan Anand, who assisted his father in the making of some films, hopes to launch Vaibhav Anand, son of Vijay Anand, in a film to be produced and directed under the banner Himalaya Films, which Chetan Anand had launched.
And of course, there’s Dev Anand’s next. Chargesheet, a suspense thriller, in which he plays the lead and Naseeruddin Shah has an important role, is nearing completion. “I play a retired policeman who has solved many cases and mysteries in his career and is about to solve the biggest one... I can’t say more now,” Anand says. He has been criticized, often ruthlessly and justifiably, for his self-indulgent experiments but when I ask him if that’s a criticism he took to heart, he said with amazing clarity, “When I get an idea, I obsess about how it’ll be on screen. The day I’m idle, I’ll be no more.”
Who will carry on Navketan’s creative mantle, I ask. He flashes his smile, as if posing for a camera, and says, “I will.”