Dev Anand believed he was ahead of his times. Most people who are spoken of thus are, in fact, uniquely of their time, as John Waters, a marvellous American filmmaker has said. Their work and lives mirror the tide as it turns, the time that is becoming.
They capture the imagination of the moment and give it shape which is why their work acquires resonance. Because people are human, they often begin to believe the mythology about themselves and in the process, flatten themselves into the idea of themselves. They cling to this idea, and do not or cannot change and so it is that slowly, they who were on time’s cutting edge, slowly fall behind the times. They say something like this happened to Dev Anand who grew from a figure of adoration to a perplexing anachronism. But could we be wrong?
In 2001 Dev Anand made a film called Censor, which belongs to that part of his oeuvre that his fans would like to forget. In this film, Vikramjeet, a self-proclaimed modern man, played by Dev saab, makes a modern film, which is “truly international”, called Aane Wala Kal. Alas, this film is too modern for the Indian authorities, i.e., the Censor Board. Vikramjeet/Dev Anand is frustrated. He tries to ingratiate himself with the Censor Board chief played by Rekha. To please her, he organises a soiree, which features Rekha chewing paan and enjoying a mujra performance. But, no joy. His frustration grows.
But his frustration is not so much about wanting the janta to see his creation. What he is really after, is an Oscar. But without the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) and Reserve Bank of India (RBI) permission (so the movie informs us) he cannot send it. What should Vikramjeet do? Enter, Archana Puran Singh who is always seen sitting on a sofa, talking on the phone, patting what may be Barbara Cartland’s mummified dog. From the way she calls Vikramjeet ‘sweethaarrt’ it is obvious she lives in El Ay. Which qualifies her to be the co-producer of the film and enter it for the Oscars.
The film is nominated! One of the performances featured at the ceremony is a song from Aane Wala Kal! Yes, this scene seems to be shot in Ketnav preview theatre but only if you don’t understand good cinema will you question this, because it is a trope of a genre called imaginative realism, with an emphasis on native, sweetharrrt. Anyway, this exotic genre is well understood abroad even if Indians don’t have any kadar for it, so that is why the film wins both Best Foreign Film and Best Director, Academy Awards.
But this is not the end. Spoiler Alert (aise hi bolte hain na, film review mein?) In a frightening twist there is an attempt on the director’s life. I won’t tell you the end. For that you’ll have to look for this rare gem the hard way, like I did. I can guarantee, you honestly don’t have to be high to enjoy.
I admit I laughed hysterically through it. Because. I. Was. A. Stupid. Girl. As if Indians will be so interested in finding a way to send films to Oscars and all, I said. We have such a big audience here yaar, we don’t care about all that. I was wrong. Dev saab was right. In fact, he may have created a deeply mystical and wise Indian genre my B-grade brain did not identify, called predictive realism. I am sorry for laughing, because Dev saab nahin rahe, but aane wala kal is here.
Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at www.parodevi.com. The views expressed in this column are the individual’s and don’t represent those of the paper.