Dev Anand was the the suave man about town, always nattily dressed with an off the cuff delivery and unique style. He was certainly the most stylish hero of Hindi cinema. This persona with carefully studied manerisms and delivery served him well throughout his career as one of the greatest stars of Bollywood history. It has been said that Dev Anand is Indian equivalent of Gary Cooper and Gregory Peck, that this imitation of the two Hollywood actors came about because the woman he loved, the actress Suraiya absolutely adored Gregory Peck. And one only needs to watch Dev Anand's loping gait, the stiff backed casual movements to see the style of Cooper and Peck being mimicked.
The initial years were full of struggle as among other things he even had to sell some of his possessions and even worked in the Military Censor's office reading soldiers' letters to their families. His first acting assignment came with Prabhat's Hum Ek Hain (1946) but the film didn't do anything at all for his career. However at Prabhat, he met the young choreographer of the film, Guru Dutt. A friendship blossomed between the two of them. They promised each other that if Guru Dutt were to turn filmmaker he would take Dev as his hero and if Dev were to produce a film then he would take Guru Dutt as its Director!
Ziddi (1948) at Bombay Talkies was Dev's first success. The following year he turned producer and launched his own banner, Navketan. Navketan's first offering was Afsar (1950) starring Dev and lady love Suraiya and was directed by elder brother Chetan. The film however flopped at the box office. Dev, remembering his promise to Guru Dutt invited him to make a film for Navketan.
Thus 1951 saw the release of Baazi, Guru Dutt's directorial debut. The film, written by actor Balraj Sahni, was a trendsetter of sorts leading to the spate of urban crime thrillers Bollywood churned out in the 1950s. The film took Dev Anand to dramatic star status. It was also the beginning of seeing Dev play mostly hard-bitten characters living in the urban underbelly.
But even as Dev started to get successful in films, his relationship with Suraiya ended as she could not take a stand against her strict grandmother. Ironically, her career went on the downslide thereafter even as his ascended - a total reversal of the days when they went around and she was the bigger star.
The next pairing of Dev Anand and Guru Dutt was Jaal (1952). Dev played a heartless smuggler who only repents right at the end of the film. It was a finely shaded performance but the film didn't do too well at the box-office. The partnership came to an end when Guru Dutt decided to act in his own films.
Dev meanwhile went from strength to strength and along with Dilip Kumar and Raj Kapoor ruled the Hindi Film Industry in the 1950s - they were known as the Trimurthi of Bollywood. With deliberately awkward pastiches (Owing their origins to Gregory Peck and Cary Grant), Dev reveled in playing the mischievous lover boy chasing the heroine. To quote Amit Knanna
"Dev Anand's forte was the boy next door. Part lover, part clown, part do-gooder."
However in between his lover boy roles like Munimjee (1955) and Paying Guest (1957), Dev repeatedly played shaded roles such as the pickpocket in Pocketmaar (1955), the absconding gang member in Dushman (1957), the black-marketeer in Kala Bazaar (1960) or the murderer in Bombay ka Babu (1960) though by now his starry mannerisms - his sing-song dialogue delivery, his puff in his hair, his total nonchalance were part of every character he played. Consequently he was never rated too high as a performer but to be fair to him, he did give a fine performance under Raj Khosla as the anguished son trying to prove his father's innocence in Kala Pani (1958) winning a Filmfare Award for the same. Hum Dono (1961) saw him excel in a double role and Guide (1965) saw a perfectly nuanced performance from him, perhaps the best of his career.
The character of Raju Guide was yet another shaded character he played. Dev played him with just the right shade of grey - humanizing him with all his faults yet getting the audience to sympathize with him. It was a wonderful performance fetching him his second Filmfare Best Actor Award.
Dev Anand entered the 1970s on a high with Johnny Mera Naam (1970) and also took to direction with Prem Pujari (1970). His best efforts in this field were Hare Rama Hare Krishna (1971) and Desh Pardes (1978). The former, set amongst Hare Krishna cultists (presented as dope-smoking hippies) was Dev Anand's call to nationalist Indian values and by far the best film he ever directed. The film launched the career of Zeenat Aman who made a tremendous impact as his sister in the middle of the cultists.
Other heroines he has launched include Tina Munim (now Ambani), Natasha Sinha and Ekta. He also tried to launch his son Suneil with Anand Aur Anand (1984) but was unsuccessful.
Dev Anand continues to make films today and though his last few films haven't been successful he just keeps going with amazing energy - His philosophy being to think positive. To quote him,
"I never give myself a chance to get depressed. I think ahead."
On January 26, 2001 Dev Anand was awarded the Padma Bhushan for his contribution to Indian Cinema and the latest feather in the cap of this evergreen hero is the Dadasaheb Phalke Award. In true Dev Anand fashion - on receiving the Phalke award, he dedicated it to his future!