Excerpts from his autobiography reveal his obsession with the sex bomb, and how Raj Kapoor spoilt it one night
Zeenat and I started being linked with each other in the magazines and newspapers that people hungry for gossip love to read. For, while she was the adorable painting that they loved to watch, admire and emulate, I was the painter who had etched that painting. The colours were mine as was the finished drawing on the canvas. While she as a person was God’s creation, her image was of my making, and together we became inseparable in the public eye.
Whenever and wherever she was talked about glowingly, I loved it; and whenever and wherever I was discussed in the same vein, she was jubilant. In the subconscious, we had become emotionally attached to each other. At the silver jubilee celebration of Hare Rama Hare Krishna at a theatre in Calcutta, as Usha Uthup, the famous pop singer, sang the ‘Dum maro dum’ number on stage and reached the crescendo of her rendering, she pulled Zeenat, who was sitting in the audience, on stage; Zeenat in turn pulled me on stage too, so that together we could sing along with Usha. The audience in a moment of spontaneity also jumped up on stage and the song became a chorus of over a hundred voices. The maddened crowds picked Zeenat up on their shoulders, raising her heavenwards. I felt proud of her, and yet, at the same time, I felt a stab of jealousy; of possessiveness as well.
How could they own her in that way? She was my prized possession! I knew it was a stupid thought on my part, but I couldn’t help it. A couple of years later, after the premiere of Ishq Ishq Ishq at Metro cinema, Raj Kapoor kissed Zeenat in full view of the invited audience, congratulating her for her sparkling performance in the film. That must have made her evening all the more sparkling. Again I felt proud of her, as much as I admired Raj Kapoor for his honest and spontaneous reaction. Complimenting her was indirectly complimenting her mentor, and I inwardly saluted my contemporary film-maker for his sound judgement. Yet, I was jealous of him for making advances on what I considered my sole possession, my discovery, my leading lady, and desiring her with a kiss. Time moved on. Suddenly, one day, I felt I was desperately in love with Zeenat—and wanted to say so to her! To make a honest confession, at a very special, exclusive place meant for romance. I chose the Rendezvous at the Taj, on the top of the city, where we had dined together once earlier.
No setting could be more appropriate, I thought, than a quiet candlelit table in the corner, the candle throwing its gleam on Zeenat’s face, just as the glow of her cigarette-lighter had lit up her face when I first met her. The dimmed lights of the city below, shining out of the darkness, would certainly light up the romance of the moment.
I called her up to say, ‘Zeenie, I want to go out on a date with you tonight.’
‘But aren’t we already going together to a party tonight?’ she asked me.
‘Of course we are. But let’s just go there only for a brief while, say Hi to the gathering, and then quickly disappear!’ It was an order, but very lovingly conveyed.
She was quiet.
‘H-e-ll-o!’ I said.
‘Yes, I am listening.’
‘Is that a date?’ I asked.
‘If you so desire. See you then!’ And she hung up.
I picked her up. Together we went to the party. It was on in full force. The first person who greeted Zeenat from a distance was a drunken Raj Kapoor, with a gallant drawl, ‘There she is!’ He threw his arms around her exuberantly.
This suddenly struck me as a little too familiar. And the way she reciprocated his embrace seemed much more than just polite and courteous. She quickly bent down to touch his feet, and then Romancing With Life gave me an embarrassed look. Raj grasped my hand in a very tightgrip, like never before, as if trying to make amends for some wrong he had done, suddenly overflowing with affection.
A hint of suspicion crossed my mind. A couple of days earlier, a rumour had been floating around that Zeenat had gone to Raj’s studio for a screen test for the main role in his new movie Satyam Shivam Sundaram. The hearsay now started ringing true. My heart was bleeding.
‘You are breaking your promise,’ Raj was now telling Zeenat in his drunken joviality, ‘that you will always be seen by me only in a white sari!’
More embarrassment was writ large on her face, and Zeenat was not the same Zeenat for me any more. My heart broke into pieces. I wanted to leave the party at once and go off somewhere alone, to be just by myself, so that I could swallow the humiliation thrust on my ego. But a struggle within me transformed itself into a ‘to-hell-withit- all’ attitude, and prompted me to say goodbye to a relationship which, though it had been non-committal emotionally on both sides, had been honest all the same. There was no space in it for professional dishonesty.
The painting I had made of her started showing signs of cracking.
‘How long do you intend staying here, Zeenat?’ I asked her.
She looked at Raj, as if seeking his permission to leave.
‘Let her stay here, Dev—and you too—enjoy!’ he said in a drunken drawl.
‘By all means,’ I said. ‘Enjoy, Zeenat. Call me up later, when you feel like it!’
‘But aren’t we suppose to be going to the other place together?’ she casually asked.
‘Doesn’t matter!’ I said.
The rendezvous had already lost all meaning in my mind. I sneaked out of the place, quietly apologizing to the host. The evening delivered a blow to my personality, and my dominating spirit. I had decided on the spur of the moment to tell Zeenat for the first time how much I loved her. And that there was an idea in my mind of another story that would put her on a pedestal as never before, the highest so far. But that was never to be. And so be it! I quickly detached myself, convincing myself that I had blundered, taking too many things for granted. There was no need for me to let any rancour germinate in my mind against Zeenat.
I had prepared her for the world, and she was free to go into the arms of anyone who would help her further her ambitious dreams. A group of chanting devotees was passing by my car. I sat listening to the sound of cymbals and bells.
Hare Krishna Hare Krishna
Krishna Krishna Hare Hare
Hare Ram Hare Ram
Ram Ram Hare Hare
I closed my eyes. Zeenat still remained beautiful in my eyes, with an honest soul. And Raj a passionate film-maker. I opened my eyes. A streak of lightning seemed to flash across my mind and inspired a new thought. I started pursuing it. A new chapter was thrown open before me, its first pages slowly unfolding.
The idea of a new film was coming slowly into focus.
Romancing with Life: An Autobiography by Dev Anand has been published by Viking/Penguin
Click here for a tribute to Dev Anand
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