I can write books about my encounters with Dev Sahab. But, I will restrict myself to one of the scariest experiences I have been a witness to. – Ali Peter John
Dev was making “Awwal Number” with a new star called Aamir Khan and Ekta, a new comer who later married Mohnish Behl, the son of the versatile actress Nutan. The film was based on the game of cricket. Dev has wanted to give the film a realistic touch. He wanted to shoot one of the scenes from a match from the tallest building around Church-gate Station.
The 26th floor shoot and the courageous Dev Sahab
He wondered where and which building he could use till he thought of the Express Towers, a 26- storied building which belonged to Mr. Ramnath Goenka. He also realized that I had my office in the same building. He knew Mr. Ramnath Goenka personally but he felt it was a very small favor to ask from such a big man.
He called me to his office and told me about his need and asked me to try and get him permission to shoot from the terrace of Express Towers. I instantly knew it was very difficult because Mr. Goenka lived on the 26th floor and the terrace was only used for his morning and evening walks. I had developed the Dev spirit of saying never say die and decided to try my luck for Dev’s sake. The next morning I went straight to Mr. V. Ranganathan who was the right hand man of Mr. Goenka for more than 50 years. I told him about what Dev Sahab wanted and he who was a Tamilian almost shouted, “Ayyo Ayyo, how can you even think Mr. Goenka giving anyone permission to use his terrace and especially to shoot a film”.
He then asked me if Dev would be alone or be surrounded by a crowd. I didn’t know, but I took a chance and said he would shoot the scenes himself. Mr. Ranganathan said, “I think Mr. Goenka likes Dev Anand among all the film people. I will try talking to him during lunch time and you can meet me at three. I waited anxiously and then went to meet Mr. Ranganathan who was all smiles and said, “You are very lucky, Mr. Ali, the great man has given permission to do whatever Dev Sahab wanted to do on his terrace”. I called up Dev Sahab and told him about the good news. He said, he would like to have a look and Mr. Ranganathan asked me to tell him that it would be all right if he came at around 5:15 the next evening.
Dot at the appointed time Dev drove up to the gate of Express Towers and I was simply taken aback when Dev Sahab started running up the steps and asked me to take the lift. I was panting even in the lift and believe it or not Dev had already reached the terrace. I shuddered to see him standing in one corner and then running all around the terrace and shouting “wonderful, marvelous, exciting, this is just the place I wanted, thank you, Ali.” But it was what Dev did next that I could not and will not be able to believe all my life. I was so scared that I stood in the centre of the terrace and refused to look down and before I could start thinking I saw Dev standing on the edge of the terrace which had absolutely no support.
I could feel my entire body shaking with fear but I could not even scream because if Dev Sahab had made one small mistake or tripped or slipped it would be the end of the legend called Dev Anand. That was only the beginning. He then started walking on the edges with his eyes focused on the Brabourne Stadium where the cricket match in his film was to be played. I was stunned and almost had a heart attack as I saw him moving from one corner to another without any fear and without any disturbance. It was the kind of performance no gymnast, trapeze artist or any other daring human being could perform.
He then jumped down and came and embraced me and asked me why I was shaking so much. I did not have the courage to speak to him and I could not speak to him till we sat in his car and started driving towards the suburbs. He was so excited that he asked his driver to take the back seat and he drove the car all the way to his office on Pali Hill. He immediately called all the members of his unit and told them they were shooting the next day. And by the time the sun had set the following day, Dev had finished shooting what I consider one of the most “deadly” scenes because Dev had put his life at stake just to get one perfect shot. I will never forget that act of Dev till the end of my life.
A heartbreaking phone call at 4 am morning
Some months later my photographer, R.D. Rai called me up at 4 in the morning and woke me up from my sleep. I fired him and asked him if he was drunk. He was crying. I asked him what was wrong with him and he slowly struggled for words and said, “woh, woh, kya bolu main, woh Dev sahaab ki death ho gayee, abhi news aayee hain Indian Express se.” I went totally mad and flung and broke everything in my room and ran in all directions in my room and screamed my lungs out and woke up my family and even the entire building. Dev could not die just like any other man, I told myself. I calmed down. I then gave Rai the telephone number of Dev’s bedroom and asked him to dial the number and then get back to me. It took him only a minute to call back. He was laughing like a man gone mad. He said, “unhone hi phone uthaaya aur meri awaaz bhi pehchaani aur mera naam bhi unko yaad raha, unhone poocha, ‘kya baat hain Rai sahaab, aur maine darr ke phone neeche rakh diya.’ That morning I decided to go to office only for a few hours and then spent the whole day drinking celebrating the new life of my favourite actor and man, Dev Anand
He crossed every bridge of life, without even thinking twice
We were in a place called Coorg where he was shooting for “Anand aur Anand” in which he was introducing his son, Suneil. We had to reach a location at 6 in the morning and all the young journalists were grumbling, but no-one had the guts to say no to Dev. To add to their misery, they had to cross a wooden bridge below which there was a deep river. Dev just sprang across while all the young people in the unit and the journalists struggled for more than thirty minutes to get across that bridge. He was not angry but he said, “What kind of young people are you? Can’t you cross a small bridge why are you so scared? Fear is a greater killer than cancer or any other killer disease” The whole group just kept listening to him while he walked right ahead and started making arrangements to shoot some daring fight sequences.
If there was any star who had rumors about his death spread, it was the man called Dev Anand who always said he was never scared of death and was willing to take it whenever it wanted. And the one man who received the maximum number of stories about his death was me as people knew about how close we were