The unbelievably graceful Waheeda Rehmanji laughs heartily when I tell her it is my Diwali and Eid on any day that I speak to her.
“Of course I will speak about Dev Anand,” the wondrous Waheedaji says. “So many memories, all pleasant…One could never have unhappy memories about such an ebullient soul. Do you know anyone who doesn’t like him?” the incandescent actress asks rhetorically.
Let’s start at the very beginning, I suggest.
“A very good place to start,” Waheedaji quips. “I first met Dev Anand on the set of my first Hindi film C.I.D. I was a big fan of Dev Anand. But I pretended to be nonchalant. I didn’t want to come across as a star-truck Hyderabadi girl. He walked up to me and introduced me in his debonair way. It’s miracle I didn’t swoon(laughs). He insisted that I call him ‘Dev’. ‘Aisa Kaise ho sakta hai, Dev Saab? Aap humse umr mein bade hain. Aur hamare culture mein badon ko izzat dee jati hai,’ I argued. But he would have none of it. On his insistence, Dev it was. I addressed all my other heroes as ‘Raj Saab’ or ‘Dutt(Sunil) Saab’ or ‘Dilip Saab’. But Dev Anand was Dev.”
She sighs at the memory of her favourite co-star. “I’ve to admit he was special.Very warm, very chivalrous and considerate. We did seven lovely films together. But of course we are most remembered by Guide. Do you know, I almost didn’t do this, the most iconic of my films? The original director was Chetan Anand. He didn’t want to cast me. Neither did Tad Danielewski who directed the English version of Guide. I told Dev very frankly that there would be conflict and friction on the sets and that he should sign someone else for Guide. He told me, ‘You are my Rosy.And only you will play Rosy, no one else.’ It was on his insistence that I played Rosy.Of course later Chetan was replaced by Vijay Anand as director.”
She frankly admits she had no idea the film would turn out to be such a milestone. “For me and for Dev, Guide was that defining moment in our career. Did we fee we were making something so special while shooting? To be honest, no. Of course we knew the film was a clutter breaker, progressive and a radical departure from the past . In Guide all the three main characters Dev, Kishore Sahu and I, are shown fiercely pursuing our dreams. For a woman to be so ambitious in those days was unimaginable. Aaj bhi kuch nahin badla hai. Women are given the freedom to pursue a career. But marriage, children and family responsibilities come first whereas men can go full-throttle at their ambitions.”
Waheedaji credits director Vijay Anand with her resplendent performance in Guide. “And also Lataji for her singing. Kaaton se kheench key yeh aanchal became the theme song of the film and for all women who want to break free of traditional responsibilities.”
Interestingly when Dev Anand turned director with Prem Pujari he signed Waheedaji as his leading lady.Did they meet after work?
“Not at all!” she replies strongly. “Dev didn’t like to socialize at all. Let me tell you an incident. I liked to have a small dinner party at my home after every film’s completion for the cast and crew. After one of our films when I invited Dev, he reluctantly agreed to come. At the get-together he looked so uncomfortable I went up to him and said, ‘Dev, I know you are not enjoying yourself at all.I give you the permission to leave without having dinner.’ Dev looked like he had just been told his death sentence had been commuted. ‘Are you sure?’ he asked me. And fled.”
We laugh over this one. And then the breathtakingly beautiful actress asks, “Was I his favourite co-star? I don’t know …he jelled very well with several other heroines. But I would like to feel that he had special place in his heart for me, as I do in my heart to this day.”