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A Close Encounter With Bollywood Legend Dev Anand

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One hundred years ago this month at Mumbai's Coronation Cinema, Raja Harishchandra was shown, the first full length Indian film. And an industry which now dwarfs Hollywood in output was born.

I was one of many millions of first generation Indians brought up in the UK with Bollywood imports as an important connection with my parents' home country and the lives my parents had left behind when they came to England.

And so it was I found myself one day some years ago continually checking my rear view mirror in amazement. He was there, he was really there. In the back seat of my Peugeot 205 (damn, why didn't I get the sporty model?), gazing back at me and occasionally turning to the snowdrifts that had overtaken central Birmingham in what seemed like minutes.

I was giving a lift to one of the greatest Bollywood legends of all time, Indian cinema's legendary heartthrob, the man we called our Gregory Peck. Dev Anand needed a lift to his hotel and I was the only one who could easily and quickly get my car our of the rammed, snow filled car park, (damn why hadn't I worn my nice sari?)

For two hours Dev Anand, an icon of Indian cinema for seven decades, had held his audience at the Birmingham International Film Festival spellbound as he spoke of his career as actor, director and all round Bollywood Adonis. And as me and my friend Anu left, the festival director asked me, a fledgling TV reporter, if I could get him to his hotel pronto for his next appointment with the national press.

With more than 100 films to his credit, Dev Anand was an award winning actor, director, studio head who came into his own when cinema in a newly independent India came into its own. The late 40s and the following two decades are known as Bollywood's Golden Age and Dev Anand came to be adored by hundreds of millions, the dashing lead man, the industry had never had such a handsome hero. Guide, Jewel Thief, Hare Rama Hare Krishna, scratchy well watched VHS copies of those films existed in the home of every Indian immigrant, who like my parents had come to these shores in the 1960s. Dev Anand would also introduce a new kind of Westernised heroine to Indian cinema, like the stunning Zeenat Aman.

"How modern" my disapproving aunties would tut tut when she appeared on screen in her mini skirt. He was a big deal in our house when we were growing up.

"He's Punjabi, you know" said my dad who was also Punjabi, you know.

Dev Anand modelled himself on Gregory Peck. My dad modelled himself on Dev Anand. Dad would delight in telling us how he ran away from his Punajbi village when a teenager to seek fame in what was then the Bombay film industry (the Bollywood tag came decades later). He actually got a job as an extra before his dad fetched him back. And then there was my uncle Mohinder Mastana - an actor famed for his scene stealing turn in the award winning film Chan Pardesi. His Bollywood aspirations came to a tragic and premature end with his death just as he was moving into directing.

So you get the picture. Giving a lift to Dev Anand, even though he was by then in his seventies was a big deal. Imagine if you had been asked to do the same for Robert Redford. Or Gregory Peck for that matter.

We talked about the weather - thank goodness it was snowing and I genuinely could broach the subject without appearing boring before an Icon who was never that.

How I wished my parents had come with me. Though of course they would have just sat there in stunned silence. Like my friend Anu did. And I did eventually.

It was when we arrived at the hotel and I bade my farewell after begging a brief photo opportunity, that he looked at me and said, with his famed devastating charm: "I will call you Nina with the Smiling Eyes."

I always smile when I remember that encounter. My eyes do too.

It is impossible to salute 100 years of Bollywood, the world's biggest film industry without saluting Dev Anand. He was my parent's generation's hero, and after him came Amitabh Bacchan, and Shashi Kapoor - the heroes whose faces adorned my bedroom walls when I was at school.

Though of course in public I was all David Cassidy, in private with family and visiting relatives it was all Amitabh, the star who came to define the industry in the 70s and 80s, and who made the 1975 classic Sholay, the Bollywood film that has been seen by every Indian on the planet. At least once. A sort of Spaghetti Western with music and dancing.

But Dev Anand came first. He died in London in 2011, and although a Bollywood chapter closed, the industry has continued to soar. Internationally box office busting, loud, proud, 100 years old and still going strong."

Nina is a correspondent for ITV News. For more from Nina, go to itv.com/news.

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