Deven Verma – Subtle Timer
He is engraved, in the film psyche of the classicists, as the bumbling, hemp loving, dog faithful servant Bahadur (double role, 3rd Filmfare award) in Angoor and as the barber Murli Manohar, Aamir Khan’s father in Andaz Apna Apna, of the cultists. But it was director Brij’s follow up to block busting Victoria No: 203, Chori Mera Kaam (1st Filmfare award, 1975) which resolutely established Verma’s credentials as a top comic actor.
Born on 23 Oct, 1937 in a silver merchant’s house, the family shifted from Bombay to Poona for his sister’s education. Completing his schooling in Panchgani, Verma was infected with by the acting infection at Nowrozjee College for Arts and Sciences.
“There is an intrinsic humor in people of which they are themselves unaware, most of the time and a good comedian borrows constantly from life, using this material to create laughter.” Deven Varma never believed in crude comedy mostly exploited on the Hindi screen. “On the contrary,” he said, “From the very beginning, since I began my career by being one of the first mimicry artist on the stage, I would raise laughs by sticking to real-life characteristics.”
In 1962 Deven Varma was asked to do a one-man show of skits, mimicry and assorted comedy items at a function organised by the North India Punjabi Association, Sion, Bombay. At this function. producer-director B R Chopra spotted the talented youngster on stage and gave him a small role in ‘Dharmputra’ as Shashi Kapoor’s younger brother.
At that time Deven Varma was going strong as a stage comedian. Immediately after his one day’s role in “Dharmputra” he left on a tour of East Africa and Mauritius to do stage shows.
On his return he called on B. R. Chopra again, who fixed him up on a salary of three hundred rupees a month to work in Vasant Joglekar’s ‘Aaj Aur Kal’ (’63) but it was Chopra’s ‘Gumrah’ (63) which really started off Verma on his career as a screen comedian. “If you want a good laugh in this connection,”Verma reminisced, “here it is; in Gumrah’ I played the servant of Ashok Kumar; in ‘Aaj Aur Kal’ I played his son; and in real life eventually I landed up as his son in law! But that’s not all the harassment I’ve inflicted on him. In ‘Bada Kabutar’ (’73) I became his director as well!”
Not proving a flash in the pan, his acting success continued in ‘Anupama’ and ‘Devar’ (’66), ‘Khamoshi’ (’70), ‘Buddha Mil Gaya’ and ‘Mere Apne’ (’71). As the houseboy of Danny in ‘Dhund’, he the first half of the film was engrossing and lively mainly because of his presence in it.
Like Kishore Kumar and Mehmood before him, Verma became the third comedian to turn producer director, a move that was much less rewarding. “Yes. That’s true,” he agreed “But many are not aware that I entered the industry primarily to be a film-maker. I was close to B R Chopra and
Yash Chopra. I would spend hours in the editing rooms watching Pran Mehra at work, I would sit in on their story discussions trying to learn every little thing about the mechanics and business of film production. Then I launched my company, Navaratna Films and produced ‘Yakeen’ (’69), a sophisticated and fast paced crime thriller directed by Brij but surprisingly, it didn’t fare too well at the box office but I didn’t give up on production, doing eight of them. And in 1971, I directed my first film, ‘Naadan’ with Asha Parekh and Navin Nischol.’
Tongue in cheek, he commented to Bunny Reuben in an interview in 1971, “To be a successful film maker in the Hindi film context you have to predicate each film you make on the assumption that the largest cross-section of people all over the country must want to see it. Hence you select a subject that will appeal to the average IQ of the twelve year-old! From there on you go logically – which means illogically – into the matter of providing entertainment as we know it: romance, fisticufis, songs, dances etc. And I’ve done exactly that in ‘Nadaan. As a matter of fact, right in the beginning of the film I’ve put a notice which reads: “THIS FILM HAS BEEN PRODUCED SOLELY FOR YOUR ENTERTAINMENT. ANY SERIOUS DISCUSSION ON ITS THEME, PURPOSE OR MESSAGE (IF ANY) IS EXPRESSLY FORBIDDEN!”
He kept on directing despite limited success and made Bada Kabootar (’73) with Ashok Kumar, Besharam (’78) with Amitabh and Daana Paani (’89) with Mithun.
Verma, well respected throughout the industry never succumbed to vulgarity and like Johnny Walker before him, rejected many roles that demanded it of him. And from the very beginning, he never exploited his Dadamoni connection in any way. If Deven made the grade and achieved, as a comedian and producer director, he did it on his own steam.
Completing a 150 films, he retired after the death of Ashok Kumar. His last released film was ‘Calcutta Mail’ (’03). “In this industry, you can last for 10 years on your talent but on good behavior you will last forever. I have worked in the film industry for 47 years.”
“Till the time I was working I had lots of films on hand. There was never a period when I had no work. I had bought a bungalow in Pune and moved there in 1993 due to my wife’s ill health.”
He was married to Ashok Kumar’s non filmy daughter Rupa Ganguly, the other being the portly actress Preety Ganguli with whom he worked on ten of films including Dillagi (’78), Thodi si Bewafaii (’80) and Khatta Meetha (’81).
Of comedy acting, he said, “Observation is a prime requisite in a comic actor. If you’re going to be good at comedy, you have to observe real life people and study real-life situations, all the time.”
Deven Verma breathed his last today, 02 Dec 14 in Pune but he has left behind a body of work to keep our funny bones tickled for long time. Nominated 13 times, he picked up the coveted Best Comedian Filmfare trophy 3 times.