Gracing the Hindi film screen for four decades with endearing roles in classic domestic comedies, Deven Verma is memorable especially for his comic roles with filmmakers like Basu Chatterjee, Hrishikesh Mukherjee and Gulzar. A film and television actor, Deven Verma was a gifted mimic and accomplished raconteur. He had been awarded the Filmfare Best Comedian Award for films like Chori Mera Kaam (1975), Chor Ke Ghar Chor (1978) and Angoor (1982), which was directed by Gulzar and is still counted among the best comedies of Hindi cinema. Also producing and directing films including Besharam (1978), he is also known for his work in Yakeen (1969), Nadaan (1971), and Andaaz Apna Apna (1994). Commencing his career with dramatic roles, it was in witty and ironic comedy that Verma found his metier.
Born on October 23, 1937, in Kutch, Gujarat, his early years were spent in Pune with his parents and four sisters. Upon graduating from Nowrosjee Wadia College for Arts and Science in 1957, he moved to Bombay to study law, only to give it up six months into his course. Through his college years, he had participated in theatre and youth festivals; his interest in theatre remained even after quitting law, as he began performing professionally on stage, performing one-act theatre performances and mimicry acts.
He received his break in films when he was noticed by B R Chopra, and made his film debut with Dharmputra (1961). The film was a controversial one, tackling Partition and taking a hardlook at the effects of religious fundamentalism. However, it failed to do well at the box office, which saw Verma compelled to continue with stage shows in India and abroad. Two years later he returned to films with Gumrah (1963). It was his first comic role, which saw him playing Ashok Kumar’s servant. Post Gumrah, he became a regular in films whether Hindi, Bhojpuri or Marathi, going on to work in nearly 150 projects over the course of his 40 year-long career. He went on to be cast in some of Hindi cinema’s finest dramatic films like Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Anupama (1966), Asit Sen’s Khamoshi (1970) in which he played the self-deprecating, melancholic ‘Patient no. 22’, and Gulzar’s Mere Apne (1971) in which he played Meena Kumari’s cantankerous, yet warm-hearted theatre artist husband. The film explored eroding values and social disgruntlement against a decaying social background.
Chori Mera Kaam (1975) turned out to be a further turning point in Verma’s career, as he truly came into his own as a comic actor. His chemistry with co-stars Shashi Kapoor and Ashok Kumar in the film went beyond the storyline leading to him bagging his first Filmfare Award for Best Comedian. Meatier roles followed in Arjun Pandit (1976) and Chor Ke Ghar Chor (1978) with the decade ending on a high for Verma with Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Golmaal (1979). Cast as Amol Palekar’s helpful friend, the film remains memorable for being a zany masterpiece of middle cinema. Gulzar’s Angoor—which was a remake of the Bengali film Bhranti Bilas(1963) and Do Dooni Char (1968), which were inspired by Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors—saw Verma give what is considered his best performance ever, with both he and Sanjeev Kumar playing double roles. His performance also brought him his third Filmfare award.
Despite a slow start, Deven Verma went on to enjoy a busy career, winning appreciation for his performance in comic roles, as well as for his handful of production and directorial ventures such as Bada Kabootar (1973) and Naadan (1977). With offers pouring in, he worked on a record 17 films at one time around the early 80s. Working without a break until he retired, he was never short of roles—a fact that pleased him immensely. After feeling uncomfortable dealing with the new culture and references in the industry, he made a conscious decision to leave and enjoy his retirement. Mere Yaar Ki Shaadi Hai (2002) was the last film he worked on; however, an earlier project, Calcutta Mail (2003) ended up being his last release as an actor.
Deven Verma was married to legendary actor Ashok Kumar’s daughter, Rupa Ganguly. He passed away on 2 December, 2014, at the age of 78, following a heart attack.