On His 45th Death Anniversary Guru Dutt REVISITED
In his autobiography, Romancing with Life, Dev Anand writes: “I could not believe that he was actually gone. I drove straight to his apartment. I was probably the very first visitor, and was ushered straightaway into the room where his body lay. There was nobody else in the room, just me and him. His face, turned blue perhaps because of the blue liquid in a glass lying next to him on his bedside table which he had drunk to kill himself, seemed to say, ‘Goodbye, my friend. I have been missing you. I have to go. But you keep going!’ My heart tore into shreds. I silently walked back to my car. As I drove away, I saw the two of us together on the Poona hilltop where we had first dreamt our dreams by the fading light of the setting sun.” Guru Dutt of becoming a great director, and Anand of becoming a great star. Both saw their dreams fulfilled, and having drifted apart soon after they worked together on Jaal (1952), never to work together again though according to the actor, Guru Dutt had, indeed, expressed the desire to do another film shortly before his premature death on October 10, 1965.
Although names of film makers like V Shantaram, Mehboob Khan, Raj Kapoor, and some of the now extinct studios are often paraded for their valuable contribution to Hindi cinema, Guru Dutt still stands apart from the sensitivity with which he handled some difficult themes. Regarded a genius at 35, he committed suicide (out of sheer depression and inability to resolve personal and familial problems). He died early, but to live forever for his masterpieces which seem to have become textbooks of sorts. His sense of perfectionism first really became evident in conceptualisation of especially back-light projection in Pyassa. Result, more than time and money, became parameters of his unique craftsmanship. Being a trained dancer, song picturisation became an additional hallmark of his films (a style later successfully re-crafted by Raj Khosla and Vijay Anand). VK Murthy, bestowed last year with the Dadasaheb Phalke Award, and his innovative camerawork further distinguished Guru Dutt’s cinema. They were the first to deploy long focal-length lenses, and 100 mm as 75 mm for close ups in Indian films, especially in the making of Kaagaz ke Phool.
If from a mere dance director in Prabhat Studios to a full-fledged director courtesy of a promise in Navketan’s first hit, Baazi was a natural step, from one who made successful breezy comedies like Baaz (53) Aar Paar (54), and Mr & Mrs 55 (55), and light crime-based ones like Baazi (51), Jaal (52) to a sensitive film-maker with a distinctive style had never been evident in the kind of films that he went on to make, and leaving behind a body of work (Pyaasa, Kaagaz ke Phool, Chaudhvi ka Chand, Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam in 57,59,60,62, and although he did not lend his name as director in the last two, his imprint and style were more than evident, especially in song picturisations). Altogether he also acted in 13 films including 12 O’Clock with Waheeda Rahman (58), Sautela Bhai opposite Pranoti Ghosh (62), Bahurani with Mala Sinha (63), Bharosa with Asha Parekh (63), paired with Meena Kumari in Sanjh aur Savera (64) and Suhagan again with Mala Sinha (64). It is generally believed he did these films mainly to earn a extra buck after the disastrous run of Kaagaz ke Phool. He had also been the leading man of K Asif’s Love and God which had been in the making at the time of his death. During the 50’s he also produced CID (56) to return his debt to Dev Anand, and also to give break to assistant Raj Khosla, who later went onto become a hugely successful producer-director in his own right. In 1956, he also directed the forgotten Sailaab with Abhi Bhattacharya and Geeta Bali.
Few know, and have really talked about the fact that in his early days Guru Dutt also wrote short stories in English, some of which were published in The Illustrated Weekly of India. One of these was the story of Pyaasa on which he later re-worked with writer, Abrar Alvi. But according to Nasreen Munni Kabir, who has not only made a documentary on the famed film-maker but also written the only existing book on the film-maker, Guru Dutt: A Life in Cinema (1996) (there has since been another book Ten Years with Guru Dutt: Abrar Alvi’s Journey by Sathya Saran (2008), the original story had been called Kashmakash (Conflict) in which the protagonist Vijay had been a painter. The credit titles do not mention the author or the scriptwriter though Alvi was credited with dialogue.
Since music and songs were pivotal to anything Guru Dutt would even remotely consider for adaptation, the character of writer Vijay was converted into that of a poet to facilitate lyrics. The story has it that he wanted Dilip Kumar who, after some deliberation, turned down the offer for personal reasons. He had also met poet Sahir Ludhanvi and composer SD Burman, the Navketan-favourites. So for Pyaasa, he decided to abandon Majrooh Sultanpuri and OP Naayar and opted for the combo. The result was mind-boggling as both music and lyrics contributed hugely to the success of the film. And although Burman also composed the music for Kaagaz ke Phool and Kaifi Azmi’s poetry lent essence to the difficult theme that he had chosen to tackle. In fact, Guru Dutt never used songs only for the sake of entertainment, or relief. For him lyrics were a way of carrying the narrative forward. So Ravi was brought in to compose Shakeel Badayuni’s lyrics in Chaudhvin ka Chand, and since Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam was based on a Bengali novel, and the story set in a decadent Calcutta, Hemant Kumar’s services were deployed to fine-tune Badayuni’s lyrics.
To conclude, it would be appropriate to quote Sathya Saran’s interpretation of Abrar Alvi’s account: “Guru Dutt told Abrar to leave the script with Ratan. ‘If you don’t mind I would like to retire,’ he said, and got up to go to his room. These would be the last words Abrar would hear from the man with whom he had shared the ten most creative years of his life. There is nothing to prove that his unhappiness with the way his latest film was shaping up was one of the causes behind his suicide, but the fact remains, sadly and irrevocably, that before he could complete the film, Guru Dutt was dead.” From this and other accounts available it can be safely deduced that it was a miscalculation, and not a contemplated suicide.
By Suresh Kohli