Guru Dutt..the mere mention of the name conjures up a memory of those eyes, which seemed piercing but simultaneously hypnotic, romantic, questioning therefore, melancholic.They were as if making an assertion of having seen it, lost it as well, realising en route. the futility of it all !
In the short span of 39 years that he graced this planet, Guru Dutt has left an indelible mark on Indian cinema..never to be replicated or bettered but perhaps only imitated.
He began his career as a choreographer at the age of 21 which led him to meet Dev Anand via ‘exchanged shirts’ at the ‘Dhobi’ ( Laundry) This proved a turning point, for both. Guru Dutt went on to give Navketan its first hit in ‘Baazi’, which marked his debut as Director, displaying immense chutzpah at the age of 26..There was no looking back. In the genre of crime thrillers of that era Guru Dutt began his trilogy and continued with ‘Aar Paar and ‘Jaal’.
Marriage came soon after with beautiful lissome Geeta Roy in 1953, who went on to becoming his heroine and also a singer par excellence. Her mellifluous voice, effortless and as if wafting through, inherent with melody left many a listener enthralled. Their marriage however could not withstand the uncertainties that life often presents. His early success, passionate ambition, restless angst, coupled with his alleged liaison with his discovery Waheeda Rehman led to its disintegration.
Reflecting the changing scenario of the 50’s when Industrialization in its nascence had as if shaken up the structure of social thought, Guru Dutt went on to make ‘Mr and Mrs 55’, ‘Pyaasa’, ‘Kaagaz Ke Phool’. Not remotely interested however in being didactic, he reacted to his environs through the prism of a poetic, sensitive soul.Every director worth his salt has at some time or another bowed in deference to the genius of Guru dutt as evident in these films.
‘Pyaasa’ went on to becoming a runaway hit. It has been rated one of the best 100 films of all times by Time magazine.The protagonist struggling against the philistines on one hand as a budding writer and insanely holding on to the passion of his writings on the other, set against the backdrop of a life caught between a jilted love and a disloyal brother, was insidiously meant to juxtapose his anguish as a film maker caught in the pangs of a commercial web where his talent was if gasping for life, choked by antithetical powers.
The last scene of the inherent ‘crucifixion’, although lost on the populace, pulsating with emotion, backed with lyrics ‘”Yeh duniya agar mil bhi jaaya to ky hai” ( if one gets the world to what avail) turning his back on the aberrant ways of a whimsical audience, opting instead for the love of a street walker, is a moment in Indian cinema which will be remembered for aeons, if not forever..so one fervently and piously hopes.
Talent, genius, creativity does not always meet with applause, recognition, rewards in direct proportion. Oftentimes, rejection is its fate and a heartbroken soul its destiny. Only to be catapulted generations later into the realm of legends, with their works of art under scrutiny then sung paeans to. This has happened with Mirza Ghalib, Van Gogh and to a large extent with Guru Dutt.
‘Kaagaz ke phool’ many like me opine is his best work . It spoke of the tragedy of a film maker and the effervescence of fickle fame, shifty and unpredictable. If art be a marriage between conscious and unconscious, then this piece of work was only a narration of his state of mind strung together, interwoven through the words of his characters. The amalgamation of its songs, lyrics and picturisation which were by now Guru Dutts forte, brought a lump to ones throat.
Showing a keen sense of cinematography, the play of shadows and light in his films has been as if a University in story telling for some makers.
The ‘beam shot’ which caught the fancy of every maker then, in the song ‘ waqt ne kiya kya hunsi situm’ had always perplexed one as to its execution and I was curious to know the details of its picturisation. The cinematographer V.K. Murthy in an interview explains thus:
Waqt ne kiya kya haseen sitam was a milestone in terms of lighting. We were shooting a difficult scene in Natraj Studio in the afternoon, and the light came through the ventilator. The beam looked so good that I showed it to Guru Dutt. He said we would use that in our film, but it was complicated.
He asked me to use sunlight. So we brought two huge mirrors and kept one outside the studio in the sun, that reflected the light onto another mirror, kept on the catwalk, and opened the balcony door to the studio. Light reflected from one to the other and the beam was created. We added some smoke to it, and that scene became a phenomenal craze in the history of cinematography!
“Yeh daulat yeh takhton yeh taajon ki duniya’ bespoke of the genius of Sahir Ludhianvi as much as it did of the maker Guru Dutt. It is unforgettably poignant. Never again has this story been re-made although one is almost certain of the Universality of the sentiment portrayed. Is it because the memory is yet fresh despite having unfolded more than half a century ago? Or is the Original so rich that the copy will always be second best? Or is it because filmdom steeped as it is in superstitions, shied away from one which suggested that ‘films on film makers ..flop”.
Yes this film failed so miserably at the box office that Guru Dutt lost his confidence forever and never went on to lending his name as Director to a film again.. although Chaudhvin Ka Chaand’ and ‘ Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam’ which he produced and acted in, were rumored ostensibly to bear his stamp.
A man peremptory in his demands as a maker, paradoxically chose deathly silence when his expectations from life proved tangentially in opposition to how events unfolded. Dismal over the lack of control in life and its sequential occurrences, Guru Dutt gave up fighting. Bereft of strong emotional anchors, his family had left, his friends had moved on and loneliness as if the final inevitability, he succumbed to the vagaries of a depressed mental state.
The nihilism theory so creatively propounded in his films proved prophetic, or were they intended to be autobiographical? He is reported to have told his cameraman
em> Pyaasa: Agar yeh duniya mujhe mil bhi jaye to kya hai. I asked him why he said that suddenly and he said, ‘Mujhe waise he lag raha hai. Dekho na, mujhe director banna tha, director ban gaya; actor bana tha, actor ban gaya; picture achcha banane tha, ache bane. Paisa hai, sab kuch hai, par kuch bhi nahi raha [I feel this way. I wanted to become a director, I became one; I wanted to become an actor, I became one; I wanted to make good films, I made them. I have money, I have everything, yet I have nothing]
A film maker who pioneered the use of close ups in emotional scenes, perhaps had seen life at close quarters ‘ up close and personal’ and decided one day to shake off his enchantment with it…
Guru Dutt died of an overdose of sleeping pills on October 10th 1964.
P.S. It would hve been a shame not to include a vignette from Guru Dutts repertoire in the vodpod. Accordingly have added “ Jaane woh kaise log the jinko” from “Pyaasa” and the film “ Kaagaz ke phool” in Kavee’s vodpod. Although this viewing will in no manner replicate the experience of seeing his films in a theatre, the right way of seeing films made by these masters, nevertheless, it might afford you a glimpse into the genius that was Guru Dutt.