Guru of sensitive cinema

A retrospective of Guru Dutt’s films held in Delhi recently showcased the actor-director’s immense contribution to cinema. Nirupama Dutt recalls his timeless classics.

Guru Dutt films like Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam and Pyaasa still hold appeal
Guru Dutt films like Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam and Pyaasa still hold appeal

There are takers for the magical black and white cinema of Guru Dutt even some four decades after his death. This was evident at the just-concluded Cinemaya Asian Film Festival in the Capital. It was on October 10, 1964, that this exceptional film personality, an actor, director and producer all rolled into one, literally called it a day by committing suicide — much to the shock of his family, friends and fans. He left behind a poetic contribution to cinema in passionate work done just in the span of 13 years. God may or may not love those who die young but humans certainly do. Guru Dutt, one of the cherished icons of Indian cinema, has a cult following. One such ardent fan is Aruna Vasudev, film critic and historian, whose brainchild Cinemaya is. "We include Guru Dutt films in every festival because some of the young people know nothing about his cinema but this time we included some of his less famous films like CID, Mr. & Mrs. 55 and Aar-Paar along with his all-time great films," says Vasudev.

Guru Dutt’s all-time great films are Pyaasa, Kagaz ke Phool and Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam. Born in Mysore on July 25, 1925, he had his early education in Calcutta and after taking basic dance training from Uday Shankar he joined the Prabhat Studios and made a beginning as choreographer for Hum Ek Hain (1946), starring Dev Anand. The two struck a great friendship and while Guru Dutt was director for many of Navketan films, Dev Anand, in turn, was hero in many of Guru Dutt’s films. In fact Guru Dutt’s directorial debut came with Navketan’s Baazi. With Geeta Roy as the playback singer it had some wonderful evergreen songs like Suno gajar kya gaaye, Aaj ki raat piya and Yeh kaun aayea. Although the film was the simple story of the rich good girl falling in love with the poor boy forced to be bad. Set in the twilight of the underworld, it starred Dev Anand and Kalpana Kartik in the lead. Geeta Bali gave a memorable performance as the gangster’s moll. It was during the making of this film that Guru Dutt and Geeta Bali fell in love with each other and married. The marriage was later to see much unhappiness as Guru Dutt fell in love with the leading lady he had discovered, Waheeda Rehman. Baazi, released in 1951, was a big hit and Guru Dutt had arrived with his trademark style of playing with light and shade and experimenting with the close-up shot. The Goan seaside thriller Jaal once again with Dev Anand and Geeta Bali and immortal music by Hemant Kumar had the whole country singing Yeh raat yeh chandni phir kahan.

In 1954, Guru Dutt turned producer as well with Aar Paar. For the film he signed the B-grade heroine Shyama because he could not afford the other leading ladies. He played his own hero and the audiences gasped with delight as he sang Mohabbat kar lo jee bhar lo, Aji kisne roka hai. Watching this films with young audiences half a century after these were made can be quite an experience. Guru Dutt integrated film songs very well in the flow of the story. The best example of this was, of course, Pyaasa (1957). In this film the poetry of Sahir Ludhianvi was brought alive on the celluloid with great intensity. Guru Dutt built a strong team which included comedians Tun Tun and Johnny Walker who were to be seen in most of his films. The famous massage song Champi tel malish from Pyaasa was picturised on Walker. The film had Waheeda in the lead, to whom he had already given a break in CID as a side heroine.

Inspired by Sarat Chandra’s novel Srikant, it had a very poignant love scene between the two playing the roles of poet and prostitute respectively. The woman yearns to touch him on the terrace in the night as a Krishna bhajan is being sung in the street below: Aaj sajjan mohe ang laga lo, Janam safal ho jaaye. The film ends with the two walking away hand in hand from a selfish world.

Sadly life could not be so simple. In Kagaz ke Phool, an autobiographical film, he almost rehearsed his own death. A sensitive film set against the razzmatazz of the film world, Kagaz ke Phool won the President’s silver medal and the Critics’ Award but failed at the box office because the people were not yet ready for such a film. This broke Guru Dutt emotionally.

The success of Sahib, Bibi aur Ghulam in 1962 should have healed his scars but his personal life was in shambles and on October 10, 1964, he took an overdose of sleeping pills. I recall the poem Kaifi Azmi had written then for he was the lyricist for Kagaz ke Phool giving great songs like Waqt ne kiya kya haseen sitam and Bichhade sabhi baari baari. Kaifi’s dirge at Guru Dutt’s death moved the heart:

Tum jaise gaye aise to jaaya nahi karte

Ik baar to khud maut bhi ghabra gayi hogi

Yoon maut ko seene se lagaya nahi karte