On the occasion of the 96th anniversary of the birth of Guru Dutt: why the Master of Gloom still fascinates us today
Guru Dutt was born on this day in 1925 and died in 1964, at the age of 39. Between the decades that have passed, the reputation of the author of Pyaasa has only reached unimaginable heights. Times have been good for him, as it usually is for great artists, from Vincent van Gogh to Heath Ledger – lives and careers that were choked young prompting them to fall head first into the mysterious trenches and indefinable of myth. In Hindi cinema the 1950s are considered the golden age and even in an era dominated by such forces as Raj Kapoor, V Shantaram, Bimal Roy, Dilip Kumar, Dev Anand, BR Chopra and Mehboob Khan, the “Guru Dutt” name has been spoken with respect. Of course, like the filmmaker he is most often compared to – Orson Welles – Dutt’s work only began to receive its due after his tragic death. But it is assumed that the industry of his day must have taken note of Guru Dutt’s intense obsession with his art and unprecedented attempts to make films his way. They are so unmistakably artistic, filled with glorious music and evocative designs, that you know it’s a Guru Dutt movie when you see one. Dutt, whose real name is Vasanth Kumar Shivashankar Padukone, started out as a choreographer. He met three people in the entertainment business who changed his life – for better or for worse, we’ll never know. One was Dev Anand. Dutt and Anand’s friendship dates back to when the latter, not yet a big star, played in Hum Ek Hain (1946). Newcomer Dutt was a choreographer in the same film. The two accidentally met one day at the Prabhat Film Studio in Pune when Anand saw Dutt wearing his shirt. The laundromat, it seems, had sent Dev Anand’s shirt to the wrong man. The duo laughed at the confusion and became good friends soon after – so much so that Anand promised Dutt that if he became a producer he would hire Dutt as a director and Dutt would return the favor in launching his handsome boyfriend as a hero. every time he wore the producer’s hat. As history would prove, they kept their word.
Easy and airy charm
Dev Anand’s Navketan Films launched Guru Dutt as a director with Baazi in 1951. Founded by the Anand brothers, the banner had previously had Afsar directed by Chetan Anand. Baazi was extraordinary for one obvious reason: it was the meeting of a number of brilliant talents. Sahir Ludhianvi on the lyrics and compositions of SD Burman, the voice of Geeta Dutt, Balraj Sahni as screenwriter, Zohra Sehgal as choreographer and Raj Khosla as assistant. Sleekly shot in Hollywood noir style with understated lighting and set in the world of urban crime, the film set the tone for future models of Navketan. Besides proving himself to be a directorial ace with a good grasp of suspense and romance, Dutt’s knack for songwriting was something that was widely on display at Baazi. It was followed by Jaal in 1952. Once again starring Dev Anand and Geeta Bali, the crime drama was inspired by the Italian neorealist hit Bitter Rice (1949) and featured the emerging romantic star as an anti-hero, the one of the first who would come to define Dev Anand as a charming urban wanderer. It’s sad but not really confusing that Dutt’s best and airiest films somehow get lost in the moving and self-defeating glamor of his infinitely more popular Pyaasa (1957) and Kaagaz Ke Phool (1959).
In Aar-Paar (1954), Dutt plays an ex-convict who accepts a job as a taxi driver to gain some respectability and marry his beloved, Nikki (Shyama). But instead, he gets involved in a criminal conspiracy. Mr and Mrs ’55 (1955) sees him teaming up with the ethereal Madhubala. We’ve seen the rich heiress-poor hero trope before, maybe the mother of that setup is Frank Capra’s It Happened One Night (1934). So, while not entirely original, Mr. and Mrs. ’55 still manages to give viewers a good time. In particular, the bubbly chemistry between Madhubala and Dutt is one of the film’s many true charms, aside from the timeless music (“Udhar tum haseen ho,” “Jaane kahan mera jigar gaya jee” and “Thandi hawa.”) two Aar -Paar and Mr and Mrs ’55 have a frothy soundtrack, in the characteristic upbeat style of OP Nayyar. In these romantic comedies, Guru Dutt, who is known today as a master of sadness, seems comfortable with just playing a character without loading him with too much baggage – the thinly veiled autobiographical mark and more. Personal self-pity married to poetic sensibility would come later. Presumably Dev Anand would have been an ideal choice for such pieces, but looking at Aar-Paar and Mr and Mrs ’55 today, you can’t imagine anyone else like taxi driver Kalu and Pritam, the talented one. designer (is he a cartoonist or a communist, veteran Lalita Pawar asks him at one point). Dutt is immensely likeable in these entertaining outings, perhaps more in hindsight because we know what Pyaasa and Kaagaz Ke Phool will forever paint him as the ultimate suffering soul of cinema.
Saint of sadness
Dutt was not a great actor and he had no illusions about it either. That’s why he first approached a very great actor for Pyaasa. Dilip Kumar first said “yes”, only to back down. Years later, the actor regretted it. Dutt would have pursued him to the end. When Kumar, who died at 98 on July 7, failed to appear on sets, Dutt had no choice but to step into the role of villainous poet Vijay. The grim outlook of the film, reflected forcefully in Sahir Ludhianvi’s catchy lyrics, did not match the overall vibe of a newly independent India, but over the decades it is a classic that has rarely been taken out of the limelight. circulation. Filmmakers like Anurag Kashyap, Sudhir Mishra, Tigmanshu Dhulia and many more have kept its flame alight. Kashyap, for his part, was so enthused by Ludhianvi’s ‘Yeh duniya agar mil bhi jaaye’ – even in 2021, populist cinema is unlikely to use such a nihilistic hymn as a heartbeat – that he made it. a movie. Gulaal (2009) tried to recreate the same angst and rejection that you saw in Pyaasa. Even Imtiaz Ali’s Rockstar has a Pyaasa hidden inside its rock and roll core. The trials and tribulations of Jordan (Ranbir Kapoor) do not have their ancestor in Shree 420 by Raj Kapoor or Mera Naam Joker but in Pyaasa by Guru Dutt.
And then came Kaagaz Ke Phool who, as some say, destroyed Dutt – emotionally, physically, spiritually and financially. Protagonist Suresh Sinha, who is a frustrated filmmaker at a time when a film career was frowned upon, was he a replacement for Dutt? “In part, if you join Vijay from Pyaasa and Suresh from Kaagaz Ke Phool, you can tell it’s Guru Dutt,” his son Arun Dutt told Wild Films India. More than anything, Kaagaz Ke Phool is a meditation on the ephemeral of fame as evidenced by its title and with Pyaasa, she gave Dutt his enduring image of the saint of sadness, the tortured artist rejected by society and torn apart. by love and passion. There are other aspects of his personal life that are expressed there: the separated marriage, the love of a creative man for his muse, alcoholism and depression. In real life, Dutt’s marriage to Geeta Dutt was on the rocks. It was the second person he met in the world of cinema that defined his life. Last but not the least, Waheeda Rehman. His alleged closeness to Rehman, whom he discovered in Hyderabad and summoned to Bombay afterwards, has been one of Bollywood’s best-kept secrets. Describing their separation, Arun Dutt – without giving too much – called it a “breach of trust”.
Now 83, Rehman, one of the last Bollywood ties of the past, has always maintained a dignified silence on the subject. Guru Dutt is not here to demystify it. And so, with his small but cult work, a short and troubled life and many unanswered questions, Dutt continues to fascinate.
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