Bollywood Baatein: The genius of Guru Dutt

Guru Dutt loved cinema, but he hated its trappings. He couldn’t take the heat and hypocrisy of the world he had to inhabit in order to be creatively functional

Bollywood Baatein: The genius of Guru Dutt
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Subhash K Jha

July 9 was Guru Dutt’s death anniversary. If he hadn’t ended his life suddenly at the age of 39, he would have been a ripeold 97 today. But still making movies ahead of his, or any times.

In 1964, when he took his own life, Guru Dutt was directing and acting in Baharen Phir Bhi Aayengi. The film was eventually released with Dharmendra playing Guru Dutt’s role. Many people think Guru Dutt committed suicide because of Waheeda Rehman, but this is not true. They had parted ways in 1958 itself.

The timelessness of Guru Dutt’s art was reposed in the ravishing rebellion of mind that wouldn’t conform. He could make every frame of his cinema a statement on the quality of existence.

On the other hand, he could just have fun and make film for entertainment, as he did with his earlier breezy musicals like Mr. & Mrs. 55 and Aar Paar.

As a deep melancholy set into the artiste’s soul, Guru Dutt’s cinema grew deep, dark, retrospective and brooding. Pyaasa was a homage to a manic pessimism. Long before depression became clinically certifiable, Guru Dutt made this elegiac film on the unbearable darkness of being.

He was a reluctant actor who never wanted to face the camera. The most famous role in Pyaasa came to Guru Dutt by default. Dilip Kumar had been signed to play the defeatist post-Nehruvian poet. But then Dilip Kumar was already doing what he thought to be similar role in Devdas. When the thespian backed out, Guru Dutt stepped in front of the camera more out of defiance than desire.

In Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam, Shashi Kapoor was to pay the innocent Bhootnath. But again, the casting backfired and Guru Dutt had to step into the role reluctantly.

Guru Dutt launched India’s first cinemascope film Gouri with his wife Geeta Dutt in the lead. S.D. Burman recorded two songs and Guru Dutt shot a couple of scenes. But he decided to shelve the film probably because he had imagined his muse Waheeda Rehman in the role. Years later Waheedaji did a film on the same theme— about the rehabilitation of a sex worker — called Darpan.

In 1963 Guru Dutt launched India’s first colour film Kaneez with Simi Garewal in the lead. It was apparently an Arabian Nights fantasy. This is one project that I am glad Guru Dutt never made. It would have been like Satyajit Ray making Amar Akbar Anthony. After his most ambitious film Kagaz Ke Phool tanked in 1959, Guru Dutt never took official directorial credit ever again although it is believed that Chaudhvin Ka Chand (which did for Guru Dutt after Kagaz Ke Phool, what Bobby did for Raj Kapoor after Mera Naam Joker) was ghost-directed by the maestro himself.

Bollywood Baatein: The genius of Guru Dutt

Pyaasa remains Guru Dutt’s most influential film. It inspired a whole brood of filmmakers, including Manoj Kumar in whose underrated Roti Kapda Aur Makaan, the gold-digging Zeenat Aman was discernibly modelled on Mala Sinha in Pyaasa.

Whether it was Waheeda Rehman in Pyaasa and Kagaz Ke Phool, or the eternally melancholic Meena Kumari in Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam, the women that Guru Dutt portrayed were pictures of smothered self-fulfilment. Their relentless search for self-fulfilment invariably took them much further away from decorum than social conventions permitted.

Kagaz Ke Phool was a deeply autobiographical film with shades of candour and grandeur that transcended the boundaries of cinema. He couldn’t take the heat and hypocrisy of the world he had to inhabit in order to be creatively functional. This was the looming irony. He loved cinema. But he hated its trappings.

(This article was first published in National Herald on Sunday.)

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