Vasanth Kumar Shivashankar Padukone. Does the name ring a bell? Well it does. He is our favourite and revered Guru Dutt. Years after his death people still debate on whether he was a Bengali. Or as some say ‘Dutt’ is a Punjabi surname and own him up. Such is the charisma of this man, who left the world at just thirty nine years of age.
The life of Guru Dutt, in itself feels like a magnum opus. There is the urge to succeed; there is love, heartbreak, disillusionment. Critics have opined that Dutt was born way ahead of his time. His films, especially Pyassa and Kaagaz ke Phool are considered to be cult films. But in the 50s and early 60s, storytelling was different, reception of cinema was different and some even considered his films to be ‘sad’.
Guru Dutt had picked up his new name while he stayed on in Kolkata. He had started his career in pre independent India as a telephone operator. But soon disillusioned by the run of the mill job, he had taken off for Mumbai. His romance with cinema began at Prabhat Film Company in Pune. It is here that he met Waheeda Rehman and his dear friend Dev Anand. It is through Dev Anand’s conversations that we come to know about the bond he and Dutt shared. It is there that the friendly pact was made- if Dev Anand would ever produce a film, Guru Dutt would direct it and the former would star in it. Dutt worked as an assistant director at that point of time. The promise was kept and Dutt was launched as a director in Baazi ( Navketan films).
Dutt was influenced by the Noir thrillers of Hollywood, with Baazi and Jaal having traces of the genre. Gilda and Bitter Rice had left an impression on the mind of young Dutt.
In 1953 started two new chapters started in his life. He debuted as hero opposite Geeta Bali in Baaz and even though he is perceived as the brooding hero today; he is seen doing the singing around trees in this movie. In Zaara samne as zaara aank mila, sung by Geeta Dutt, we see a young Dutt playing the besotted hero with perfection. In that same year he married Geeta Dutt (who was Geeta Roy then).
1954 proved to be a good year too, with Guru Dutt’s Aar Paar. He had succeeded as an actor- director- producer with the same film. Even though he was making Noir and thrillers in those days, layers of relationships was a constant in his films. Love triangles or the ‘other’ woman was a constant in his movies.
Dutt’s Pyassa is ranked as one of the best movies of all time by the TIME magazine. Wonder if it is some coincidence that Dutt made Pyassa in 1957, exactly a decade after Indian independence. A disillusionment is evident in Sahir Ludhianvi’s lyrics (that protagonist Vijay played by Guru Dutt sings).
This wasted house of love
ye lut te hue kaaravaan zindagi ke
this looting of the caravan of life
kahaan hain, kahaan hain muhafiz khudi ke
where are they, the proud travellers
jinhen naaz hai Hind par woh kahaan hain
where are they, those who are so proud of India? The refrain jinhein naaz hai Hind par woh kahaan hai in the chorus reminds us of this layer of disillusionment in Pyassa. Pyassa started a new era in Guru Dutt’s life. The romance, comedy and thrillers of his earlier films were replaced by something serious and brooding. The handling of creativity and the pathos that comes out of it, and the heartbreak associated with creativity, is probably one of the best in Indian cinema. Subtly many have tried to replicate it, with disillusioned heroes taking up to alcohol; but not many have matched the inner battle of Vijay’s creative mind in Pyassa. And the summing up when he walks away from fame and fans takes the storytelling to another level. Today when we watch the film, there’s that haunting question – was Guru Dutt acting at all in Pyasa? Or was he baring his own troubled soul? Jane woh kaise log the jinke pyaar ko pyaar mila Hamne toh jab kaliyan mangi katon kaa har mila – Maybe none saw through him at that time.
Dutt was just in his early thirties when he made Pyassa. In the film he scorns success and walks away, and his story telling remains no nonsense. There is nothing to appease the audience.
The uncertain turn in his life came with Kaagaz ke Phool, the movie that incurred him a loss of 17 lakhs, an enormous amount in 1959. Today it is considered as cult cinema. The last scene, Dutt sitting on the director’s chair lonely and broken has captured the fancy of writers, and film makers. But Dutt could never accept the failure of Kaagaz ke Phool. He never directed another film. The pain is evident in his own words, “Dekho na, mujhe director banna tha, director ban gaya; actor bana tha, actor ban gaya; picture achche banane thay, achche banay. Paisa hai, sab kuch hai, par kuch bhi nahi raha.”
Abrar Alvi directed Chaudhvin ka Chand in 1960 and it was a smashing hit. Dutt also made Sahib Biwi aur Ghulam (1962) with Alvi, and there’ve been rumours about Dutt having ghost directed the movie. Sahib Biwi Ghulam was both commercially and critically successful.
Guru and Geeta Dutt had three children Tarun, Arun and Nina. Both Nina and Arun say they’ve known their father through his films. One was two the other eight when Dutt killed himself. An unhappy marriage, Waheeda Rahman, thirst for brilliance! What could be a reason? Dutt had got into the habit of drowning his sorrows in alcohol. Was that the reason or was a narcissistic streak?
Dev Anand had met him about 5 days before his death. The friends had talked about making a film together. And then Dev Saab had seen the lifeless body of his friend. Asha Bhonsle remembers having talked to Dutt over phone just before he killed himself.
Maybe Dutt had said it in Pyassa – Mere samne se hata lo ye duniya
Tumhari hai tum hi sambhalo ye duniya
Ye duniya agar mil bhi jaye to kya hai
In his time in cinema Dutt had worked as an assistant director, choreographer, director, actor, and producer. He had even written short stories in English for The Illustrated Weekly of India. Today many of his fans remember Dutt as an institution. He has launched comedians. He has give writers a chance to write spirited dialogs and lyrics. Directors got breaks, music directors got confidence and actresses got their most unforgettable roles. And even though Dutt was gone too early, the people he had backed went on to leave valuable imprints in cinema.
Today, July 9th happens to be his Birth Anniversary. And we wish him a very Happy Anniversary, because a creative genius never dies. He lives on in his works. Some of us will always – Hum aap ki aankhon mein, is dil ko basa de toh for him as he continues to live through his cinema.