It’s 50 years since Guru Dutt, the incomparable Indian filmmaker and actor, killed himself at the impossibly young age of 39. Here is a tribute to the genius
NAJEEB S A
[dropcap]O[/dropcap]ctober 9, 1964, Friday, Guru Dutt’s apartment at Ark Royal: Abrar Alvi was recounting the implications of the last scene of ‘Bahaarein Phir Bhi Aayengi’. Guru Dutt apparently had been drinking and his eyelids were drooping. The filmmaker telephoned his estranged wife Geeta Dutt. The conversation, however, did not strike the right note, maybe because Dutt’s tongue was dragging. It was well past midnight when the filmmaker and his writer associate had dinner. Dutt then retired for the night. Sitting in the taxi taking him home Alvi didn’t quite realize that he would never see the actor alive again.
The following morning Dutt was found dead in his bed from an overdose of barbiturates. He was barely 39. People who have known him for long still debate whether it was a successful suicide attempt or an accident. Though their relationship had gone sour, Geeta Dutt found it hard to come to terms with her husband’s death and suffered a nervous breakdown. She tried to seek solace by drinking heavily. Falling a prey to liver cirrhosis did not stop her from drinking herself to death in 1972.
It was during his struggling years that Dutt fostered a reciprocal camaraderie with Dev Anand to the extent that they even shared an undertaking: If ever Dev produced a film, Dutt would direct it and if ever Dutt directed a film, Dev would play the central character in it. It came true when Dev produced ‘Baazi’ under Navketan’s banner and Dutt directed it. In the following year Dutt’s professional relationship with the husky voiced singer Geeta Roy went overboard resulting in matrimony.
Curiously enough most of Dutt’s films bore an underlying premise of the other woman. While in ‘Baazi’ it was Kalpana Vs Geeta Bali, in ‘Aar Paar’, Shyama Vs Shakila, in ‘CID’, Shakila was the heroine and and Waheeda Rahman the mole and ‘Pyaasa’ had both Mala Sinha and Waheeda Rahman. As a matter of fact ‘Pyaasa’ was a turning point in the cinematic life of Dutt. Before the film moved to production Dutt had a most ambitious star combination in Dilip Kumar-Nargis-Madhubala for ‘Pyaasa’ that failed to take off from the drawing board due to Dilip Kumar’s apprehension over the project.
I had an uncle who after a 20-year stint in Singapore came back home to reunite with his forgotten family ties. Though in his mid-40s for some reason he had preferred to remain a bachelor. I still remember some of the songs he used to play in his Telefunken record player on most nights when he went to bed. One of them was ‘Yeh duniya agar mil bhi jaaye toh kya hai’ from ‘Pyaasa’.
In the picturization of this song the protagonist’s (Dutt himself) image was juxtaposed over the main frame with a Biblical connotation as though in a crucifixion. Dutt’s insinuation to the Son of God especially with the subtleties in the employment of close-up cuts was obviously nothing short of brilliant. Despite all the technical advancements now available in non-linear digital editing systems in compiling a film’s final cut before being sent to a negative matcher, the cinematic syntax Guru Dutt applied to propel the narrative forward 57 years ago remains unparalleled in the history of Indian commercial cinema.
In spite of all the superlative attributes showered over ‘Pyaasa’, it was ‘Kaagaz Ke Phool’ that was closest to Dutt’s heart. By Dutt’s own admission, ‘the audiences found it too slow and it went over their heads’. It also proved to be true that Dutt was an artist far ahead of his time. More often than not, the symbolic interpretations in his narrative, as far as the audiences of the time were concerned, fell at a stretch far beyond their comprehension.
For instance, the significant exchanges between Vijay (Dutt) and Gulab (Waheeda Rahman) take place on the staircase which is used to symbolize the lofty expression of love. In another scene where Meena learns about Vijay’s suicide, she is reading the December 1955 issue of Life magazine with the cover picture illustrating the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
More importantly, the film cost Dutt Rs 17 lakhs which was by no means a small investment by the filmmaking standards of the mid-50s. The failure of ‘Kaagaz Ke Phool’ certainly took its toll on the filmmaker; he never signed a film with his name as director again, though some claim that he ghost-directed ‘Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam’ which articulated the tragic tale of the choti bahu through the eyes of her attendant with the decaying feudalism of the 19th century as its backdrop.
A few days before his death Dutt met his old pal Dev Anand expressing his desire to do a film with him again. But then it was not destined to be. Later Dev said of his friend that he could never digest failure.
It was sardonic that in a way Dutt’s fate was intertwined with that of some of the characters of his own films. He always walked the fine line that differentiated between fiction and non-fiction. Love in its truest form can only be detached. Love never operates in straight lines. It just happens, with no sense of time, place or deliberation of consequences. It simply has to be felt because it falls beyond all confinements you can ever imagine. ‘Bahaarein Phir Bhi Aayegi’ was Dutt’s last film that he apparently left unfinished. For Dutt, its title song surely appeared to hold back an irony: Badal jaaye agar maali, chaman hota nahin khali...