Nasreen

Remembering Guru Dutt

Guru Dutt’s films are strong social statements spoken in whispers, showing a vision of a secular, modern India in which artists (as well as individuals who go against the norm) are seen to struggle against internal demons and powerful materialism. Unlike many Hindi films that are unevenly paced and performed, each component in a Guru Dutt movie is there to support the realism of the story, and that is perhaps why every tracking shot, strain of music, poetic song, turn of phrase, set or location, look and gesture, create a lyrical and profound world. The dilemmas and psychological traumas of his characters so clearly mirrored his own life completely blurring the difference between Guru Dutt, the director and Guru Dutt, the protagonist.

Seeing a Guru Dutt film is entering a deeply personal world, in which Guru Dutt’s own performance exudes a poignancy and melancholy, especially evident in the films that are regarded his classics (Pyaasa, Kaagaz ke Phool, and Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam).

Born in Bangalore on July 9, 1925, Guru Dutt’s family, who belonged to the Saraswat community, moved to Calcutta where they lived for many years. As a teenager, Guru Dutt was more interested in dance than cinema and in 1942, when he was 17, he won a scholarship to join Uday Shankar’s India Culture Centre to study dance. Three years later, when the Centre closed down, Guru Dutt, joined his parents who were by then living in Bombay. He managed to work as a film choreographer at Prabhat Film Company in Poona, and became an assistant director in Bombay. In 1951, actor Dev Anand, who was a friend, kept his promise of producing a Guru Dutt film and the result was Baazi.

In the next decade, Guru Dutt directed or produced black and white movies in nearly every film genre: the crime thriller (Jaal, C.I.D.), the costume drama (Baaz), the Muslim romance (Chaudhvin ka Chand, which includes two songs filmed in colour), the light-hearted comedy (Aar Paar), the social satire (Mr & Mrs 55), the period film (Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam) and the great melodramas (Pyaasa, Kaagaz ke Phool). While working on Baaz, Guru Dutt decided to act as well as direct and from that film on, he appears as the hero in all his movies.

During the making of the hugely successful Baazi, Guru Dutt met and married the beautiful playback singer Geeta Roy. Despite their intense feelings for each other, their marriage was a stormy one and in the last year of Guru Dutt’s life, he moved out of the family home and lived alone. They had two sons, Tarun Dutt (who passed away on January 1,1989), Arun Dutt and daughter Nina. Geeta Dutt passed away in 1972 at the age of 42.

It has been 44 years since Guru Dutt committed suicide on October 10, 1964 in Bombay at the age of 39. And with each passing year, his reputation as popular Indian cinema’s finest director has grown from strength to strength, in country after country. The premonition that runs through the story of Pyaasa that posthumous fame is the fate of some artists is borne out by Guru Dutt’s own life. Beyond relating to this fine director on a personal and emotional level, there is immediate recognition that he ranks alongside the masters of world cinema. n


 

 

Nasreen Munni Kabir is a London-based documentary filmmaker/author and has written several books on Indian cinema, including Guru Dutt, A Life in Cinema (Oxford University Press, New Delhi) and Yours Guru Dutt (Roli Books, New Delhi).
She has also made in 1989 a three-part documentary for Channel 4 UK titled In Search of Guru Dutt. Her most recent documentary is The Inner/Outer World of Shah Rukh Khan.

She is a former governor on the board of British Film Institute, serving a six-year term.

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