Eighty-five year old Dev Anand will be attending the Cannes Film Festival for the first time this year. His evergreen classic Guide has been handpicked for a screening in the ‘Classics' section.
As he prepares for his trip to the French Riviera, Roshmila Bhattacharya traces the making of a film that put Hindi cinema on the global map.
"People called me crazy," says Dev Anand recalling reactions to his announcement of an Indo-American co-production in collaboration with Nobel laureate Pearl S Buck who co-produced and scripted the film.
What really had eyebrows rising more than his grandiose intentions was Anand's choice of subject - RK Narayan's Sahitya Akademi winning novel Guide.
Why would the star want to gamble with a philandering tourist guide who commits every sin in the book from adultery to forgery and whose one heroic act comes only towards the end of his journey, argued friends and family. Anand's answer to them was, "One has to have an element of madness to do something out of the ordinary ."
Once it was settled that he would play Raju, a search for Rosy initiated. Tad Danielski who had been commissioned to direct the <b1>English version of Guide, had a name on his lips, Leela Naidu. He had seen Naidu voted by Vogue as one of the 10 most beautiful women in the world, in Ismail Merchant's The Householder and was convinced that she was perfect. Anand had his doubts.
Rosy was no demure Indian beauty. She was spirited, passionate and most importantly a dancer. Naidu, he pointed out, was no dancer. Padmini was a better choice.. or may be Vyjayanthimala. But Danielski wasn't impressed with either.
Ready for the risk
What about Waheeda Rehman? Danielski approved. And Rehman was ready to risk public ire by playing a married woman who leaves her aging, impotent husband to live in with her young lover and pursue her dream.
However, when her Neel Kamal director Ram Maheshwari heard about this ‘vamp' act he was shocked: "How can you play Rosy when you are playing Sita in my film? You are ruining your career and my film!"
But Rehman was resolute. "As an actress I didn't want to confine myself to playing a Sati-Savatri all my life. There are times when a woman, any woman, acts impulsively and regrets her actions like Rosy does in RK Narayan's novel. I could understand that and believed I could make others empathise with her too," the actress pointed out.
There was a hitch though. When Rehman learnt that Raj Khosla was directing the Hindi version, she was ready to step down. Following an altercation on the sets of Solva
Sawan, she had vowed never to work with the director again. <b2>
Anand aur Anand
Anand knew he would have to sacrifice Khosla. And there was only one man who could bail him out, his bhaisahab. Chetan Anand who had directed Navketan's first production, Afsar, agreed to step in for Khosla.
However, mid-way through the first schedule, everyone agreed that shooting the two versions simultaneously was not viable. There was just too much friction on the sets. It was more prudent to wrap up the English version first.
Danielski took control and the senior Anand got busy with his war movie
. Then just as he was getting set to fly to Udaipur to join the
unit he got the news that the army had cleared his
shoot. He had to leave for Ladakh immediately. And Dev Anand was left once again without a director.
This time he turned to his younger brother, Vijay Anand. Goldie, as he was fondly called, had turned down an offer to direct the film twice, but this time, he gave in on the condition that he could make the film "his" way .
Before leaving for Udaipur, Goldie spent 18 days in Khandala reworking the script. Danielski had moved the location from Malgudi to Udaipur reasoning that Rajasthan with its golden sands, camels and colourfully dressed locals would provide a more exotic setting. However, he didn't think of diluting the adulterous content of the novel. This was Goldie's biggest grouse.
"I couldn't have my film starting with Rosy and Raju jumping into bed within hours of her embarking from a train with her husband Marco. Not only would that be completely unacceptable to our audiences, such a film would ruin the image of our country abroad," Goldie ranted.
Kahani mein twist
Having rewritten the script including giving it a new ending that was different from Narayan's, Goldie wrapped up the Hindi version in just 80 shifts. It turned out to be a very different film from Danielski's.
The sensibilities were more Indian, yet it was very western in its technical polish. Even Danielski was impressed and borrowed a few scenes from the Hindi version. Not that it helped him.
<b3>Survival (that's what the English Guide was called) didn't survive long at the theatres despite Rehman's much-hyped ‘nude' scene shot with a duplicate. RK Narayan who had written a letter to Dev Anand praising the film, later denounced it publicly dubbing it ‘Misguided Guide'. Following its debacle, there were no takers for the Hindi version.
After a couple of distributors had turned away, the Anands refused to screen it for anyone. Eventually, it was left to their production controller, Yash Johar, to quietly screen a couple of songs for a Delhi distributor. It took just one song, Piya toh se naina lage re, to get him the go-ahead. "I'm buying this film," the man told an exuberant Johar.
Goldie's Guide was premiered at Mumbai's Maratha Mandir in 1965. The initial reactions were thanda yet the film enjoyed a 10-week run at the theatre.
Hail the saviour!
In neighbouring Gujarat, it began slowly. Then, a drought hit the state and suddenly everyone turned to Raju to save them the way he had done in the film with his 12-day fast that ends with his death but brings rains. Posters came up everywhere proclaiming ‘Guide prays for rains..' And the film went on to celebrate a silver jubilee in Ahmedabad.
Across the seven seas too Goldie unexpectedly found himself a fan following. Hollywood legend Howard Hawkes who had caught the movie, wanted Goldie to direct a film for MGM studios. But before that he suggested Goldie get himself an Oscar.
<b4>Yes, Guide was India's official entry to the Academy Awards in 1966. On Hawkes suggestion the 22-reel Hindi version had been trimmed down by 30 minutes and English sub-titles inserted. But it lost out in the second round to a Norwegian entry.
Twenty-six years after its release Rehman was persuaded by Yash Chopra to do a parody of the evergreen Guide charttopper, Aaj phir jeene ki tamanna hai in Lamhe. She was understandably reluctant but Chopra wouldn't be dissuaded.
Her choreographer turned out to be Saroj Khan who had been dance master Hiralal's assistant during Guide. Rehman would spend hours rehearsing with Khan and another assistant Sheila.
"This time I didn't have to work as hard. The shot was okayed immediately and I got quite a few compliments," the actress blushed.
With Dev Anand having the print recoloured and restored, Guide may just return to the theatres after its Cannes showing. The classic lives on.