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Guru Dutt’s 94th birth anniversary: A master director who was tormented by life

Guru Dutt’s short yet eventful life saw Indian cinema produce some of its finest works like Pyaasa and Kaagaz Ke Phool. On his 94th birth anniversary, a look at his works and life.

bollywood Updated: Jul 09, 2019 13:21 IST
Guru Dutt,Pyaasa,Kaagaz Ke Phool
Guru Dutt was born on July 9, 1925.

No talk on Indian cinema is complete without the mention of Guru Dutt. In the annals of Hindi film history, he keeps company with the likes of Bimal Roy, V Shantaram, K Asif, Mehbood Khan, Kamal Amrohi, BR Chopra and Hrishikesh Mukherjee. Yet, his works have an incandescent quality to them. Working within the boundaries of mainstream Hindi cinema, his sensibilities were rich, modern and subtle. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that one of his most memorable films, Pyaasa, figures in Time magazine’s All-Time 100 best movies list.

His cinema is full of pathos and pain – emotions born from rejection. Both Pyaasa and Kaagaz Ke Phool told the story of a sensitive person’s disillusionment with society. And yet, Guru Dutt never cut a picture of misery in life as such. Pyaasa was a commercial success though Kaagaz Ke Phool set him back reportedly by Rs 17 lakhs, a huge sum then. He recovered much of his money with his later films, Chaudhvin Ka Chaand and Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam. Guru Dutt had earlier had a successful run with comedies and thrillers – Aar Paar, Mr And Mrs 55, Baazi and CID—all saw Guru Dutt as an actor-director or as a producer (example being Dev Anand starrer CID).

Guru Dutt in a still from Pyaasa.

Guru Dutt is also credited to giving Bollywood some of its best talents – he introduced Waheeda Rehman, discovered talents like Badruddin Kazi (popularly called Johnny Walker), writer-director Abrar Alvi and ace cinematographer, VK Murthy.

However, many are of the opinion that Guru Dutt could never handle rejection. Journalist Dinesh Raheja, writing in, quoted late Dev Anand as saying: “He couldn’t digest failure.” Dev was a life-long friend of Guru Dutt and one-time confidant. The rejection of Kaagaz Ke Phool, which some claim was his commentary of show business, hit him hard and stayed with him till his end; Guru Dutt died at the age of 39.

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With Waheeda Rehman in Kaagaz Ke Phool.
Guru Dutt and Waheeda Rehman in a still from Chaudhvin Ka Chaand.

Guru Dutt’s personal life too was topsy-turvy. According to his sister, painter of repute Lalita Lajmi (mother of late filmmaker Kalpana Lajmi), Guru Dutt-Geeta Dutt’s marriage was tempestuous. Both were sensitive souls – neither could they live with each other nor without one another. While many ascribe the presence of Waheeda as the bone of contention between Guru Dutt and Geeta Dutt, Lalita robustly refutes that. She agrees that Waheeda may have been his brother’s muse, but to ascribe the trouble in their marriage to her would be wrong. Lalita, in an article in Filmfare, talking to editor Farhana Farook, said that Geeta was a very sweet person, was possessive by nature and suspected Guru Dutt of having an affair with every actress he worked with.

Guru Dutt and Madhubala in a still from Mr and Mrs 55.

She is quoted as saying: “The problem with Geeta was that she was extremely possessive. That’s a huge letdown in any marriage. A creative person like a director/actor works with many actresses. It’s a world of make believe. They have to express love on screen and make it look real. She was suspicious of every actress he worked with. If all the time you question a man, you’ll eventually turn him away. She kept tabs on him all the time. That was her only undoing. There would be frequent quarrels and she’d take the children away to her mother’s home. He’d beg her to return. The next day he’d get into a depression and call us to tell that Geeta has taken the children away. Once during their courtship too, she had disappeared after a tiff. She went off to a friend’s house in Nasik, leaving everyone worried. But undeniably, Guru Dutt loved Geeta deeply.”

Guru Dutt with Meena Kumari in a still from Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam.

On Guru Dutt’s speculated affair with Waheeda, Lalita says: “Guru Dutt’s speculated relationship with Waheeda has become a sort of a myth today. She’s been unnecessarily blamed for his disturbed marriage. Maybe, Guru Dutt saw a muse in Waheeda. Love is a difficult emotion to define. And let me tell you he did not commit suicide over either of the two women. Professionally, Waheeda and Guru Dutt had moved away much before he passed away. In fact, for the last scene of Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam (1962), he had to request her to come on the set and complete it.”

It is perhaps true that Guru Dutt was hurt when Waheeda decided to quit his films to branch out on her own. Dinesh Raheja writes that despite the success of Sahib Biwi Aur Ghulam, Waheeda decided to move on: “Sahib Biwi Aur Ghulam couldn’t stop Dutt’s life from falling apart: his parting with Waheeda when she sought to establish her own identity outside his films hurt Dutt.”

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Incidentally, Guru Dutt has introduced her in CID and got her from Hyderabad on “four-film salaried contract CID, Pyaasa, Kagaz Ke Phool and Saheb Bibi Aur Ghulam”, according to Lalita.

In effect, the failure of some of most ambitious films, his estranged relationship with his wife and his muse, an unhappy childhood (apparently his parents fought bitterly all through their life) and a possible suicidal tendency in his family were the bane of his short but eventful life.

Guru Dutt and Waheeda Rehman in Kaagaz Ke Phool, shot exquisitely by cinematographer VK Murthy.

According to his sister, her brother had attempted suicide twice before. “Given Guru Dutt’s suicidal tendencies, he had attempted suicide twice before. The second time he was admitted to the Nanavati Hospital and had slipped into a coma for three days. One afternoon when he came through, the first word he uttered was ‘Geeta!’ But by then both had begun on a self-destructive journey.” Her brother was never an alcoholic but towards the later life, depression did drive him towards it but he was never addicted to it.

Lalita mentions that a close cousin had committed suicide and so had Guru Dutt’s elder son, Tarun. However, when the end came on October 10, 1964, Guru Dutt had been drinking with close friend and collaborator Abrar Alvi. He reported went to sleep without having dinner and had popped sleeping pills. The next morning when the door was broken open, he was found dead with his eyes half open and hands gesturing, as if to say ‘freeze” in cinematic parlance, concludes Lajmi.

Author tweets @mniveditatweets

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First Published: Jul 09, 2019 12:57 IST