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Guru Dutt: A Life in Cinema

While reading Guru Dutt's letters, one searches for clues, writes Indrajit Hazra.

india Updated: Feb 04, 2006 19:18 IST

Roland Barthes defines agony in A Lover's Discourse: "The amorous subject, according to one contingency or another, feels swept away by the fear of a danger, an injury, an abandonment, a revulsion -- a sentiment he expresses under the name of anxiety." Then there's Guru Dutt, who reports from the frontline: "What can I give you -- I have nothing. You are in love with an eccentric fool who lives in a dream world -- and sometimes does not know which is which".... "Sometimes I am always afraid of you turning your back on me."

Letters, especially when they wear hearts on cream-coloured, blue air mail or plain, lined foolscap paper, are never meant for public consumption. But how else will the public ever crack that tantalising puzzle -"What turned a normal, flesh-andblood man `like us' into a creative soul?" -- if one doesn't rummage through all that he left behind, including his epistolary pile? While reading the `intimate' letters of Guru Dutt, one searches for clues that are to reveal how Gurudutt Padukone became Guru Dutt, the creator of lyrical High Romanticism in Indian cinema and a filmmaker whose mythology tends to eclipse his worth as an artist and master craftsman.

All the letters barring a few in this wonderfully produced book are addressed to his wife, Geeta Dutt -`Geetu' or `Geeta', depending on what mood the letter writer was in. Nasreen Munni Kabir supplements her excellent biography of the man (Guru Dutt: A Life in Cinema, OUP) with this archival gem. Guru Dutt's handwriting, jumping off the pages in clear larger-than-reputation size and colour, seems to be as much part of the director's oeuvre as is a sequence from Pyaasa, Kagaz ke Phool or any other of his `self-reflectory' works.

What comes across to any Guru Dutt afficionado -- or armchair psychotherapist -- is the man's obsession with two objects in his life: his work as a director and his wife, Geeta. The letters to Geeta (in English, Hindi and Bengali) sway from being blatantly amorous ("...I want you to [be] very near and I could take you to this beautiful seashore and make love to you and kiss you madly all over your face. I wish I could do it now..." [English original]) to a word trail marked all over with the sickness of love ("Everything that is between you and me is as if in a dream. And I am always afraid you will shatter that dream one day... I have had enough shocks. And gradually I am becoming -- a shock absorber." [English original]).

Guru Dutt is almost banal about his work, but the obsession comes through from time to time. "As the picture is completing I am getting the `fever' which you quite well understand..." he tells Geeta in a letter, writing about how (his just released 1952 film) Jaal is liked by the "upper class... more than the masses". In another letter written while he was attending the Tehran International Film Festival in 1957, Guru Dutt tellingly writes: "Some of our Indian pictures have done very well. Raj Kapoor is a big craze. My pictures have not been released." The three sentences tell a story.

But threading the words of Guru Dutt's letters to form a composite picture of Guru Dutt the Man, the Director, the Legend, is a leap of faith. We continue to depend on other sources to know about his relationship with Waheeda Rehman or other leading ladies, or the body blow he received when Kagaz ke Phool bombed at the box office. For as the man himself kept stating over and over again in his letters as an almost audible refrain: "What more can I write?" Towards the end, he even drops this question mark. Instead, his letters become the sigh: "What more can I write." Yours Guru Dutt.

First Published: Feb 04, 2006 19:18 IST