Guessing Dutt

The first real piece on Guru Dutt (yesterday’s was an intro), and it happens to be around his death. Actually, it’s also about his birth, and there is a common thread between the two (and so the reason for this piece). But first, the tragic part.

Read up most stuff on the net, and even most books on him (as I am in the state of doing so these days), and you will find that most believe – no, are sure – his death was a suicide. He had attempted suicide two or three times before (and this is more or less confirmed, perhaps also because the man was around to affirm them), and I guess so the reason for this strong belief. Plus, they also look to the big serious films he did (Pyaasa, Kaagaz ke Phool, Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam), all of which had a key protagonist dying, actually (the latter two movies) or metaphorically (the first). People hold that he had an obsession or at least a fascination with death (and some also call his cinema ‘poetry of death’), and so there isn’t much to sway them from this notion.

But think Twelve Angry Men (and its various adaptations worldwide) and, closer home, the Aarushi Talwar murder case. In the latter, the public and social media had passed its judgment on the “privileged” Talwar couple. In the former, 11 people had already announced their verdict on the boy “from the slums”.

If you try and find out what folk really close to him (most notably his sister, Lalitha Lajmi) and really admiring him (such as his assistant director, Shyam Kapoor, and former Femina editor, Sathya Saran, who has also written a book on him, Ten Years with Guru Dutt: Abrar Alvi’s Journey) – or basically, people with a more sensitive, sensible bent of mind and perhaps a less sensation-seeking mindset – feel and believe, it seems it was indeed an overdose that night of 10 October, 1965. At the most, and this is me speaking, he may have consumed an extra dose intentionally, but more out of a feeling of extreme frustration and anguish, rather than a desire to “end it all”. (He was going through a tough time those days, living on his own in a rented apartment, separated from his wife, singer Geeta Dutt, and possibly struggling with which direction to take his cinema next.) Perhaps he was looking for a lot of calm that night amidst a lot of internal storm. Just not permanent calm.

I – and I don’t say this only from the point of view of a loving fan – feel it’s best to keep it open, like many do too. It is also to respect the man’s dignity.

Now, if GD left us unsure of the circumstances of his death, his place of birth, in an intriguing kind of life symmetry, isn’t entirely certain either. Many say he was born in Bangalore (now Bengaluru), many others Mysore (now Mysuru), still others that it was another Karnataka city, Karwar. (On the inside cover of his book, In Black and White: Hollywood and the Melodrama of Guru Dutt, Darius Cooper says he was born in Mangalore, and in the introduction, that he was born in Bangalore. Or is that just bad proofreading?) And the state of Karnataka as we know it now didn’t even exist back then. (The linguistic division of states happened in 1956, when, to time-peg, Guru Dutt released his production, CID, starring Dev Anand and introducing Waheeda Rehman.)

Many others believe he was born in Calcutta (now Kolkata), as he knew Bengali well (he knew only English better) and his work showed a lot of Bengal influence (from the oft-analysed Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam, based on a book by Bimal Mitra, to the lesser-discussed Sautela Bhai, based on a book by Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay). He also had a touch of the Bengali accent in his voice. The reason is this. He had spent his formative years, from about five to 17-18, in Calcutta. I would know. I had spent a similar amount of time (11 years to his 13) in Cal (as most Cal-bred folk call it), too in my early years, also know Bengali quite well, and have a hint of the accent in my voice too. Maybe this is why I like GD so much? No, just one of the many reasons why.

So, from his birth to his passing, GD left us guessing. Actually, no. Only regarding his birth and his leaving, he left us debating. About his movies and the messaging through them, he was very very sure. Though that leads to another kind of discussing and debating, albeit of the rich and intense kind.

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