The Guru of Song Picturizations

Guru Dutt was the master of the song picturization. Even in movies his company, Guru Dutt Films, produced but he didn’t direct (Chaudhvin ka Chand, ’60 and Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam, ’62), he helmed the songs. In SBG, in fact, he reshot an entire song, the teasing Bhanwra badaa naadaan haai, when what the director, long-time collaborator, Abrar Alvi, had done wasn’t to his liking. He didn’t direct the songs in the one movie he produced but didn’t act or direct or even appear as a cameo, CID (’56), but his touches were all there in the superhit soundtracked film directed by Raj Khosla, who unsurprisingly was his assistant director for four movies (if I recall correctly).

Famous yesteryear dancer Uday Shankar

Uday Shankar in a performance

GD’s love for dance / choreography emerged in his late teens, when he conceived a snake dance from a portrait of a snake dancer by his uncle, B B Benegal, in Calcutta. He enacted that routine at various functions, to regular applause. Perhaps spurred by this success, he decided to apply to Uday Shankar’s (Ravi Shankar’s elder brother) newly opened India Cultural Centre (ICC) in Almora, present-day Uttarakhand. ICC though proved to be a grounding in myriad aspects of life, as that was Uday’s philosophy: to be a holistic human being.

From ICC, GD went to Prabhat Films in Pune, starting off as a dance director before becoming an assistant director, until finally turning director with Baazi (’51). But it was with Aar Paar (’54) that he attained blistering success for both his song picturizations and filmmaking abilities. Each song was a superhit (perhaps only a bit less than CID), but each song picturization is remembered to this day: be it Sun sun sun zaalima set in a garage, Ae lo main haari piya shot mostly in a car (the Chevrolet Fleetmaster) and only its front seat (both my personal favourites from the movie), or the smash hit Babuji dheere chalna in a club, complete with GD’s love of light and shade.

 

GD had two key requisites for the song picturization. It had to be a solid part of the narrative, actually taking the story forward, rather than being a burr or worse, an item number (sure to have him turning in his grave). In a GD film, it is said, if you miss a song, you miss a sequence. The song also needed to begin immediately, without any musical prelude, and therefore would sound like conversation / dialogue. If there were a prelude, he believed, audiences would be primed that a song was coming up, and would begin exiting for a ciggie break (and GD would know all about ciggies, as he was quite a smoker himself), or in today’s times, for a FOMO check.

Cover of Sathya Saran's book, Ten Years with Guru Dutt: Abrar Alvi's JourneyYou could write books on his song picturizations alone. I shall be happy to take that up, if ever offered, but the closest tribute so far has been Sathya Saran’s book on him but actually from the viewpoint of Alvi, Ten Years with Guru Dutt: Abrar Alvi’s Journey. Each chapter of the book bears the title or part lyric of a song from a Guru Dutt produced movie, of course around a relevant part of GD’s life.

Interestingly, GD wasn’t keen on songs in movies, as he felt they broke the flow. So, those two takes of his (on how to have songs in the movie) sound like intelligent accommodations. Or maybe he felt, let me have the song so I can get them to better accept the message. Why else would the intense Pyaasa with not too many light songs (apart from Sar jo tera chakraye and Jaane kya tune kahi) prove to be the classic it is?

Going back to that book offer, actually, it would be multiple. Or multiple sections at least.

Songs from movies he produced, directed and acted in: all brilliant, because they also feature the genius of his acting, which somehow goes a bit unnoticed compared with his directorial skills.

Songs from movies he produced and acted in, such rich endeavours as CKC and SBG.

Songs from movies he only directed, which somehow, and not just because I am also an acting fan of his, aren’t in the same league as the others. But then, Baazi and Jaal (though he had a split-second appearance in both) were his early endeavours.

And then, there would be songs from his movies in which he didn’t feature in the song. These were mostly those featuring Johnny Walker and dance sequences. A long-time friend, GD specially crafted roles for Johnny in each movie, and a hit song in each movie.

Which would be a good way to end this piece. For to talk about songs featuring GD in them, as I already said, would require separate posts, if not books.

So, this superhit number from Mr and Mrs 55 (from… ’55), which is remembered for being shot in the dullest of cinematic spaces conceivable, an office. But that’s the genius of GD for you. Jaane kahan mera jigar gaya ji? It went to this song.

 

 

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