Boy of Bengal

Guru Dutt’s original / real name was Vasanth Kumar Shivashankar Padukone. I say both ‘original’ and ‘real’ because while he would sign as Guru Dutt, his legal documents apparently all bore the name his parents gave him at birth. Incidentally, an astrologer suggested changing his name from ‘Vasanth’ (which was probably after his mother, Vasanthi) to ‘Gurudutt’ considering the former inauspicious especially after a childhood mishap (apparently, baby GD had fallen into a well). The astrologer suggested ‘Gurudutt’ (one word) as GD was born on a Thursday (Guruvaar in Hindi).

Somewhere during his time in Bengal (about 13 years, from about five years to 18), GD split up that name, as the new full name, Gurudutt Padukone, was a mouthful for people in Bengal. (This from the land of people with names like Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay and Bankim Chandra Chatterjee?) He broke his new first name into two, yielding ‘Guru’ and ‘Dutt’, and dropped the original surname.

The cover of the Bengali Saheb Bibi Golam

Which is why many people also thought he was Bengali, as ‘Dutt’ is a common Bong surname. That, and the fact that he could speak Bengali very well (having stayed there his early years, ahem, just like me) and thus also his fondness for all things Bengal (again, like me). From choosing to set Pyaasa in Calcutta when there was no real reason to do so, to paying tribute to Gyan Mukherjee in Pyaasa (Gyan had directed famous movies such as Jhoola and Kismet, and GD was influenced by his cinema), to choosing to adapt Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam from a Bengali novel by Bimal Mitra.

Uday Shankar

Renowned dancer Uday Shankar

GD’s Bong connection goes deeper and further, both earlier and later. Uday Shankar, whose India Cultural Centre (ICC) in Almora, present-day Uttarakhand, GD went to join for dance, had roots in Bengal. (His children are famous musician, Ananda Shankar (now deceased), and renowned actress, Mamata Shankar.) Soon after SBG, GD did another movie based on a Bengali novel, Sautela Bhai (’62), based on Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay’s Baikunther Will (Vaikunth’s Will), or Boikunther Uill, if my Bong friends will allow me. Hemant Kumar was a regular playback voice for him (ah, Jaane woh kaise log the). And arriving at music, there was of course the small matter of utilising the services of and eventually marrying Geeta Roy. But that chapter will take a whole book to detail.

So, while GD may not have been Bengal-born (he was born in presently named Bengal-uru), he was wedded (will my Bong friends kill me if I say, ‘ouedded’?) to Bengal. In more ways than one.

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