On the Rocks… of Life

Some time back, I had talked of Guru Dutt’s smoking habit, how even when posing for profile pix, for instance, he would have a ciggie in his hand. However, Guru Dutt’s drinking habit was known to be bigger. (Though it may also have been a habit of the times. There was GD’s female tragedy actor counterpart, Meena Kumari, who eventually succumbed to liver cirrhosis. His wife, Geeta, too went the same way. As a side comment, at a time when there was no concept of mental health professionals, I guess, folk in those times found the drink offered them some solace, or at least, forgetting.)

When watching Kaagaz ke Phool again recently though, I wonder if GD, through his character (the successful director, Suresh Sinha, who eventually has a great fall from grace), gives some insight into why he, and the others of those and present times, took to the drink. For there are at least two scenes, both with Waheeda Rehman’s character, Shanti (who he discovers and eventually makes an actor and star), where he talks of the “need” or vacuum that the drink fulfils.

Sometime in the first half, caught unawares by the rain and taking cover under the same tree, Suresh and Shanti strike up a conversation that starts understandably cautiously, moves to civil and soon starts being cordial. Offering her his coat, he says he is fine as he has had some brandy. Shanti seems scandalized, but ventures to inquire, “I have heard that after drinking, people engage in all sorts of vile behaviour…?” Suresh responds with comforting wryness, “Some people drink to forget the vile behaviour of others…”

A shabby-looking Guru Dutt holding a drink and speaking with Waheeda Rehman in a scene from Kaagaz ke PhoolIn the second half, Shanti, who seems more well-to-do now, comes to visit Suresh in his tenement. Suresh’s fall is all-too visible. He offers her an inverted pail to sit on, starting to cover the bottom with a quilt and the sweater she had gifted him when they had parted earlier, to make it softer for her to sit on.

To ostensibly celebrate her visit, he pours himself a drink. When, not out of a little concern, she admonishes him with “People don’t consume poison in a celebration”, his reply is deliberated, calm and poetic:

“Neither poison nor nectar…

This is alcohol…

Those who are used to living in a state of intoxication…

This is their last hope…

The intoxication of fame and success…

The intoxication of riches and love…

When all these intoxications leave you…

Then, people seek succour in this…”

Going by this, Guru Dutt was more addicted to the… think.




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