The still, featuring Guru Dutt and Waheeda Rehman, that formed the basis of Pyaasa's movie poster

Design Poetry Too

An illustrated version of the Pyaasa posterEver since Pyaasa became my number one Hindi film of all time (during my ongoing deep discovery of Guru Dutt), I have been fascinated by its poster, perhaps because I am fascinated by GD (the filmmaker and the person), the movie, and visual / poster design. What does Vijay’s (GD’s poet character in the movie) face leaning on Gulab’s (Waheeda Rehman’s streetwalker character) head say about the movie? How does it symbolize the movie, for isn’t that what movie posters are meant to do?

The movie isn’t about love, at least not from Vijay’s side. Vijay is too drowned in his own sorrows and despair of the world (he laments that the world doesn’t recognize true poetry and creativity, and rarely and cruelly during the artist’s time) to notice anything outside his coat of gloom. Gulab does love Vijay, but she is not the one leaning toward him in the poster. Gulab pines for Vijay throughout the movie, but never reveals her feelings for him, not even at the end, at least not directly. However, Vijay finally comes for her in the last scene, and they walk away into the sunset together, holding hands, but looking more like companions, who have been tortured enough by the world and are now seeking a place “yahaan se duur, jahaan se phir duur na jaane pade” (far from here, from where we never need to go far away again).

And there you have it. Vijay rests on her head like one would rest their head on someone’s shoulders, seeking solace and comfort; you know, a shoulder to lean on? But it isn’t a shoulder that Gulab offers; she offers more. She offers her intellect, her understanding, her sensitivity, her sensibility. For didn’t she fall in love with him only through his poetry? As she heart-warmingly tells him in their first real conversational scene together, “When I have understand your thoughts and emotions, what else do I need to understand about you?” And perhaps, that is all that Vijay is pyaasa for.

Well, what do you know, Pyaasa’s poster has also become my number one Hindi film poster of all time.

 

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Inside page of the books 'Yours Guru Dutt', with a print of his signature

Branding Guru?

Apart from being a supremely creative soul in filmmaking (from high-concept films like Pyaasa to the highly immersive song picturizations in his movies), Guru Dutt, it seems, was also quite adept when it comes to branding. I say this after finding logos or motifs for himself and / or his production house, the eponymous Guru Dutt Films Private Limited, in the last book of his I had left to read.

Cover of the book, Yours Guru DuttYours Guru Dutt: Intimate Letters of a Great Indian Filmmaker includes several letters written by GD to the other GD, his wife, Geeta Dutt (nee Roy); written over 13 years, from their courtship to the later years of their marriage, which saw them have three kids but eventually separate. (The book is “presented” by documentary filmmaker and author, Nasreen Munni Kabir, who has written quite extensively on him and also made a documentary on him.)

In the book, there are letters written on different stationery, some from hotels where he stayed, but many that seemed to be letterheads either of his personal self or his company. And on these letters, you come across their logos, or at least, their motifs, all of which I believe GD designed, or at least, conceived himself.

Just like the letters (more of which perhaps in some other post), they show evolution too.

In the early letters, you see only a G in a classical style, like from the opening pages and chapters of a literary classic.

A capital G within a classical floral and plant motif

Later, you see the closest that comes to a logo, and my most preferred one. His name appearing along with an icon, a torch, symbolizing the banishing of darkness and leading the way.

The words 'Guru Dutt' with a graphic of a hand bearing a torch

The next one is simpler, a typeface bearing the name of his company.

Letterhead of Guru Dutt Films Private Ltd.

The final one is both simple and clever. It has just his initials, but is more stylistic and even looks like an ambigram.

The letters GD written stylistically

To these all, I am tempted to say, or sing: Jaane woh kaise logo the…

Guru Dutt in the iconic Christ pose in Pyaasa

Guru Death

This wasn’t a very happy weekend for the cinema lover in me. No, this isn’t about Sridevi’s passing away. I liked her, but wasn’t crazy about her. But this is about the death of another Hindi cinema artist, one I have recently started liking and gone crazy over.

On Saturday, instead of again watching his first directed movie, Baazi (’51), as I had planned to (as a part of my decision to watch all his directed, produced and acted movies in sequence, to determine his growth, and seeming decline), due to lack of time, I decided to start with the documentary on him by Nasreen Munni Kabir, In Search of Guru Dutt.

Cover of Nasreen Munni Kabir's documentary, In Search of Guru DuttAnd like the first time I had watched it, only a few weeks ago, again, there was a welling up of emotion at two points. First, his garlanded photo in his mother, Vasanthi Padukone’s house in Matunga. She goes on to talk, with obvious fondness, of his genius, temperament and righteousness even as a kid, along with adding that a family astrologer had said this boy would achieve greatness. I assume this is the same astrologer who had suggested changing his name from Vasanth Kumar to Gurudutt, later, Guru Dutt.

The second was toward the end, where his sister, the painter Lalitha Lajmi, fondly called Lali in the family, recalled his later years, the “disturbances” he was experiencing and the day of his death, and specifically the position of his body. She shared, sombrely, how those days it was difficult for people to confide in another, and may I add, especially for the eldest brother to the one and only younger sister. They had found his body in an “odd position”, with a leg lifted up from the bed and a hand too, looking as if he was about to get up.

Cover of Nasreen Munni Kabir's book, Guru Dutt: A Life in CinemaThere is more information in the book, Guru Dutt: A Life in Cinema, also by Nasreen. (Both the documentary and the book seem to be the outcomes of a detailed delving into GD’s movies and life at around the same time, the late 80s, with the book obviously carrying more details.) In the book, Lajmi adds that while it couldn’t entirely be ascertained whether it was suicide or heart failure, it was “probably intentional”. Just before this in the book, you learn that after one suicide attempt (he seemed to have attempted it thrice), he was in a coma for three days, leaving family and close friends traumatized, and when he came to, he was quite aggressive and had to be pinned down.

I have come to admire and like GD immensely, both for his movies and his world / personal views. As I have written too, he is the closest I could come to having a “soul model”. And so, as I started learning about him, I have perhaps not wanted his death to be a suicide (just as I have not wanted his link-up with Waheeda Rehman to be true, but that’s another post / story). Somewhere, a suicide, attempted or committed, makes a person come across as weak – and the auteur of golden movies in the golden age of Hindi cinema couldn’t be weak, right? (I had similar thoughts when another film personality I have liked was confirmed to have died through suicide: Robin Williams. Robin was golden in his own right, but GD I have come to like way, way more.)

Guru Dutt with wife Geeta and kids, Tarun, Arun and NinaBut these readings into his life, especially the later years, and the last day, seem to be leading to the knowledge I may still not want to accept. October 9, ’64, he took his sons (Tarun and Arun, the former sharing his birthday with dad, July 9, the latter having his birthday one day after both, July 10) and brother, Devi Dutt, shopping for expensive clothes (at Charagh Din in Colaba). He also flew kites with his sons. In the evening, he started drinking early, at about 5.30pm, and sometime in this drunkenness, called wife Geeta, asking her to send over Nina, his daughter, about two then. Geeta refused, saying it was too late. GD responded furiously that she may then have to see him dead. Later, in the evening and late into the night, he was busy working over the dialogues of Baharen Phir Bhi Aayengi with his long-time dialogue and screenplay writer, Abrar Alvi. Abrar had managed to have dinner at GD’s place, but GD had declined. At about 1am, GD told Abrar that he would like to retire for the day / night. Abrar left soon after. At about 3.30am, GD asked his attendant, Ratan, for his sleeping pills. The doctor later informed that he had passed away at about 5.30am. One can’t overlook all the instances of finality, of attempting a closure, in the various situations through the day.

GD may have attempt suicide thrice and succeeded (cruel, ironic word) the fourth time. But the important question is, why? He was quite introverted, so didn’t really share his feelings with others, especially not the personal ones. And he isn’t around to share the reasons. So, you only gather from the mix of responses, whether conjecture or intelligent analyses. He felt the director’s star was fading – to the emergence of the star as the hero of the film, and not the director. (Which is perhaps why he started acting in films other than his own.) He felt people were not getting his films, and him (and in GD’s case, the two are closely linked), especially given the disaster of his last directorial Kaagaz ke Phool. Nevertheless, he did want to direct again, and was looking for the right subject (perhaps explaining the long stream of films he eventually gave up after some amount of shooting or planning). On the personal front, while he was separated from Geeta, he seemed to still want to work things out in some way. Waheeda was “past him” for over two years, after whichever way she was “with him”. Maybe he really couldn’t find anyone to talk to. (He had wanted to speak with his brother, Atma Ram, soon after the latter’s return from London.) Or maybe, as many hold forth, he was simply ahead of his time. He was the anguished, unappreciated creative soul of Pyaasa and Kaagaz ke Phool, eventually meeting the fate of his character in KKP and Chhoti Bahu’s character in Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam.

Whatever the reason, hope he is more at ease on the celestial silver screen and behind it. Although he has left one very anguished creative soul back here. No, make that many. For GD’s artist soul spoke to all the creative folk who have lived, are living and shall live. And while they do so, shall always do so in agony. For that is their fate. Eternally.

A miniature kitchen, with a man's hand showing the size

Irfictionary | Kitchend

An Irfictionary post after a long, long time. Irfictionary? An Urban Dictinary-esque series on my blog. This time’s is inspired by soon-to-be-ready new apartment.

A couple of months ago, I went to check out the apartment in the final stages of completion. It’s a 1BHK, just like my earlier flat in Bombay / Mumbai. However, on seeing it, I realized, Chennai builders don’t know to make 1BHKs like in Bombay. There, due to the space crunch, 1BHKs are most in demand. So, builders there pack in the most into a small area, making it look not so small after all. Here in Chennai, I guess, people are still getting used to the idea of apartments. Here, houses have been the norm for the longest time, but now I guess with many people from the rest of India coming here for work, things seem to be changing. So, the apartment plans are very different from those in Bombay. In fact, there seems to be no plan at all. Yes, my flat’s hall is decently sized, the bedroom and attached bathroom modest, the wash area separate. But the kitchen is a killer. It’s at the entrance and tiny as the keyhole. Why, it’s so small, it gets over even before it started. And so, should it be called ‘kitchend’?

Cover pic for this post with a composite image of the brothers from 'Kapoor and Sons' and the post title

Irficionado | Writing and Creativity (Since 1921… and Way Earlier)

Logo for Irficionado series

Wrote this piece for The Hindu’s thREAD. It got published today, the perfect day, Friday, as it’s about movies, and the arts in general. Here’s the link: This Piece on thREAD. And below’s the original piece.

 ∞

There are about three conversations happening around the super-loved, superhit Kapoor and Sons (Since 1921) right now.

First, it’s a delectable easy-charm, slice-of-life movie that takes the protagonists and the viewers not from A through Z, but to, let’s say, a T. Also, it’s a liner and not a submarine – it cruises along without diving deep. I agree with most of that, but wish it could have gone just a bit deeper; it would have been a “truer” film, like the director, Shakun Batra’s debut Ek Main aur Ekk Tu, which does the opposite of Kapoor and Sons – it goes from A to T and then back to A: the protagonists don’t end up being together at the end, nor seem very likely to.

Next, how insanely good-looking Fawad Khan is, especially shorn of the stubble from his Bollywood debut, Khoobsurat – and people thought that was hot. Fawad has got most girls, and some guys, weak in their knees and other body parts. And there’s talk that just for this delightful import from across the border, we might finally let their cricket team win a World Cup match.

Fawad Khan in a scene from 'Kapoor and Sons'Finally, people are going to town about how sensitively the film-makers have dealt with Fawad’s character, Rahul, being gay. (Did we hear those girls weeping and those guys whooping? Chill, that’s just his character – although he is married in real life.) The LGBT community especially seems ecstatic that the makers have said ‘gay’ without saying ‘gay’ – there’s no mention of the word, not even an indication (even the fuchsia feather boa in the family belongs to his dad) and Rahul isn’t portrayed as disco/Cher-loving or shirt-chasing. I think the makers could have gone better here too – while no one uses the G word, Rahul’s mom treats him, at least as soon as she comes to know of his “truth”, with the same disgust most queer people find themselves at the receiving end of. But portrayals of LGBT characters in our movies rarely go beyond those effete, pink-loving stereotypes, so this is at least two-steps-forward, one-step-back.

But I’d like to bring a fourth, and perhaps more discussion-worthy, conversation to the Burma-teak table. Before that, the context-setting.

Rahul and his younger bro, Arjun, are both writers. However, Rahul is the successful one and Arjun the struggler. Rahul’s second book has been a huge success – although his first tanked – and he’s presently working on the third. In fact, he seems to be doing well enough to come to his home-town, Coonoor, to scout for a bungalow to turn into an artists’ retreat. Arjun, in contrast, is struggling with more than just his writing. He’s recently given up, after a short stint, his gig of blogging about Bollywood and is presently making ends meet as a part-time bartender. In his spare time, he is working on a book, his second one, after having given up the first because it “somehow” proved to be very similar to Rahul’s second/successful book. (Did Rahul sneak a peek and get “inspired”? For that, you’ll have to watch the movie.)

Sidharth Malhotra and Fawad Khan in a scene from 'Kapoor and Sons'

Setting aside their differences for a while, in the second half, the brothers begin talking about Arjun’s manuscript. Arjun shares that the publisher has asked him to change the ending as it’s a not happy one, but he is, um, not happy with doing that. Why? Because he believes “books, or literature, should reflect real life – and real life is never happy.”

However, toward the end, as the movie moves toward its T point, we see Arjun reneging: he makes the book end positively. At the publishers’, when asked how he finally relented, warmly recalling Rahul’s reflections to him (more about this later), he offers, “Based on someone’s suggestion…”

As a writer and creative individual (or so the hope), this seemed a more primal point for discussion than how deep a movie should go, how lovely a lad looks, or how a gay guy can love other colours in the rainbow flag.

A quote about happy endingsThe great books, even the good ones – and by this I mean literature and not “racy, pacy reads” – have almost always ended sad. From Homer to Shakespeare to Hardy to living authors, it’s like a defining trait of literature that it shouldn’t end joyous. And I believe this is for the good: people read these books, not so much to escape their pain, but to empathize with others in a parallel universe somewhere dealing with the same kinds of pathos. As we see our troubles equalled, or even surpassed, in literary characters, we are assuaged – kind of like a therapy session right at home, or wherever you choose to read. And while these characters are fictional, lit-lovers know that somewhere these are either alter egos of the writers or amalgamated versions of people the writer has met or observed.

While I haven’t read Iliad and very little of Shakespeare and Hardy, let me talk of the ones I have, right from my favourite authors and books to more recent literature.

Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, while mesmerizing to read right from the first Buendian (the family in the story) to the last, eventually ends up in loss for the family. As the second-last Buendian loses himself more and more in academia, the last Buendian, the baby, loses his little life, Second-Last failing to pay attention to Last’s precarious situation. A century on, the family is back to solitude.

Cover of V S Naipaul's sublime 'A House for Mr Biswas'In Naipaul’s tender, tearful A House for Mr Biswas, there is almost no relief for Mr B through the expansive tome. As he sees his third and final house slowly disintegrating, his life too seeps away, at the ripe old age of… 46.

Even in Marquez’s ultimately-happy Love in the Time of Cholera, the lovers meet only after “51 years, 9 months and 4 days.” Many would say, where’s the joy in that?

Cover of Cyrus Mistry's 'Chronicle of A Corpse Bearer'Or take the recent DSC winners (an award given for South Asian writing, which seems to be going India’s way over the last few years, just like the Ms Worlds/Ms Universes were once upon a time). Cyrus Mistry’s Chronicle of A Corpse Bearer deals with the many tragedies in the life of the titular khandhia, from his excommunication from his caste on marrying a woman “below” him to the death of his wife at a very young age. Even the most recent winner that I’m in the middle of now, Anuradha Roy’s Sleeping on Jupiter, deals with many dark and heavy themes: the not-so-holy doings of some (all?) godmen, the frustration inherent in most gay romances (the flavour of the season?), and the spirit-leeching deterioration of the faculties in old age. I’m yet to know how it ends, but it surely doesn’t augur well.

So, if literature ends up being tragic yet triumphant, and he isn’t writing a book with a number in its title or a Hindu mythological figure as its hero, why does Arjun end up modifiying its ending?

The answer perhaps lies where it started – in our movies. Many Bollywood directors (no doubt, there are examples in other Indian cinemas too, but I am a Big Bolly Buff) make a great first movie – a movie from their heart and soul – but which doesn’t do ting at the tills as it’s too “real”, and so change tack and make a more “commercially viable” movie henceforth, which not surprisingly works.

Ayan Mukerji made the wondrous Wake Up Sid, which despite all its acclaim at best only woke up, rather than shook up, the box office. So, he moved to more commercial elements, such as a more saleable leading lady and foreign locales, and delivered the blockbuster Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani.

Poster of Zoya Akhtar's debut movie 'Luck by Chance'Zoya Akhtar first gave us, or me (as it’s my favourite film of all time), the rich, deep, involving Luck By Chance, which had layers upon layers of psychology, nuance, complexity, and then some. But apart from folk like me who watched it 15 times, it had little luck. So, she swerved to the big, vapid Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara and then the bigger and only less vacuous Dil Dhadakne Do.

Director Shakun Batra leaning over a cut-out of his debut movie 'Ek Main aur Ekk Tu'Finally, and ironically, Shakun Batra himself. He debuted with, as I already wrote, the ruminative Ek Main aur Ekk Tu, where the hero-heroine remain ek main aur ekk tu, but never ek hum (one you, one me, but never one us): the heroine, Kareena Kapoor, feels they are nice individuals in their own place but can’t be together, at least she doesn’t see it that way. Not surprisingly, the movie was seen by ek-do (one-two) folk. And so, in Kapoor and Sons, Shakun had Arjun and Tia (Alia Bhatt) hooking up by the end. And perhaps, to be doubly sure, he made Rahul prefer men. (Oh, was that the real reason for the character being gay?)

Cover of the book 'Creativity, Inc.To be fair, these directors might be attempting a golden middle. In a mini-interview to a different part of The Hindu, about which book he’s reading presently (Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull with Amy Wallace), Shakun had this to say: “The book talks about finding the balance between telling the stories you have to tell and fighting the battle you have to fight… It gives a lot of perspective and also makes me feel that it is possible to not sell your soul and make a film that connects with people.”

Your first creative endeavour goes under. You don’t want the next to suffer the same fate. Any wonder then that in making its ending a happy one, Arjun makes a practical decision. He wants to be successful – and if this is the only thing stopping him – why not, in a manner of speaking, lower your ideals?

Now, to all the writers/creative souls out there: what would you do? Write (pen/direct) a real but less saleable story? Or a happy and more successful one? That is, write for the self – or to sell? Or is there a golden middle?

As you begin writhing over that, let me finally share the suggestion Rahul gives Arjun, which leads to the modified ending, “Because people find real life tough, they look for happiness in stories…”

Now what would you do?

Agonizing, huh? Well, such is life. And I guess, literature.

My logo for the 'Namami Gange' logo-design contest
Promo pic of The Siddhus of Upper Juhu

Meview: The Siddhus of Upper Juhu

I seem to have entered a poetic, verse, or at least a rhyme phase at present. Here’s my meview of the play, The Siddhus of Upper Juhu (which I watched as a part of The Hindu Theatre Fest 2015, over the weekend), in poetic form.

Life in a metro can get to you,

Is the theme of The Siddhus of Upper Juhu.

So, the Siddhus move into this “Bombay” highrise,

But find in vain, and pain, that it doesn’t suffice…

To keep away the din of the partying “airhostesses”; the neighbour, his kids, his wife;

The barking dog; the construction drill; and other dins of urban life.

To make things worse, Mr Bubbles Siddhu gets the sack,

And slowly begins turning into a cuckooish Jack.

To compensate, his wife, Behroze, takes up a job – and thus joins the grind…

But, as Bubbles seems to get better, she ends up losing her mind!

Rajit Kapur and Shernaz Patel play the afflicted couple to perfection,

And Rahul DaCunha is as astute as ever in his direction.

Do watch this play wherever you get the opportunity –

It’s a humorous lament on the cost of living in a city.

To read a non-poetic review of the play, go here: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/entertainment/hindi/theatre/Theatre-review-The-Siddhus-Of-Upper-Juhu/articleshow/46622780.cms