Guru Dutt on his wedding day

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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The masterly sunlight shot from Waqt ne kiya kya haseen sitam

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.

 

 

Guru Dutt with his co-star, Shyama, in a promo scene from Aar Paar

Unconventional / Good Looking (?)

I never fancied Guru Dutt as a good-looking chap, at least not in the traditional Hindi cinema sense. Even when I started this intense-discovery phase of mine, I didn’t quite warm up to his looks. But then, there is so much (else) that GD has to offer. However, what I absolutely loved, looks-wise, was his pairing with Madhubala in Mr and Mrs 55 (from the year… ’55). The same Madhubala who it’s almost a cliché yet true thing to say was the most beautiful actress to ever come into and out of Hindi cinema. So, this woman from heaven paired with this guy very much from earth (but that goes with his character in the movie and his personality in real life: he is known to have often said, “I am very middle-class”). And somehow, they looked lovely together, Madhubala’s charm possibly rubbing off on him. GD looks super-smitten and yearning in return, but this in a separate post some later time.

However, on having read almost all the books available in the public domain on him now, I come across comments by his long-time collaborators to the effect that he was “handsome” and “good-looking”. I have searched for these qualities, but, but have decided to settle for “unconventional looks”. He had these biggish eyes, slightly drooping eyelids, and when you look closely (and he was the master of close-up shots), you see stained and crooked front teeth. (It seems he sought to go to Berlin in ’63 during the premiere of Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam at the Film Festival also to have his crooked teeth removed. I believe it eventually didn’t happen.) He wore glasses in real life (he had bad eyesight, it seems), but took them off for the movies, so you could see the spectacle impressions on his nose, which the make-up men then, I guess, didn’t seem to worry too much about. Plus, he had this moustache typical of those times, worn as a badge of both masculinity and insecurity (as he wasn’t entirely confident of his looks, and in his early years, also of his acting.)

Guru Dutt and Meena Kumari in a promo scene from Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam

For Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam (’62) though, he needed to shave off his moustache, to play the young, bumbling Bhootnath. And then, in some scenes, as his character begins growing (up), GD starts looking almost as good as Meena Kumari as Chhoti Bahu. And that’s saying quite a lot.

Guru Dutt and Meena Kumari in a poster for Sanjh aur SaveraAfter SBG, GD never went back to keeping his moush, perhaps to look younger as he had started ageing. (He had also started losing his hair, and took to wearing a wig.) And I felt he actually started looking better and better with each of his later movies. In his last release, before he passed away (Sanjh aur Savera, ’64; Suhagan was the last full movie he shot for, which released later in the year he died), playing the good doctor, he looked every bit the good, young, handsome doctor. And of course, it helped that Meena Kumari again starred opposite him. And more of this lovely pairing some other post, some other time.

Looks or not, again, you go to GD for other things in the movies. Many, many, many other things. Such as the warmth and humanity shining through in his movies and characters. And hey, maybe that’s where the warmth and humanity on his face came from too.

 

Guru Dutt as an older man at the beginning of Kaagaz ke Phool

Destruction and Construction

In my rapid and rabid discovery of Guru Dutt, after having watched almost all his acted, directed and produced movies and a documentary on him, I have now moved on to his books. I have read three so far, am in the midst of one, have one more to go, and want to get my hands on the only one I don’t have yet, but also the most expensive. (That has letters from GD to the other GD, Geeta Dutt, his better half and singer in almost all his films, written over the 13 years of their togetherness, and so costs what it does. But I will get to it, I will.)

Cover of Sathya Saran's book, Ten Years with Guru Dutt: Abrar Alvi's JourneyAll the books are, aptly, around a certain theme or have a certain leaning. The one I’m reading right now actually is about Abrar Alvi, who wrote the dialogue for his films and directed one (Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam; its songs though, like all GD films, were directed by GD himself). It’s about the 10 years he collaborated with GD, and is thus called Ten Years with Guru Dutt: Abrar Alvi’s Journey. It’s authored by Sathya Saran, former Femina editor, and is structured interestingly: the chapters are named after songs in GD’s movies, and achingly, begins with his death through the Kaagaz ke Phool lament Bichhde sabhi baari baari.

Cover of Arun Khopkar's book on Guru DuttA couple of others (In Black and White: Hollywood and the Melodrama of Guru Dutt, by Darius Cooper, and Guru Dutt: A Tragedy in Three Acts, by Arun Khopkar, translated by Shanta Gokhale) read more academic and go into the realm of philosophy and psychology, regularly bringing up Jung and Freud. While Cooper, as his book’s title goes, talks at length about the various kinds of melodrama in GD’s movies, Khopkar brings up one theme quite often: self-destruction. How self-destruction was a recurring thought in GD’s movies, and although not saying it directly (the scope of the book is not biography, as Khopkar states at the beginning), also in his life.

Since Khopkar looks at GD’s movies through the twin lenses of philosophy and psychology, perhaps we do the same for this comment. What is self-destruction? And through whose eyes? Perhaps “self-destruction” is living your life your way rather than that prescribed by the world, and paying the price for that. As I often say (as I am often at the receiving end of society’s diktats myself), the world / society does two things to an individual who goes against the grain: It tries to bring them “on track”. And if they don’t fall in line, which is the case with most individualistic people, society pronounces them “evil” and marks a tortured path for them.

Guru Dutt was a perfectionist, idealist, humanist and romantic in his movies, and I can safely add, in his life too. And perhaps paid the price for that. Or should I say, self-destructed.

But I also read somewhere that our purpose in life – and here’s adding a spiritual lens to this discourse – is the “completion of the soul”. GD’s movies were full of soul, even the lighter ones (such as Aar Paar and Mr and Mrs 55), and they filled the soul of their viewers, and continue to do so, more than fifty years since he passed on. Hmm, maybe that’s why he departed so early. He had managed the completion of his soul. Hopefully, it rests in peace now.

Guru Dutt in the classic song Jaane woh kaise log the from Pyaasa

Guru Nutt

As I have been telling everyone on my social media list for the past couple of months, and as I now plan to tell everyone on my blog list for the next many months, I have come to Guru Dutt late. (I am in middle age, and he passed away at its cusp.) I really discovered him these couple of months ago. However, as I have also been telling my friends (or whoever hasn’t yet unfollowed me fatigued by my new-found obsession with the Dutt), I have made up for lost time with lots(a) intensity. I have watched almost all his movies: produced by, directed by, and starring him, and have now moved on to books about the man. I have only not watched three movies with him essaying a prominent role: Lakhrani (1945), in which he was an assistant director (AD) and also played a bit role; Sailaab (1956), directed by him; and Suhagan (1965), the last movie starring him and released the year following his death. I am still half-way into those books, and amidst it all, keep devouring as many pieces about him on the net as I can.

I think GD (as I refer to him from a deep and warm place of my being, cinematic and otherwise) does that to most people: when you discover him, you deep-scover him (discover him deeply), and after that, no one, at least, not too many other film-makers, comes close. To borrow the opening sentence of one of those many pieces I have read: Unlike other film directors, Guru Dutt does not have fans – he has devotees.

Over these past couple of months, I have discovered and mulled over various aspects of his cinema and his personality (and those who know him know that the two are very closely intertwined), and plan to share them here, over an irfinite, er, infinite number of posts. So, basically, Guru Dutt by a… Guru Nut(t).