Posts Tagged ‘Guru Dutt’


Born in Bangalore, brought up in Calcutta, achieving the peaks of success in Bombay, the tragically charismatic actor-director Guru Dutt spent a considerable part of his last two years in Madras, as Chennai was known then. It’s a  fact that most biographers do not care to look at, though hapless Guru Dutt could not do so as the dream factories of the South worked considerably more efficiently than Bombay and  paid up in time.  That was something that Guru Dutt could not ignore at that point of his career.

In his life-time best film, Pyaasa, Guru Dutt had asked with sublimely lyrical certitude, ‘Ye duniya agar mil bhi jaaye tho kya hai’ (even if one were to triumph over the world,  what’s it worth?). But when the resounding failure of his artistically ambitious Kaagaz ke Phool raised the existential question,  ‘Ye duniya agar chal bhi jaaye tho kya hai’ (what if success were to leave one), the man known for expressing  ‘the dark poetry of the death wish’ experienced the stark prose of rejection in real life!

Subsequent to the Kaagaz debacle, even after the success of ‘Chaudavin ka Chaand’,  a Muslim social which he produced and acted in the lead role but didn’t direct, and the classic Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam, which he also directed but did not claim the credit for, Guru Dutt looked southward though the productions there were only remakes of proven Tamil/Telugu films rewritten and packaged with the Hindi audience in mind.

In this phase, Guru Dutt was first booked for ‘Bharosa’ (released in September 1963)  by by N.Vasudeva Menon, a top manager of AVM studios who turned an ambitious producer and studio owner himself. Made with expert technicians  (cinematographer Thambu, famed for Gemini classics like Avvaiyar) and K. Shanker (reliable film editor turned director), all Guru Dutt had to do in the film was play a good-hearted country bumpkin romping around with Asha Parekh.  While Guru Dutt fulfilled the demands made on him, the methodical Madras filmmakers did not waste his time or energy with retakes or rehashes. ‘Bharosa’ was followed by ‘Bahurani’ (released in January 1964), based on successful films in Telugu (Ardhangi) and Tamil (Pennin Perumai) which derived their storyline from Manilal Banerjee’s novel ‘Swayamsiddha’.  With the Anglo Indian veteran Marcus Bartley behind the camera and the masterly T. Prakash Rao calling  the shots, Guru Dutt stood out as the retarded son transformed by the redemptive influence of his good wife (Mala Sinha).

It was then that the influential film producer A.L.Srinivasan booked Guru Dutt for Suhaagan, the Hindi version of his Tamil hit,  Sarada.  K.S. Gopalakrishnan, whom ALS had introduced as a director in Sarada, was billed to direct the Hindi version too. But he was more than anxious that he would have to direct Guru Dutt. The latter’s reputation as a technically brilliant director had preceded him to Madras, and KSG feared that Dutt might give him a torrid time questioning the set up of every shot! Guru Dutt arrived, and was accommodated at Ashoka Hotel in Egmore. KSG didn’t go to meet him. He was not there even to welcome him on the sets on the first day’s shooting. After Guru Dutt’s make up was done, A.L.Srinivasan introduced him to K.S.Gopalakrishnan.

Guru Dutt called KSG aside and told him: ‘‘Gopalakrishnan, you might have heard about me. People might have told you that I am a big director and all that.  But I have left all that behind. I have come to act in your film. You are my director. It’s my duty to follow what you say. It’s your responsibility to get from me what you need’’.  The unassuming manner in which Guru Dutt  spoke put the lid on KSG’s fears  and he hugged Guru Dutt with tears in his eyes.

Komal Swaminathan, reputed playwright and writer who assisted KSG in the film and considered the friendship he formed with Guru Dutt during the shooting of Suhagan as one of the blessings of his life, has recorded these impressions. In the event, Guru Dutt and Gopalakrishnan became thick friends during the shooting of Suhaagan! Gopalakrishnan’s description of the tank in his native village , ‘teeming with Murrel fish’, whetted Guru Dutt’s appetite. All his life he was passionate about fishing. He spent a week in Gopalakrishnan’s village Malliam, sometimes angling for fish unmindful of the hot summer sun, sometimes partaking of the coconut toddy that was brought specially for him! KSG marvelled that his hero was as ardent about country stuff as for Chivas Regal! Amidst all this, Guru Dutt developed a liking for the Silappadhikaaram story and took along a translated script titled ‘Madhavi’ for a future project.

A.L.Srinivasan, who was famous for the frequent parties he threw, looked after Guru Dutt very well, even as the latter was solicitous of the needs of his producer. ‘‘Unlike some Hindi stars, he would be on time on the sets. On the last day of his shooting, he had the director take every manner of shot of him, in case the need arose for such shots later’’, recalls Ms. Jayanthi Kannappan, Srinivasan’s  daughter-in-law.  The KSG unit was later shocked when on the last day of editing they got the news of Guru Dutt’s untimely death.  Suhaagan, which was released months later, was advertised as Guru Dutt’s ‘last and best’. Though it was no hit film, it did not rock the boat of the producer either.


ppasami, 81, who worked for A.L.S. productions, and was Guru Dutt’s attendant in Madras for three schedules, remembers Guru Dutt fondly. ‘’He was generally accommodated in the now defunct Oceanic Hotel. I have seen many heroes from Hindi cinema. But Guru Dutt was a different breed. He was a thorough gentleman. Unlike many stars, he had no airs. I will always remember him with respect’’


(A version of the above article appeared in the columns of Times of India, Chennai)

(The writer is a historian of Tamil film music and an author of many books on Tamil cinema)



Phalke to Pyaasa

This year’s Dadasaheb Phalke award, for the first time, goes to a cinematographer, and that to V. K. Murthy, the man who shot Guru Dutt!

Who can forget those wondrous sequences from Pyaasa (1957) where the dejected poet comes to his own memorial meeting as it were, and sings, ‘Ye Duniya Agar Mil Bhi Jaye to kya hai’….’What if you one has conquered the world….a world riven by a thousand differences and a million mutinies?’ . And the crescendic declaration, ‘Jala do ise phook daalo yeh duniya’, calling for the violent end of an evil world.

Who can forget the scene from ‘Kaagaz Ke Phool’, where the lone director is seated on his crane as the withered flowers and dead leaves of the past hurtle past him in the storms of the present.?

If several scenes were praised for ‘their astonishing cinematic mastery’, as well as the play of light and masterful crane movements, much of the plaudits must go to Murthy, who belonged to the first batch (1943-46) of a cinematography course in Bangalore’s S.J. Polytechnic.

Kagaz ke phool, which failed on its initial release, was the first Indian film in cinemascope — another feather in Murthy’s cap. But the new format was not about innovation for its sake, but adding to the tensions of the film by using spaces to create meaning.

That so much of the beauty of frame and camera movement leant poignant meaning to Guru Dutt’s films is testimony of the close relationship between filmmaker and cinematographer. Murthy has thanked Guru Dutt as if he were alive, which indeed he is. It takes more than some sleeping pills to kill a man of Guru Dutt’s stature.

The award to Murthy, is almost like an award to Guru Dutt….and this year’s Phalke award becomes yet more touching as it calls to the present an undying moment of the past.

Jyoti-less Basu?

Even as doctors prepare to dig their knives into Jyoti Basu’s donated body, Ashok Malik in Times of India’s op-ed article, has driven a stake into Basu’s legacy.

It is a stinging ‘tribute’ to the West Bengal chief minister of 23 years, teeming with searing one liners that mark the signposts of Basu’s contra-bution to the state.

‘In the heart of his devotees, he remains the greatest prime minister India never had’

‘Ironically, the most fervent praise for Basu came from outsiders’

‘From Bangalore to Boston, every buzzing city has its share of Bengal’s refugees….’ (This sentence buzzing with B’s puts me in memory of my Hindi teacher’s famous sentence on Bengali pronunciation of English : Mr Bisbanathan bas bondering in the Beranda!).

‘Calcutta is a museum piece, the world’s largest old people’s home….In his twilight hours he began to resemble his terrifying legacy’

Malik credits Basu with hounding out business, computers and English…thereby marching the early industrial state into the heart of darkness (salaam to Koestler).

What about his land reforms, the magic wand of the communists?
‘If out of the 100 poorest districts in India, West Bengal has 14 (of the total of 18), what reforms are you speaking of’….is Malik’s take.

With so many crosses to bear, Basu surely deserved the pegs he shared often with the late sixties West Bengal governor Dharma Vira, whom he lampooned publicly as Delhi’s reactionay agent.

The most telltale tribute however come from Taslima Nasreen: ”I was eager to meet him in hospital but I was not granted permission to visit the country”.

Pachauri’s faux paus

The grey line on Pachauri’s otherwise dark beard had triggered some doubts in me…was this a symbolic statement about glacial melting?

It turns out that his designer beard was a fashion statement with as much truth in it as his institute’s deadline for the Himalaya to melt away!

I thought it was our handsome Jairam who discovered this first, but it turns out that he was only reading Sunday Telegraph diligently.

Now the British department for International development has ordered full institutional assessment of Pauchari’s body to find out whether it is melting normally or abnormally.

Questioned on TV, Pachauri sidestepped questions on his deadline by saying he was looking into it, but was it wise to throw the baby of climate change with the bath water of supposedly inaccurate projections.

But the question is, is Pachauri baby or bathwater?

Murthy picture :

Setting the frame

Hind ki naaz