Book Review | The eloquent outsider, lovingly remembered…

Yasser Usman’s book on Guru Dutt is a labour of love but submerged in adulation, although there is a show of criticality. This is a work unlike that of Nasser Munni Kabir’s whose book stuck closely to Guru Dutt’s films while touching upon his life. Usman’s book is on the problematic though gifted director’s life; a detailed record of it while being adulatory about the films.

Guru Dutt was only 39 when he died in 1964 of an overdose of sleeping pills, torn between two women; the first his wife Geeta Dutt (nee Roy), a gifted singer, the second, Waheeda Rehman, his very talented actress who featured in all his important films, whom he had discovered. In his short, intense, sad but artistically fruitful life (in retrospect) he managed to communicate with a large audience who paid to see his films and sustained his production company; an absolute necessity in commercial Hindi cinema.

Guru Dutt had the rare ability of being loved and commanding the loyalty of those who came in contact with him. Dev Anand and he remained dear friends through the years of struggle to their superstardom in subsequent years. His unit members S. Guruswami, who ran Guru Dutt Films, Abrar Alvi, scriptwriter, V.K. Murthy who became an excellent cameraman, working with him, actors Rehman and Johnny Walker, who gave their best work in Guru Dutt’s films remained staunchly loyal to him.

His training as a dancer under maestro Uday Shankar at his cultural centre in Almora and his inborn sense of rhythm gave his song picturisation a fluency and glow. Even almost 60 years later they hold our attention and evoke admiration. He was the first in Hindi cinema to create real flesh and blood characters. Vijay, the cheated progressive poet (Pyaasa), Suresh Sinha, the charismatic filmmaker ruined by hypocritical social sanction (Kaagaz Ke Phool), even Bhootnath, the observer somehow rescued by luck (Sahib Biwi Aur Ghulam) are all outsiders, misfits in a heartless, insensitive society, as is the reporter from the last incomplete film (Baharein Phir Bhi Aayengi) a remake of an earlier New Theatres hit, President. All these characters were played onscreen by Guru Dutt. He was the first one to create sensitive individuals who did not belong in a society where herd mentality was the norm.

A word about Kaagaz Ke Phool. It did not fail because it was badly scripted  but because it was about the short-lived fulfilling love between a really fine filmmaker, (unhappily married) and his talented protege whom he leads to stardom but is forced to leave because of emotional blackmail by his underage daughter pressured by her snobbish, upper-class mother. In other words, legally a story about adultery to be condemned in public by people who love to be in love but have not the guts or heart to go through with it. The situation has not changed all that much. It is Guru Dutt’s most moving film and most modern, also very expressively shot.

Partha Chatterjee writes on cinema, music, literature and related cultural matters. He is also a filmmaker.


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