Guru Dutt — the man beyond his time, the weaver of timeless melodrama — is an icon who perhaps claims the lion’s share in sculpting the magnificent marvel that is Indian cinema. Born as Vasanth Kumar Shivshankar Padukone in Bangalore, Guru Dutt adopted the latter name after living in Kolkata for some time where he took to the Bengali culture.
He is often referred to as the common man’s poet. But what’s the reason behind this Robert Burns-esque status that the man received? It’s quite simple yet intriguing. His works brilliantly resonate with the masses irrespective of the era. Despite this relatable quality, his works do not lack higher artistic cognisance. There is an almost lyrical or poetic sense to the movies he made during his time.
The golden age of Bollywood both created him and is simultaneously indebted to his immense contribution, some of which we shall reminiscence today, on his 94th birth anniversary. Two of his works Pyaasa and Kaagaz Ke Phool were included in Time magazine’s ‘All Time 100 best movies.’
Here are some of his greatest contributions to Hindi cinema, both as an actor and filmmaker:
1. PYAASA (1957)
Director: Guru Dutt
Perhaps one of the most realistic portraits of the world that could be portrayed through a film was depicted in Pyaasa. The movie raises questions regarding the worth of an artist, the value of art and the paradoxical Schrodinger’s Cat-like existence of that which is called true love in the world. They are questions that shall boggle the human mind for centuries and yet remain unanswered. Dutt delves deep into themes of acceptance and rejection, both literal and metaphorical as well as internal and external. Coupled with iconic scores like ‘Jaane Woh Kaise’ and others, Pyaasa renders a sublime experience.
Watch Pyaasa on Amazon Prime
2. SAHIB BIBI AUR GULAM (1962)
Director: Abrar Alvi
A brilliant masterpiece but a commercial failure for its themes were rooted in ideas that the majority of the then Indian society would need a few more decades to discuss freely and comfortably. Concepts like alcoholism, sex and their implications on relationships. Perhaps, the most revolutionary move was to narrate the story through the eyes of a servant — one who toils in the lower rungs of the social hierarchy and revolving around a melancholic wife who is mentally disturbed by her husband’s sexual promiscuity. The movie brilliantly brings forth the style and substance of Guru Dutt while highlighting the hypocrisies of the zamindari community.
3. KAAGAZ KE PHOOL (1959)
Director: Guru Dutt
India’s first cinemascope film, Kaagaz Ke Phool is a tragic tale of yet another creative mind. A famous director struggles with his family relations. His wealthy in-laws deem his job to be low in social status. He loses his wife and is kept away from his child. The film demonstrates how an innocent daughter just wants her parents to reunite and live as a family. It makes a case for men in the realm of child custody.
Touching on these deep topics, it goes further into the abyss as our protagonist eventually loses his fame and fortune, spiralling into depression and alcoholism. All he has with him is his self-respect and he takes that to his grave. The amazing score ‘Waqt Ne Kiya Kya Hassen Sitam‘ stands as a testament to the core message of the film. Like Ozymandias, all shall fall to the ravages of time, maybe not Guru Dutt.
4. CHAUDHAVIN KA CHAND (1960)
Director: Mohammed Sadiq
Chaundhvin Ka Chand weaves an almost Shakespearean tale of love and friendship. The movie follows the exploits of three friends. Two of them fall in love with the same woman. The story focuses on the various sacrifices each must make in order to maintain their friendship while simultaneously courting the beauty of their dreams. The choice of the partner is in the hands of the woman, which in that time, was perhaps a message to the audience.
5. AAR-PAAR (1954)
Director: Guru Dutt
Aar-Paar is a story of a man making his own fortune. Through circumstances of love and social status, we follow Kalu and his exploits as he gets a job as a taxi driver. His lover’s parents want him to earn a respectable living. He then meets another girl who falls in love with him and gets him involved in her father’s crime syndicate. The movie boasts a premise which is hilarious in itself. This comedy noir would easily make one lament the lack of comedies directed by and acted in by Guru Dutt.
Watch Aar Paar on Amazon Prime
6. MR. & MRS. ’55 (1955)
Director: Guru Dutt
Mr. & Mrs. ’55 is the materialisation of a very rare brand of romantic comedy. This movie revolves around three core characters — a struggling artist, a wealthy heiress and her ultra-feminist aunt. After the heiress’ father dies, he leaves behind a vast inheritance which will be available to her only after she gets married. In order to obtain the money, the aunt stages a false marriage. She does so due to her hate against men. She tries to indoctrinate the naive girl with these man-hating sentiments as well. But fate has something unexpected in store for all of them as our heiress slowly learns the joys of married life.
This movie is a reflection of the far-eyed vision of Guru Dutt. In today’s extreme left versus extreme right ideologies, he suggests giving the burden of the choice to the individuals without identifying themselves as a group fighting against another. This message of anti-tribalism resonates strongly in today’s political environment.
The life of Guru Dutt is often referred to as a tragedy in itself. He stayed away from his family and was completely engrossed in his work. He created masterpieces that transcend the boundaries of time. His works have shot through the wall standing between decades and have reached out to us. He was not a man, but a phenomenon. Dutt was a master of subtle and nuanced messages and was well-versed in the use of symbols to convey his ideas. He truly was a man far ahead of his time for he delved deep into each and every stratum of his society. We celebrate his birthday and honour him and, in turn, honour Indian cinema. Such is the everlasting power of the footprints left by Guru Dutt.
By Deepjyoti Roy
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