Guru Dutt was the grand romantic in the era of Bollywood that was marked by over wrought melodramatic unforgiving romanticism, the 'Classic' period of the 1950s. An actor, producer, and director he created vehicles for himself that portrayed him as as the rogue poet and moody intellectual bohemian. Sensitive, Poetic, Magical. These and more words have described the genius of Guru Dutt.
Guru Dutt Padukone was born in Mysore in South India on July 9, 1925. He had his early education in Calcutta before doing basic training with dance maestro Uday Shankar after which he joined Prabhat Studios. It was here that he got a break as a choreographer with the film Hum Ek Hain (1946), the launching pad of friend and actor Dev Anand.
From Prabhat Guru Dutt moved on to Famous Studios and then on to Bombay Talkies. Meanwhile in 1949, his close friend from Prabhat, Dev Anand (now a star) had launched his own banner, Navketan.
Their first film Afsar (1950) was not a success. Dev Anand invited Guru Dutt to direct a film for him. Thus 1951 saw the release of Baazi, Guru Dutt's directorial debut. The film starring Dev Anand, Geeta Bali and Kalpana Kartik was a trendsetter regarded as the forerunner of the spate of urban crime films that followed in Bollywood in the 1950s. In fact, Guru Dutt and singer Geeta Roy met during the song recording of Baazi and fell in love, marrying on the 26th of May,1953.
Baaz in 1953 saw Guru Dutt make his debut as leading man and he went on to act as well as direct.
Aar Paar released in 1954 established Guru Dutt as a director to reckon with. The film was a crime thriller in the genre of Baazi but by now with Jaal (1952) and Baaz also behind him, Guru Dutt had polished his filmmaking skills and Aar Paar stands out as among the best of the genre. The plot of the film may now seem formulaic but scores in its treatment. It's great strength lies in the way even the minor characters are fleshed out - be it the barman, the street urchin or the newspaper vendor. And for once characters spoke with a language that reflected their background.
Followed some of his best work Mr. and Mrs 55 (1955), Pyaasa (1957) and Kaagaz ke Phool (1959). Pyaasa was Guru Dutt's real masterpiece. It tells of the thirst for love, for recognition, for spiritual fulfilment. There is a strong parallel between the hero, a poet, the outsider trying to make a place for himself in the society he inhabits and the director, the outsider trying to leave his independent stamp in a world of formulaic cinema. It is in Pyaasa where we really see Guru Dutt transcend way above the ordinary and succeed in totality.
Kaagaz ke Phool was a dismal failure at the box office and a dejected Guru Dutt never directed a film again. But for all its flaws, like any Guru Dutt film, the highs far outweigh the lows. Technically the film is perhaps his best film. The camerawork with its use of light and shadow is magical. The frames have been beautifully composed keeping in mind the cinemascope format (It is India's first ever film in cinemascope). The relationship between the director and his protégé is delicately handled on a very human plane. The film making scenes are shot with meticulous attention to detail and the ambience of the film studios is most effectively created. And above all, song picturizations are taken to new heights. Lyrical and poetic, it represents some of the finest work that Guru Dutt has ever done. The screenplay however is weak and the film at its worst moments appears to be morbid and totally narcissistic.
Guru Dutt continued to produce films and act in both home and outside productions. But never did he ever give his name in the credits as Director again. Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam (1962) though credited to writer Abrar Alvi bears his unmistakable stamp. The film won the President's Silver Medal as well as the Film of the year award from the Bengal Film Journalists Association besides going to the Berlin Film Festival and
being India's official entry for the Oscars.
However Guru Dutt's personal life was a shambles. He had separated from his wife allegedly due to his involvement with his discovery and leading actress Waheeda Rehman and on Oct. 10, 1964 he took an overdose of sleeping pills and committed suicide though doubts still linger as to whether his death was accidental.
Themes of his films aside, Guru Dutt has also brought in some major technical revolutions in the grammar of the mainstream Hindi film. Guru Dutt had a unique knack of being able to integrate the film song into the story and make the story move forward even through the song. This is because Guru Dutt stuck to the vocabulary of his characters even in the songs and picturized them in the locations the characters would normally inhabit. Also he began a lot of songs without the introductory music thus using it as an extension of the dialogue. Hence the songs never appear out of place. His strength lay in his sense of music as well as in the picturization of songs, particularly his shot takings.
Guru Dutt used the effect of light and shade to poetic in fact magical effect to create romance. There is no better use of light and shade in Indian cinema than the songs Saaqiya Aaj Mujhe Neend Nahin Aayegi from Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam, and Waqt ne Kiya Kya Haseen Situm from Kaagaz ke Phool.
Guru Dutt also revolutionalized the close up shot. He went in for closer magnifications of characters than those seen till then almost as if probing for their internal feelings. He went beyond the standard 50mm lens used then, using lenses with higher focal length to get tighter close ups. He strongly felt that 80% of acting was done in the eyes and 20% the rest of the body. For the eyes are the most expressive part. And being an actor - director made it easy for Guru Dutt to get good performances from his artistes. And if he wasn't completely satisfied with the results, he scrapped the film he was making irrespective of the amount of money and time gone into the project. This explains the large number of incomplete films that he left.
Picnic with upcoming star Sadhana remained incomplete. As did K Asif's Love And God costarring Nimmi (Sanjeev Kumar replaced Dutt and it was released two decades later). Brother Atma Ram completed Dutt's own venture Baharein Phir Bhi Aayengi (with Mala Sinha and Tanuja), after reshooting Dutt's portions with Dharmendra.
If only Dutt had heeded the life-affirming title song from Baharein Phir Bhi Aaayegi: Badal jaaye agar mali, chaman hota nahi khali