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A fascinating peep into the life of Guru Dutt
New Delhi, March 21, 2021
This was in the 70s. The announcement at school assembly was painful. A student had passed away in a rail accident close by, trying to cross the tracks, and we were told classes had been cancelled. School was shut for the day.
One of us suggested we could play a match at the India Gate Lawns. “Movie,” said another. We had a "sponsor" too. He promised to pick the tab for the five of us. Off we were to Plaza Theatre which was showing Apradh in the morning show. The F1 race in the movie was an attraction but we were simply besotted with the image of Mumtaz in a bikini.
Just as the tickets were to be bought, came the stumbling block. No school students in morning show. Disappointed, we turned to the Odeon Cinema, which, we were told, allowed entry to students in the morning show. Kaagaz Ke Phool was the movie. Guru Dutt and Waheeda Rehman stared at us from the huge poster.
But our "sponsor" backed out from buying the tickets. “Not for this movie,” he was adamant. An elderly gentleman, privy to our furious debate, said, “Take my advice. Watch the movie. You will come to understand good cinema.” We debated before the "sponsor" acceded.
For the five of us that day, Kaagaz Ke Phool changed the perspective of watching cinema. We stepped out of the cinema hall in awe of Guru Dutt and Waheeda Rehman. We looked around in vain for the elderly gentleman to thank him for the recommendation which introduced us to quality cinema. We had fallen in love with Guru Dutt.
Those were the days of Mere Apne, Anand, Bobby, Zanjeer with Rajesh Khanna, Vinod Khanna, Dimple Kapadia and Amitabh Bachchan setting a new trend. But we were transported back in time by Guru Dutt. Now, with Yasser Usman’s brilliant biography of the great film maker, my reverence for Guru Dutt has grown manifold.
Yasser is a wonderful story teller. His biographies of Rajesh Khanna, Rekha and Sanjay Dutt won him raving praise for the research. With Guru Dutt, An Unfinished Story, he has set a benchmark in this genre of narratives. Published by Simon & Schuster, this is a definite tribute to the maverick that Guru Dutt was.
The biggest challenge for Yasser was archival material on Guru Dutt. “There were not many around who could talk about him. Much of the archival material was gone. It was only in the 70s that film journalism picked up. Most close to him had passed away. Only his sister (Lalita Lajmi) was around. Lalita ji agreed to share her memories. Amazingly she remembered the dates and was prepared to answer most of the questions," Yasser told NetIndian.
The book is a fascinating peep into the life of a man who was considered a complicated personality, a filmmaker much ahead of the times, and a master of the art that was close to his heart – looking at music as the major strength of the movies that he made. The book does miss the key voice in his life – Geeta Roy – but then she left this world in 1972, taking with her a chunk of their history of being together. Yasser was candid, “It would have been great to listen to her story. If only her version was available for the current generation. Geeta ji was the trump card in his life.”
That Guru Dutt was a great filmmaker would be stating the obvious. The book tells us how intensely personal he was. When he made those classy films from 28 to 39 years of age, Guru Dutt, according to the book, went through “hell” in his personal life.
“He would finish making his films in six to seven months," said Yasser, who was deprived of what would have been priceless first-hand information from film critic Raju Bharatan, who passed away a few days before they were to meet.
Guru Dutt the tragedian is projected as one intense character by Yasser. I am so happy he brings a tale which is worth telling for the young film lovers of today and Yasser accomplishes that task with authority. The writing is compelling because it doesn’t allow you to put the book aside unless the diversion demands greater attention.
Yasser has a style that is appealing. It engages you from the opening words of Guru Dutt's origins and the little known tough times.
“We had a disturbed childhood…Our father did not believe in success. He believed in poetry which is not enough to survive. We looked upon our elder brother Guru Dutt,” laments Lajmi as Yasser launches the the story on a melancholic note. But then Guru Dutt loved melancholy more than he loved himself.
The book deals with the roles of Geeta Roy and Waheeda Rehman in Guru Dutt’s life. The chapter Two Tormented Souls throws light on their relationship.
“The film magazines, film newspapers are the same. People used to propagate such spicy stories about Guru Dutt and an actress that I was ashamed to read them. I felt like committing suicide,” Geeta Dutt is quoted as saying.
There are rich anecdotes that embellish the book, beginning with how Guru Dutt was ditched by Dilip Kumar after having agreed to play the lead role in Pyaasa to the heartbreaking chapter on his death from alleged suicide.
“With a bottle of whiskey in his hand, Dutt went back to his room and locked the room from inside. Guru Dutt never came out of the room alive,” Yasser writes as he captures Guru Dutt’s life so tellingly in this book with rich research.
All lovers of Guru Dutt are going to treasure this book. “My humble tribute to a man who shaped many careers and taught us the meaning of good cinema," said Yasser.
In fact, Guru Dutt has been a huge influence on many film makers and actors. And film fans too. Like the five of us who discovered him by default more than four decades ago. Guru Dutt was a master and Yasser’s book drives home the point in this well-layered account that shows why his life and films are celebrated even today. The book does that precisely in a delightful style. Thanks, Yasser, for bringing us the Guru Dutt we always wanted to know.