The book “Guru Dutt: An Unfinished Story” by best-selling Bollywood biographer Yasser Usman is the definitive biography of Guru Dutt, a nonconformist star.
Guru Dutt’s filmography has some names which have long been considered as some of the best films to have ever been made in India. His masterpiece Pyaasa (1957) was featured in TIME magazine’s All-Time 100 Movies list in 2005. But while much has been said and written on the film-maker and his art, little is known about his life behind the screens.
This is a gripping, meticulously researched and moving portrait of an unfinished life — a tale of unrequited love, unresolved relationships and unmatched cinematic talent.
Read an excerpt from the book below.
On 22 February 1957, Pyaasa was premiered at Bombay’s Minerva theatre. The leading personalities of the film industry attended the premier.
Within a week of its release Pyaasa was much talked about. The humane theme of Pyaasa connected with audiences and the film struck gold at the box office. Pyaasa scored silver jubilees at many places and even in a non-Hindi/Urdu speaking centre like Madras it ran for fifteen weeks. The media there wrote that the people down south identified their own poet Bharati’s life with the story depicted in the film. The commercial success of Pyaasa went far beyond Guru Dutt’s own expectations. Guru Dutt was elated with the success of Pyaasa. He said in a Screen interview: ‘The success of Pyaasa is the best reward of my career. The theme was heavy and I was not all sure that audiences would like it.’
Pyaasa was a revelation. No one had expected such an intense and serious film from Guru Dutt who was dabbling in romantic comedies and thrillers until then. It is to be said that the lyrical fluidity of Pyaasa defies Guru Dutt’s indecisiveness or temperamental and erratic ways of shooting. The film even today flows effortlessly.
Prof. Ira Bhaskar, the Dean of School of Arts and Aesthetics at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi says that he was influenced by Hollywood melodramatist Douglas Sirk. Sirk produced highly stylised melodramas. His films had strong women characters. Sirk wrote, directed and acted in his movies and was critical of the soicety and capitalism.
Citizen Kane was a huge influence on Guru Dutt and so was the drama of Orsen Welles. Also, the influence of German expressionist cinema. The entire noir tradition. But equally, and this is not emphasised enough, Guru Dutt was deeply influenced by Indian traditions and Bhakti poetry.
Guru Dutt’s inspiration also came from 1940s Indian cinema, works which deeply influenced him. It’s not one director or two directors but the Bengali cinema and Bombay cinema of the 1940s. People like P.C. Barua and later Gyaan Mukherjee, who was his mentor.
The year 1957 proved to be a landmark year for Hindi cinema. It witnessed the release of atleast three films which have achieved classic status over the years: Mehboob Khan’s Mother India, B.R. Chopra’s Naya Daur and Guru Dutt’s Pyaasa. Though entirely different in their plots and treatment, the three films shared some common traits. They were deeply rooted in Indian values. More importantly, in all three films moral dilemmas and important social issues were beautifully merged with entertainment, melodrama and wonderful music to produce ‘artistic commercial films’ with universal appeal. Perhaps that’s the reason that even after more than sixty years they don’t feel jaded.
Unfortunately, Pyaasa did not win any of the prestigious Filmfare awards for 1957. The award ceremony was dominated by Naya Daur and Mother India. But Pyaasa stood the test of time and went on to capture a place in TIME magazine’s coveted list of ‘All-TIME 100 Movies’, and has achieved the status of a cult film the world over.
His son Arun Dutt says, ‘The biggest irony is he never won any awards. He never canvassed for awards. He never cared about them. Awards had a lot of politics behind them. He never wanted to be surrounded by that kind of politics. It is sad and unfortunate that he never got the recognition he deserved. Neither the media nor the industry gave him recognition then. Many reviews of his films were nasty too.’
Pyaasa propelled Guru Dutt into the league of filmmakers to watch out for. But with Pyaasa, another new star was born.
Her name was Waheeda Rehman.