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Profile of Guru Dutt
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|Also Know As:
|Date of Birth:
||9th July 1925
|Place of Birth:
||Bangalore, Karnataka, India
Guru Dutt (1925 - 1964) was a famous Indian film director, producer and actor. He died after taking an overdose of sleeping pills. During his life he produced some of the most lyrical and beautiful films of his era, including Pyaasa, the story of a poet rejected by an uncaring world who achieves success only after his apparent death.
Guru Dutt was born to Shivsankar Rao Padukone and Vasanthi Padukone on July 9, 1925, in Bangalore. His parents were Saraswat Brahmins, originally settled at Panambur, a village in South Kanara . His father was initially a headmaster, and then became a bank employee. His mother Vasanthi while initially a housewife later taught in a school, gave tuitions and also wrote short stories and translated Bengali novels into Kannada. Vasanthi was only 16 when Guru Dutt was born.
Guru Dutt had a tough childhood with financial difficulties, and a strained relationship between his parents. As a child he had some bad experiences; the hostility from his mother's brother's family, a frightening encounter with an insane uncle, and the infant death of his seven-month old brother.
He was initially named Vasanth Kumar at birth at the suggestion of his mother's elder brother, but after a childhood accident, he was renamed Gurudutt, which was felt to be a more auspicious name. He was joined by two younger brothers, Atmaram and Devidas, and a younger sister, Lalitha. The famed Indian film director, Kalpana Lajmi, is his sister's daughter.
The father, who was initially a headmaster at Panambur and later a bank employee at Bangalore, was then transferred to Bhawanipore near Calcutta, where Guru Dutt finished his schooling. Hence, Guru Dutt spoke fluent Bengali, and carried a distinct stamp of Bengali culture in his work.
The Bengali name
Later, when he moved to Mumbai and Bollywood in the 1940s, he dropped the Shivsankar Padukone part of his name, and was known simply as Guru Dutt. Because Dutt is a common Bengali last name, many people assumed that he was a Bengali.
He spent a great deal of time with his mother's cousin, B.B. Benegal (known to the family as Bakutmama, and also father of famed Indian film director, Shyam Benegal), who was a painter of cinema posters.
His sister recalls that at age 14 Guru Dutt would use his fingers to shape images on a wall lit up by the flickering light of their grandmother’s diya as she performed the evening arti. Though untrained, he could produce inspired movements as he did when he persuaded his uncle, Benegal, to photograph him performing a snake dance, based on a painting by the latter. The snake dance was later performed at a gathering of Saraswat Brahmins at Calcutta for which Guru Dutt was even given a cash prize of 5 Rupees.
He was a good student, but never went to college, partly also due to financial troubles at home. Instead, he joined the performing arts troupe of Uday Shankar, the older brother of the better-known Ravi Shankar.
The Uday Shankar India Culture Center at Almora near Calcutta taught dance, drama, and music. It aimed at combining the best of the Gurukula system with a modern Arts University, and tried to turn out well-rounded students, at home in many disciplines. A young Guru Dutt joined the center at age 16 in 1941 on an five-year scholarship of Rs. 75 annually (a lot of money then), and studied at Almora until 1944, when the advancing World War II forced the closing of the center.
Guru Dutt wired home to say he had got the job of a telephone operator at a Lever Brothers factory in Kolkata. But soon he disengaged himself from the job, and joined his parents in Mumbai in 1944.
However, his uncle found him a job under a three-year contract with the Prabhat Film Company in Poona in 1944. This once premier film producing centre had already seen the departure of its best talent, V Shantaram, who had by then launched his own Kala Mandir. It is here that Guru Dutt met two people who would remain his good friends - actors Rehman, and Dev Anand.
Guru Dutt acted in a small role as Sri Krishna in Chand in 1944. In 1945, he acted as well as assisted director Vishram Bedekar in Lakhrani, and in 1946 he worked as an assistant director and choreographed dances for P L Santoshi’s film, Hum Ek Hain.
This contract ended in 1947, but his mother got him a job as a free lance assistant with Babu Rao Pai. However, after that for a period of ten months Guru Dutt was unemployed and staying with his family at Matunga, Mumbai. During this time, Guru Dutt developed a flair for writing in English, and used to write short stories for The Illustrated Weekly, a local magazine. It is during this time that he is supposed to have written the script for Pyaasa (Hindi: the thirsty one), which was almost autobiographical. Its original name was Kashmakash (Hindi: struggle), which was changed later to Pyaasa.
It is in this phase of his life that Guru Dutt was almost married, twice! The first time he had eloped with a girl called Vijaya from Pune, and later his parents had him almost married to his maternal niece, Suvarna, from Hyderabad.
Guru Dutt as choreographer, actor, assistant director
While Guru Dutt was hired by Prabhat as a choreographer, he was soon pressed into service as an actor, and even as an assistant director. At Prabhat, he met Dev Anand and Rehman, who both became stars. These early friendships helped ease his way into the film world.
After Prabhat failed in 1947, Dutt moved to Bombay, now Mumbai, where he worked with directors Amiya Chakravarty, a leading director at the time in his film, Girl's School, and Gyan Mukherjee in Bombay Talkies film Sangram. Then, Dev Anand offered him a job as a director with his new company, Navketan's second movie after the first movie was a commercial flop. Thus, Guru Dutt's first film, Baazi, was released in 1951.
Dev & Guru's promise
There exists a very interesting anecdote behind this new job. Guru Dutt and Dev Anand used the services of the same laundry man when they were at Prabhat in Pune in 1945. One day Dev found one of his shirts missing, but replaced with a different one. On appearing at work as the hero of Hum Ek Hain, he found the film's young choreographer (Guru Dutt) wearing his shirt. On being questions, Guru Dutt admitted that it was not his shirt, but since he had no other he was wearing the replacement. This developed into a great friendship, since they were of the same age. They promised each other that, if Guru Dutt were to turn filmmaker, he would hire Dev as his hero, and if Dev were to produce a film then he would use Guru Dutt as its Director.
Dev Anand fulfilled his end of the bargain with Baazi, but still regrets that his friend Guru Dutt did not. Guru Dutt indirectly did fulfill his promise. His studio, Guru Dutt Films Pvt. Ltd, produced "C.I.D" which starred Dev, but was directed by Raj Khosla (previously an assistant director to Guru Dutt). So technically Guru Dutt never directed Dev Anand in his own movie.
They would make two super-hit films together, Baazi, and Jaal. Creative differences between Guru Dutt, and Chetan Anand (Dev's elder brother) who was also a director, made future collaborations difficult.
Baazi's Other Contributions
Baazi also highlights two early key technical developments in Indian movie-making that are attributed to Guru Dutt. The use of close-up shots with a 100mm lens - there are over 14 in the movie - which became known in Indian movie making as the "Guru Dutt shot", and the use of songs to further the narrative in the movie. Guru Dutt also introduced Zohra Sehgal (whom he met at Almora) as the choreographer in the movie, and he also met his future wife, Geeta Dutt during the making of the movie.
Guru Dutt as director
Baazi was an immediate success. Guru Dutt followed it with Jaal and Baaz. Neither film did well at the box office, but they did allow Dutt to start forming the crew that performed so brilliantly in subsequent films. He discovered, and mentored, Johnny Walker (comedian), V.K. Murthy(cinematography), and Abrar Alvi (writing and directing), among others. Baaz was notable in that Guru Dutt both directed and starred, not having found an actor to take the main role.
Fortune smiled on Dutt's next film, the 1954 Aar Paar. He followed up with the 1955 hit, Mr. and Mrs. 55, then CID, Sailaab, and in 1957, Pyaasa. Having starred in three of these films, Dutt was flying high both as actor and director.
His 1959 Kaagaz ke Phool was thus an intense disappointment. He had invested a great deal of love, money, and energy in this film, which was a self-absorbed tale of a famous director (played by Guru Dutt) who falls in love with an actress (played by Waheeda Rehman, Dutt's real-life love interest). Kaagaz ke Phool failed at the box office and Dutt was devastated. All subsequent films from his studio were officially helmed by other directors. Guru Dutt felt that his name would be box office poison.
Guru Dutt's last productions
However, he was persuaded to star in the 1960 Chaudhvin ka Chand, which was an enormous hit and saved his studio from ruin. He also starred in the 1962 Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam, which was officially directed by his protege Abrar Alvi. Many critics feel that Guru Dutt was the behind-the-scenes director, for all that his name did not appear in the credits as such. Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam is still regarded as one of Dutt's most tragic and artistic films. He starred in several less-remembered films after "Sahib Bibi ....
On October 10, 1964, Guru Dutt was found dead on his bed. He is said to have been mixing alcohol and sleeping pills. His death may have been suicide, or just an accidental overdose.
Guru Dutt's son, Arun Dutt views this as an accident in an interview with India Abroad in October 2004 on the 40th anniversary of his father's death. Guru Dutt had scheduled appointments the next day with actress Mala Sinha for the movie, Baharen Phir Bhi Aayengi, and Raj Kapoor to discuss making colour films. According to him, "my father had sleeping disorders and popped sleeping pills like any other person. That day he was drunk and had taken an overdose of pills, which culminated in his death. It was a lethal combination of excessive liquor and sleeping pills."
Guru Dutt's family life
In 1953, Dutt married Geeta Roy, a well-known playback singer. They had been engaged for three years and had to overcome a great deal of family opposition to marry. They had three children, Tarun, Arun, and Nina.
Unfortunately, the marriage was unhappy. According to his brother Atmaram, Guru Dutt was "a strict disciplinarian as far as work was concerned, but totally undisciplined in his personal life" (Kabir, 1997, p. 124). He smoked heavily, he drank heavily, he kept odd hours, and he was unfaithful to Geeta. At the time of his death, he had just separated from Geeta and was living alone in a Bombay flat.
Guru Dutt's legacy
Guru Dutt was at first mourned as a matinee idol but as the years passed, it became ever clearer that it was as a director that he would be remembered. Starting in 1973, his films were shown at film festivals throughout India and the rest of the world. Despite being a commercial director, he appealed to the same intelligentsia who made Satyajit Ray an international favorite. He also has a place in the hearts of many ordinary Indians for his brilliant song "picturizations" and the many vivid characters sketched in his films.
- Picnic (1964)
- Sanjh Aur Savera (1964)
- Suhagan (1964)
- Bahurani (1963)
- Bharosa (1963)
- Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam (1962)
- Sautela Bhai (1962)
- Chaudhvin Ka Chand (1960)
- Kaagaz Ke Phool (1959)
- 12 O'Clock (1958)
- Pyaasa (1957)
- Mr. & Mrs. '55 (1955)
- Aar Paar (1954)
- Suhagan (1954)
- Baaz (1953)
- Hum Ek Hain (1946)
- Kaagaz Ke Phool (1959)
- Pyaasa (1957)
- Sailaab (1956)
- Mr. & Mrs. '55 (1955)
- Aar Paar (1954)
- Baaz (1953)
- Jaal (1952)
- Baazi (1951)
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