By Veenu Sandhu
Nasreen Munni Kabir’s documentary brings back to life the enigma called Guru Dutt.
The venue was Mahatma Gandhi Swimming Pool at Shivaji Park, Mumbai. And the year, 1955. A 30-year-old man, his eyes glued to the viewfinder, was busy looking for something. He went peering through his camera from all corners of the swimming pool and then finally said, “I don’t think I can find an angle today; just pack up.”
Thirty years later, another film maker, Nasreen Munni Kabir, arrived at the same pool to recreate that day. Looking through her camera she tried to capture every angle that Guru Dutt, the legend she was making a documentary on, might have explored on that summer day. Guru Dutt had eventually found what he was looking for and the song Thandi hawa, kali ghata aa hi gayee jhoom ke, picturised on Madhubala for Mr and Mrs 55, was finally filmed. Almost the entire song is now part of Kabir’s documentary, In Search of Guru Dutt, and is interspersed with her own shots of the pool.
This is but one example of how Kabir has gone all out in her search for Guru Dutt. The 85-minute, three-part documentary made in 1989 for Channel 4 TV, UK, was released in India on July 9, Guru Dutt’s 86th birth anniversary. Friends, family and colleagues all come together to give a glimpse of the enigmatic film maker, his childhood, his work, and his progression from a man who would with twinkling eyes and a lopsided smile romance his costar on screen to an individual so disillusioned by the world that the darkness that descended within him would be poignantly reflected in his later films like Pyaasa (1957) and Kaagaz Ke Phool (1959).
“He was not a man who could say, ‘I love you’,” recalls director Raj Khosla who worked closely with him. “He used to love, but could not express himself. That was the enigma, so the whole thing came out in the films.” Through interviews and anecdotes from those who knew Guru Dutt, to whatever extent it was possible to know him, Kabir captures in some measure how his mind worked. His mother, Vasanthi Padukone, speaks of the stubborn, impulsive child who would do as told only if it appealed to his reasoning mind. Dev Anand remembers their pact that Guru Dutt would direct the first film he would produce. The pact was sealed with Baazi (1951). Waheeda Rehman, who had begun working in Telugu films, recalls her first meeting with him. Majrooh Sultanpuri reminisces about how he got him to alter the lyrics of Sun sun sun sun zaalima to make the notes more easy-going. And Kaifi Azmi speaks of the tragic and semi-autobiographical Kaagaz ke Phool. “What he wanted to say in that film wasn’t clear. His mental state was like that at that time, he wasn’t clear,” remembers Azmi.
Several facets of his personality come through — the director who would get so lost in visualising the shot that once he mistakenly shaved off half his moustache; an experimentalist who used the shot of R K Lakshman’s hand making an outrageous cartoon of a dictatorial Lalita Pawar; a friend who would choose to vacate the director’s seat for Mohammed Sadiq (Chaudhvin Ka Chand, 1960) who was broke.
Kabir brings some rare pictures of Guru Dutt and uses shots from his films that make the documentary a beautifully-told story. In Search of Guru Dutt ends with a close-up shot of the pained, disillusioned man closing his eyes and shutting the world out. Guru Dutt committed suicide on October 10, 1964. He was only 39.
Kabir brings him back in a documentary that asks to be seen over and over again.