Guru Dutt or Vasanth Kumar Shivashankar Padukone (9 July 1925 - 10 October 1964) was an Indian film director, producer, choreographer and actor. He is often credited with ushering in the golden era of Hindi Cinema. He made quintessential 1950s and 1960s classics such a Pyaasa (Thirsty), Kaagaz Ke Phool (Paper Flowers), Sahib, Bibi Aur Ghulam (The King, the Queen and the Jack) and Chaudhvin Ka Chaand(The Fourteenth Day Moon). In particular, Pyaasa and Kaagaz Ke Phool are now included among the greatest films of all time, both by Time magazine's "All-Time" 100 best movies and by the Sight & Sound critics' and directors' poll, where Dutt himself is included among the greatest film directors of all time. He is sometimes referred to as "India's Orson Wells". In 2010, he has been named the list of CNN's "top 25 Asian actors of all time".
He is most famous for making lyrical and artistic films within the context of popular Hindi cinema of the 1950s, and expanding its commercial conventions, starting with his 1957 film, Pyaasa. Several of his later works have a cult following. His movies go full house when re-released; especially in Germany, France and Japan. The latest book on him is Ten Years with Guru Dutt: Abrar Alvi's Journey by Sathya Saran based on the recollections of his chief scriptwriter and friend Abrar Alvi (who directed Sahib, Bibi Aur Ghulam).
Early life and background
Guru Dutt was born to Shivashanker Rao Padukone and Vasanthi Padukone. His parents were Chitrapur Saraswats, originally settled at Panambur, a village in South Kanara district of present day state Karnataka (then Madras Province). His father was initially a headmaster, and then a bank employee. His mother Vasanthi, while initially a housewife, later taught in a school, gave private tuition 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 maternal uncle's family, a frightening encounter with his insane maternal adopted uncle, and the death of his seven-month old brother (Shashidhar).
Guru Dutt was initially named Vasanth Kumar at birth at the suggestion of his mother's elder brother, but after a childhood accident, he was renamed Guru Dutt, which was felt to be a more auspicious name. He was joined by three younger brothers, Atmaram, Devidas and Vijay and a younger sister, Lalitha. The Indian film director, Kalpana Lajmi, is his sister's daughter.
He spent a great deal of time with his mother's cousin, Balakrishna B. Benegal (known to the family as Bakutmama) who was a painter of cinema posters. The Indian film director, Shyam Benegall, is the son of Sridhar B. Benegal, Balakrishna's younger brother.
Guru Dutt's father was initially a headmaster at Panambur and later a bank employee at Bangalore. He moved jobs to work as an administrative clerk at the Burmah Shell company and began living at Bhawanipore in Calcutta, where Guru Dutt finished his schooling. Hence, Guru Dutt spoke fluent Bengali, and carried a distinct stamp of Bengali culture in his work. Later, when he moved to Bombay (now called Mumbai) in the 1940s, he dropped the Shivashankar 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.
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 arathi. 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 because of 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 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 a 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 Pune (then called 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 directorVishram 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 freelance assistant with Baburao Pai, the CEO of the Prabhat Film Company and Studio. However, after that, for almost ten months, Guru Dutt was unemployed and stayed with his family at Matunga, Mumbai. During this time, Guru Dutt developed a flair for writing in English, and wrote short stories for The Illustrated Weekly of India, a local weekly English magazine.
It is during this time that he is supposed to have written the script for the almost autobiographical Pyaasa (Hindi: the thirsty one). Its original name was Kashmakash (Hindi: struggle), which was changed later to Pyaasa and was written at his home in Matunga.
It is in this phase of his life that Guru Dutt was almost married twice! The first time he eloped with a girl called Vijaya from Pune, and later his parents had him almost married to his maternal niece, Suvarna, from Hyderabad.
As choreographer, actor, assistant director
While Guru Dutt was hired by Prabhat Film Company 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 Mumbai, where he worked with two leading directors of the time, with Amiya Chakravarty in Girl's School, and with Gyan Mukherjee in the Bombay Talkies film Sangram. Then, Dev Anand offered him a job as a director in his new company, Navketan, after the first movie Afsar(1950) had flopped.
Thus, Guru Dutt's first film, Navketan's Baazi, was released in 1951 . It was a tribute to the Forties' Film Noir Hollywood with the morally ambiguous hero, the transgressing siren, and shadow lighting.
Dev Anand and Guru Dutt'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 Anand found that one of his shirts had been replaced with a different one. On arriving at work as the hero of Hum Ek Hain, he found the film's young choreographer (Guru Dutt) wearing his shirt. On being questioned, 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 Anand 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 Movies Pvt Ltd, produced "C.I.D." which starred Dev, but the film was directed by Raj Khosla (an assistant director to Guru Dutt). Thus, technically, Guru Dutt never directed Dev Anand under his production company.
Guru Dutt and Dev Anand would make two super-hit films together, Baazi, and Jaal. Creative differences between Guru Dutt, and Chetan Anand (Anand's elder brother), who was also a director, made future collaborations difficult.
Remembering his old friend Guru Dutt, Anand quotes, “He was a young man. he should not have made depressing pictures…”
Recently, Anand quotes, "my only true friend in the film industry. We got close to each other while working for Prabhat, one of the big banners of those days. I gave him his big break in Baazi and he cast me in some of his movies like C.I.D.
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 100 mm 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 (then Geeta Roy) during the making of the movie.
Baazi was an immediate success. Guru Dutt followed it with Jaal and Baaz. Neither film did well at the box office, but they bring together the Guru Dutt team 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. He is also credited for introducing Waheeda Rehman to the Hindi cinema. Baaz was notable in that Guru Dutt both directed and starred, not having found a suitable actor for the principal character.
Fortune smiled on Dutt's next film, the 1954 Aar Paar. This was followed by the 1955 hit, Mr. and mrs. 55, then C.I.D., Sailaab, and in 1957, Pyaasa - the story of a poet, rejected by an uncaring world, who achieves success only after his apparent death. Guru Dutt played the lead role in three of these five films.
His 1959 Kaagaz Ke Phool was 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, thereafter, officially helmed by other directors since Guru Dutt felt that his name is anathema to box office.
Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam, was directed by his protege, writer Abrar Alvi, which won him the Filmfare Best Director's award. The film's star Waheeda Rehman denied rumors that the film was ghost-directed by Guru Dutt himself. Guru Dutt also has his influence on his box office smash hit Chaudhvin Ka Chaand.
His legacy to direction of Hindi cinema is unmistakable and accepted by many leading Hindi directors of the day, including another of his protege, Raj Khosla.
In 1964 he acted in his last film Sanjh Aur Savera opposite Meena Kumari.
On 10 October 1964, Guru Dutt was found dead in his bed in his rented apartment at Pedder Road in Mumbai. He is said to have been mixing alcohol and sleeping pills. His death may have been suicide, or just an accidental overdose. It would have been his third suicide attempt.
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 his 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."
At the time of his death, Guru Dutt was involved in two other projects, Picnic starring actress, Sadhana and Director K. Asif's epic, Love and God. Picnic remained incomplete and Love and God was released two decades later with Sanjeev Kumar replacing Dutt in the leading role.
The extra-feature on DVD of Kaagaz Ke Phool, has a 3 part Channel 4 produced documentary on life and works of Guru Dutt titled, In Search of Guru Dutt. This excellent and a must see for any Guru Dutt fan work includes interviews with many who worked and lived with Guru Dutt.
Everyone, especially Abrar Salvi seem to suggest that it was a suicide. Abrar and Guru Dutt sat late that night discussing a movie and during conversation according to Alvi, Guru Dutt was very morbid in his thinking and conversation.
He was, according to many, distressed by his then personal situation - he was not on terms with his wife, Geeta Dutt; Waheeda Rehman had distanced herself from him. There was sleeping disorder that made him take sleeping pills, and he had been drinking since 5:00 pm that evening.
In 1953, Dutt married Geeta Dutt, 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.
Dutt had an unhappy marital life. 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, drank heavily, and kept odd hours. Guru Dutt's relationship with actress Waheeda Rehman also worked against their marriage. At the time of his death, he had separated from Geeta and was living alone. Geeta Dutt herself died in 1972 at age 41, after excessive drinking which resulted in liver damage. According to an interview with Abrar Alvi, one of Dutt's close friends and his assistant director in films, Dutt did not "open up" to discuss his thoughts and problems, even though they were spending many hours together
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 song picturisations and the many vivid characters sketched in his films.
Contrary to general belief about commercial viability of Guru Dutt's film projects, he more or less gave commercially successful films. Down the years his commercial projects saw trade-off with creative aspirations. Movies like C.I.D., Baazi, Pyaasa, Kaagaz Ke Phool, Chaudhvin Ka Chand and Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam were in their rights the first in Hindi cinema. The only movie produced by Guru Dutt and termed box-office disaster was, and which is now a cult classic Kaagaz Ke Phool. He lost over 17 Lacs producing that movie, a large amount by 1960s standard, which was more than recovered by his next project Chaudhvin Ka Chand. He never lost faith of his team, and distributors of his films. Once a project was over, he'd begin new - with little to worry over commercial success of the previous project. He is a part of the exclusive school of Indian cinema - the likes of Raj Kapoor, Mehboob Khan and Bimal Roy, which were always a healthy blend of artistic and commercial elements between the mid-1950s and mid-1960s.
Pyaasa was rated as one of the best 100 films of all time by Time Magazine. In the 2002 Sight & Sound critics' and directors' poll, two of his films, Pyaasa and Kaagaz Ke Phool, were among the top 160 greatest films of all time. The same 2002 Sight & Sound poll ranked Dutt at #73 in its list of all-time greatest directors, thus making him the eighth highest-ranking Asian filmmaker in the poll.
Source: Wikipedia with some updates by Hildebrand