Guru Dutt

Melancholic Romantic of Indian Cinema


May 8, 2017

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India & You

May-June 2017

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With the advent of cinema in India, while most filmmakers chose to project the fading grandeur of Indian princely states or reprise historical fables, Guru Dutt used the medium to capture the loneliness of his characters and present a critical point of view of the Indian society during the 1950s and early 1960s.

A stalwart of Indian cinema, Vasanth Kumar Shivashankar Padukone is better known as Guru Dutt and his relevance in creating melancholy as a cinematic language still remains a significant chapter in the evolution of filmmaking in the country. Though remembered for his iconic acting and filmmaking during the 1950s and the early 1960s, the tragic protagonist in Guru Dutt didn’t get his due in his lifetime. The reasons were more political than commercial or aesthetical. A poetic narrative, a lyrical disposition of sequences and a typical melancholic isolation can define Guru Dutt’s inclination towards stories that were instinctively poignant, but, the metaphorical representation of society in his films still remains a subject of cinema.

Guru Dutt started his career as an actor during the mid 1940s and as he evolved into the confident storyteller, India was an independent country. Inspired by the neorealist movement in the Italian cinema, a group of Indian directors took up the camera to narrate the darker side of the rosy political promises of Golden India. While his contemporaries in Bengal were Satyajit Ray and Ritwik Ghatak, Dutt was sharing his observation on realism and persuaded his audience to see the evident poverty, unemployment, prostitution and social abuse becoming rampant in the socalled independent India.

His stories oddly became a threat to the notion of nationalism and the flowery dreams preached by the then Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru. No wonder, some of his most powerful stories turned out to be commercial disasters. Kaagaz Ke Phool (1959) is one such example. The film is now considered as one of the cult films ever made in India; Dutt, as a producer, actually lost over INR 1.7 million (about EUR 25,000) – a huge sum, considering the era.

Mumbai-based playwright, Saif Hyder Hasan is staging Gardish Mein Taare, a theatre production where he portrayed the deep-seated anguishes between Guru Dutt and his wife, Geeta Dutt, in the perspective of a period drama, however, keeping the interest and speculation to a very modern context. Hasan was talking about the immense impact of his movies on his life since he watched Dutt’s Pyaasa (1957), the story of a struggling poet, as a kid. “While people nowadays would talk so much about Guru Dutt and his work, what is interesting about him is that he was totally forgotten in India. It was a Japanese curator who sent Pyaasa and Kagaaz Ke Phool for a retrospect to Cannes, in the 1980s, that got back the focus of Indians on Guru Dutt once again,” said Hasan.

Master of Symbolism

Guru Dutt utilised cinematic imagery and symbolism like no other Indian filmmaker of that time. In Pyaasa, Dutt captures the majority of Vijay and Gulaab’s conversation in a staircase, symbolising a hierarchy in relationships, which is more prominent as ****

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