In Search of Guru Dutt, Region free. Shemaroo, R399
In Search of Guru Dutt is a documentary on the filmmaker by Nasreen Munni Kabir. Before you assume that the indefatigable Kabir has rolled yet another title after producing two dialogue books and an AR Rahman biography in the last couple of years, read the blurb on the back. Kabir made her documentary in 1989, at a time when Dutt’s key collaborators, such as Majrooh Sultanpuri, Abrar Alvi, Raj Khosla, Johnny Walker and Kaifi Azmi were still alive. The rare interviews help bring alive one of the brightest talents in Hindi cinema, who died of a cocktail of alcohol and sleeping pills in 1952.
Kabir is one of the foremost experts on Dutt – she has written a biography, published the dialogue of his masterwork, Pyaasa, and reprinted letters that he wrote to his wife, the singer Geeta Dutt. The 90-minute documentary has only a passing mention of Geeta Dutt, with whom the filmmaker had a tempestuous relationship. Kabir sticks to the movies, and through interviews with Dutt’s collaborators, tries to understand the cause of the acclaim. Dutt, working closely with screenwriter Abrar Alvi and cinematographer VK Murthy, created some truly unforgettable characters and images. Alvi points out that Dutt ensured that characters big and small stood out in a screenplay, and that the dialogue sounded conversational rather than theatrical. Filmmaker Mani Kaul, who died recently, observed that Dutt lit up locations first and then moved actors around, rather than placing lights around the actors, thus creating far more striking images in his sequences. Khosla and Sultanpuri praised the unique way in which Dutt shot his songs. Kabir is careful to cover all aspects of Dutt’s filmmaking, but there is no analysis of the subjects he chose. Were films like Pyaasa and Kaagaz Ke Phool allegories about Nehruvian India? The jury is still out on that one.
Although Kabir stays away from digging into Dutt’s dirt, the documentary clearly shows that over the years, the personal began to merge with the professional for the director. His mother says that he was a “stubborn” and “impulsive” child; his sister, the painter Lalita Lajmi, says he was emotionally disturbed. Guru Dutt’s filmmaking associates point to his aloofness, introversion, defeatism and inability to share his feelings. He seemed to have been as emotionally blocked as he was cinematically expressive. Raj Khosla sums it up best: “He was lost in filmmaking, lost to life.”
By Malli Ray on July 21 2011 6.30pm