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Remembering Guru Dutt on 99th birth anniversary: Posthumous fame mirrors his cinematic legacy

On Guru Dutt’s 99th birth anniversary, here is an ode to a man of few words, who came to be celebrated for his brilliance only decades after his death.
Last Updated : 08 July 2024, 22:30 IST

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Born on July 9, 1925, Guru Dutt was a multi-faceted genius who donned different hats, including those of choreographer, writer, producer, financier, director, and actor.

A man of few words, he was celebrated for his brilliance only decades after his death. Guru Dutt gave Indian cinema some of its all-time classics.

Starting his career as a dancer, Vasanth Kumar Shivashankar Padukone, aka Guru Dutt, carved out a niche in Indian cinema in a very short span of time. His life was also short; he passed away at the age of 39, but not before leaving a lasting legacy on Indian cinema.

His 1957 magnum opus Pyaasa was listed in Time magazine’s all-time 100 movies, while films like Kaagaz Ke Phool, Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam, Chaudvin Ka Chand, and Aar Paar have all become cult classics in their own right. 

His films have been admired for their technical brilliance, and he was a perfectionist to the core, as evidenced by the climax scene of Pyaasa, which was retaken 104 times.

An introvert, Guru Dutt always shied away from the limelight. In almost all his hit films, he was not initially the first choice for the lead role -- take the case of Pyaasa, where the lead role was initially offered to Dilip Kumar. 

His marriage to singer-turned-actress Geeta Dutt and his on-screen chemistry with Waheeda Rehman (whom he discovered) were subjects of intense scrutiny in the film world.

Guru Dutt's 'Pyaasa' was Waheeda's first film as a lead actor.

Guru Dutt's 'Pyaasa' was Waheeda's first film as a lead actor.

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As Yasser Usman mentions in his book Guru Dutt: An Unfinished Story, “His nights were spent with whiskey and words printed on paper. Guru Dutt was perhaps living inside a box that was so dark that no one could see his pain, so dark that even he could not see a way out of it.

Despite all the troubles, Guru Dutt always backed talent -- comedian actor Badruddin Jamaluddin Kazi, better known as Johnny Walker, who became an integral part of his movies -- epitomizes just that.

The fact that legendary comedian, whose real name was Kazi and never touched alcohol in his life, was rechristened as Johnny Walker because it was Guru Dutt’s favorite whiskey is very much part of film lore.

Very often, Guru Dutt’s reel life and real life collided, leading to many confrontations. A prime example is the making of Kaagaz Ke Phool. Sathya Saran, in her book Ten Years with Guru Dutt, mentions an incident where renowned musician S D Burman tells Guru Dutt, "Don’t make this film, it’s just your personal life."

The shallowness of life and desolation are trademarks of Guru Dutt's movies, as evident from the protagonists — whether it’s Vijay the writer in Pyaasa or Suresh Sinha the director in Kaagaz Ke Phool — both of whom renounce the world, albeit in different ways.

The everlasting memory of Pyaasa is the Mohammed Rafi’s all-time hit song Yeh Duniya Agar Mil Bhi Jaaye To Kyaa Hai where Guru Dutt stands with his arms stretched in what resembles Jesus Christ’s crucifixion.

The iconic Jesus Christ crucifixion image of Guru Dutt from the film Pyaasa.

The iconic Jesus Christ crucifixion image of Guru Dutt from the film Pyaasa.

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It is an irony that Guru Dutt came to be acclaimed and adorned years after his death. Movies were made, books were written… It seems destiny played a part here, just like in the climax of Pyaasa, where posthumous fame beckons the protagonist. Similarly, Guru Dutt is now revered posthumously and remains a subject of study for students of Cinema worldwide.

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Published 08 July 2024, 22:30 IST

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