Guru Dutt or Vasanth Kumar Shivashankar Padukone (July 9, 1925 – October 10, 1964) was an Indian filmmaker, producer and actor.
He is often credited with ushering in the golden era of Hindi cinema. He made quintessential 1950s-1960s classics such as Kaagaz Ke Phool (Paper Flowers), Pyaasa (The Thirsty One), Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam (The Gentleman, the Wife and the Servant) and Chaudhvin Ka Chand (The Fourteenth Day Moon).
He is most famous for making brilliant lyrical and artistic films within the context of popular Indian cinema of the 1950s, and expanding its commercial conventions, starting with his 1957 masterpiece, Pyaasa.
Several of his later works have a cult following.
His movies go full house when re-released; especially in Germany, France and Japan.
Today, no world cinema class is complete without the inclusion of Guru Dutt. Pyaasa was rated as one of the best 100 films of all time by the Time Magazine.
In the 2002 Sight and 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 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.
Guru Dutt was born to Shivashankar 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 Kingdom of Mysore).
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 Benegal, 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 near 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 Mumbai (then called Bombay) 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 also 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 director Vishram 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.
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 Bombay, now 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 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.
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 Dev 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 Dev 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.
Guru Dutt and Dev Anand would make two super-hit films together, Baazi, and Jaal.
Creative differences between Guru Dutt, and Chetan Anand (Dev’s elder brother), who was also a director, made future collaborations difficult.
Remembering his old friend Guru Dutt, Dev quotes, “He was a young man he should not have made depressing pictures…”
Baazi was an immediate success. Guru Dutt followed it with Jaal and Baaz.
He also starred in the 1962 film Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam once again alongside Waheeda Rehman and Meena Kumari, which earned him his only Filmfare nomination as Best Actor.
On October 10, 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.
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.
Everyone, especially Abrar Alvi 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.
In 1953, Dutt married Geeta Roy, 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.
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.
On failure of Kaagaz Ke Phool and success of Chaudhvin Ka Chand : “Life mein, yaar, kya hai? Do hi toh cheezen hai – kamyaabi aur failure. There is nothing in between.” (“What is there in life, friend? There are only two things – success and failure. There is nothing in between.”)
While scouting for locations in Baroda for Chaudhvin Ka Chand : “Dekho na, mujhe director banna tha, director ban gaya; actor bana tha, actor ban gaya; picture achcha banane tha, ache bane. Paisa hai, sab kuch hai, par kuch bhi nahi raha.” (“See, I wanted to be a director, I became one. Wanted to be an actor, I became one. Wanted to make good pictures, I have done that too. Have money, have everything. But still I have nothing.”)