A pioneer in the art of cinema, Guru Dutt's works left an impact and influence on Indian filmmakers that continues decades after his death. On his 54th death anniversary today, we take a look at the lessons from Guru Dutt's films that continue to percolate through current Indian cinema.
How Guru Dutt continues to enchant Indian cinema
Mumbai - 10 Oct 2016 9:00 IST
Almost six decades after his death, the impact and influence of Guru Dutt continues to be felt across the wavelengths of Indian cinema. From the angst felt by the musician in Rockstar, to the use of poetry as a mark of rebellion in Haider, the signature style often takes off from the pioneering cinematic canvas of the filmmaker. In the most recently released trailers of Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, Ranbir Kapoor's portrayal of a poetry spouting, angry, lovelorn musician almost symbolises the evolution of the prototype that Dutt created in his films.
Born Vasanth Kumar Shivshankar Padukone, Guru Dutt entered and exited Indian cinema with the ideological force that would define his characters and his films. Filmmaker Sudhir Mishra opines, "He was a poet, more than a filmmaker. His characters, stories are born from the angst against the society he lived in." Till date, the name Guru Dutt reminds cinephiles of images of angst, suppression, and dissent against the hypocrisy in society. Director Vidhu Vinod Chopra once said of the great filmmaker, "For me, Guru Dutt’s films and his personality go hand in hand. He stood by his conviction."
Starting out as a struggling actor, Dutt eventually ended up in the team of the Anand brothers. It was here that he found his first collaborators, Chetan Anand, Raj Khosla, Abrar Alvi and VK Murthy. These were the initial members of a club that would deliver some of the most iconic films in Indian cinematic history. These include Sahib, Bibi, Aur Ghulam (1962), Guide (1965), Pyaasa (1957) and Kaagaz Ke Phool (1959).
Nasreen Munni Kabir quotes director Raj Khosla as saying, "Guru Dutt's interest in detail was tremendous. That is the basis of all good writing and filmmaking. You look to the details and the details will look after the rest. He was very careful about the details and that's why his characters came alive. For Guru Dutt they were not characters merely talking and acting — but what worried him was: "What is my artist thinking at the moment in the story?"
In the age of the millenial love story, where both artistes struggle to fight against asphyxiating moral and cultural laws, Dutt's ideology seems impressively prescient. For instance, it is hard not to compare the angst and hatred of Kapoor's Jordan against his own fans as the outbreak of Vijay, the poet from Pyaasa. Sudhir Mishra, whose Khoya Khoya Chand told the story of a filmmaker obsessed with his muse, says, "There are some people who are pure cinema...You can't describe him as anything...His images stay with us."
Speaking of images, it is apt that Dutt's cinema was considered among the most visually appealing. There is a poetic movement on the screen that he managed to capture. As Anurag Kashyap says of the film, Pyaasa: "I happened to watch his film Pyaasa first. What struck me the most is that he spoke in the layman’s language. That was a big surprise for me and kind of strengthened me. The images in his movies were a strong influence too. Guru Dutt played with light, mood, emotions… his language of storytelling was so unlike other filmmakers...No other film had made me so curious."
Dibakar Banerjee, director of Shanghai, said something similar, "The people in Guru Dutt’s films stay with you, so do the music and visuals. Often we see cinema, music and visuals going their own way, but not with his films." It is telling that most of these filmmakers are not the ones tagged as 'commercial cinema', but have paved a path with their daring take on traditional stories. Anurag Kashyap's Dev D was a post modernistic, psychedelic tale of the traditional Devdas. Banerjee is considered one of the most radical filmmakers of his time, with Love Sex Aur Dhokha and Shanghai propping up his reputation. Mishra has gone from working on the crew for cult classics like Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron (1982) to directing the highly acclaimed Hazaaron Khwaahishein Aisi (2005).
Another factor that stands out in Dutt's film is his portrayal of the independent woman. As Indian cinema turns towards the new woman, empowered with her spirit and sense of independence in films like Ki & Ka(2015), Pink (2016), Neerja (2016), 2 States (2015), the theme seems again a reiteration of Dutt's ideas. Whether it was the streetwalker in Pyaasa, or the actress in Kaagaz Ke Phool, or the seductress in CID, the women in his films were complete in themselves. Mishra opines, "The women in Dutt's films were not pawns. They were more than lovers, or helpless wives. Whether it is Waheeda Rehman in Pyaasa or Meena Kumari in Sahib, Bibi Aur Ghulam, they have spirit."
In the history of Indian cinema, few filmmakers have managed to generate the intrigue, magnetism, and the mythos after themselves as Guru Dutt has. The tragedy of his life, almost mirroring the tragedy of his work, has only grown in the decades after his death. As a new breed of filmmakers take after the themes of love, loss, angst, rebellion and search for truth through their films, Dutt's relevance has only increased.