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50 years of Guddi (1971): The movie that lifted the veil on the Hindi film industry's secrets

The Hrishikesh Mukherjee film saw Jaya Bachchan play a star-struck teen who is besotted with Dharmendra's on-screen persona.

Suyog Zore

The year was 1971, and Rajesh Khanna, popularly referred to as Kaka, was at the peak of his popularity. He would get mobbed at public appearances and female fans would leave his car smeared with lipstick. They lined the roads, cheering and chanting his name. Women even sent him letters written in blood.

The 1970s was a time when film heroes were no less than demigods (They still are in some parts of this country). There was something enigmatic about matinee idols, who could clobber 20 goons at the same time without breaking a sweat, do gravity-defying acrobatic stunts, sing melodiously, shake a leg without missing a beat and confidently court beautiful damsels, all while taking a stand against injustice and championing the oppressed. Of course, none of the actors portraying these perfect specimens possessed all these attributes simultaneously in real life. However, cine-goers, or at least a significant number of them, believed that they did.

Hrishikesh Mukherjee and Gulzar attempted to shatter the illusion with Guddi (1971), a fairly unique film for the time. The film, which took common filmgoers behind the scenes, turned 50 today.

The film, a  thumping box office success, marked the Hindi cinema debut of Jaya Bachchan (née Bhaduri). The actress who was 23 years old then, played the teenage Kusum, fondly called Guddi, who is a film fanatic and is besotted with Dharmendra, who plays a version of himself in the film. In her naïve mind, she believes herself to be the Meera to his Krishna.

The exact opposite of those who sported beehive bouffants and out-there eyeliner, which was a norm back then, Jaya's Guddi was a simple girl with an endearing unpretentiousness. Jaya charmed audiences as the star-struck and spunky schoolgirl whose love for Dharmendra knew no bounds. The actress earned a Filmfare nod for Best Actress, which was also the only nomination for the film.

Guddi lives with her father (AK Hangal), brother and her sister-in-law (Sumita Sanyal). Her obsession with movies and especially Dharmendra leaves Guddi’s sister-in-law worried. She wants Guddi to marry her studious brother Navin (Samit Bhanja). Navin also likes Guddi and proposes to her only to be taken aback when Guddi discloses the object of her affection. 

Her affable uncle Gupta (Utpal Dutt), with the help of Dharmendra, and Navin devices a plan to disabuse her of her fanciful notions. They take her to film studios to show how the films are shot and how filmmaking is a collective effort involving hundreds of prosaic individuals such as lightmen, cameramen, makeup artists.

The film throws light (pun intended) on the make-believe world of cinema and the people behind the curtain. With this film, Mukherjee also tried to acquaint the audience with the technicalities of the making of films and show how it's not just a one-man show.

The movie also deals with the impact of cinema on people from all walks of life, highlighting the relationship between a star and a fan.

It might seem silly in this day and age when children can access any information effortlessly but there was a time when the filmmaking process was a complete enigma for the general public. (The writer still remembers his grandfather telling him how Amitabh Bachchan was his favourite hero because, apparently, he was a better fighter than Dharmendra). For the audience, Dharmendra was actually playing the piano with finesse and Pran was a terrible human being and who eventually got his just desserts.

Via Guddi, Mukherjee showed his audience that what they perceived as true was mere flimflam. The film featured a constellation of stars such as Rajesh Khanna, Ashok Kumar, Amitabh Bachchan, Om Prakash, Naveen Nischal and Pran.

When Pran greets Dharmendra and gifts him his watch, Guddi warns him to not accept the gift, because she thinks it must be part of his sinister designs. Because Pran played villains in the 1950s to 1970s, many people used to wrongly assume that he was a despicable person in real life too. But Dharmendra immediately corrects Guddi and tells her that Pran is actually a really good human being who loves to help people.

With this scene, Mukherjee showed how actors who play negative roles do not get the love and appreciation they deserve only because of their roles.

In another scene, Dharmendra is shown playing the piano. When Utpal Dutt's character praises him for his skills,  Dharmendra once again reveals that it's just a dummy instrument, and the sound they heard was that of a recording, once again exposing the limitations of leading men.

With Guddi, Mukherjee also brought attention to the disparity in the earnings of stars and the people working behind the camera. While the former makes lakhs for doing their thing, the crew can't afford to skip work even when severely ill.

In one scene, a stunt double cuts his hand while jumping through a mirror, and Navin casually tells Guddi how this portion will be edited from the film. The scene highlights how the people who put their lives on the line and work much harder than movie stars are deprived of recognition, praise and fame.

After a series of visits to studios with Navin, Guddi finally gets a reality check.  

The sub-plot involving Kundan (Asrani) who has left his family behind to become a movie star and ends up as a junior artist, reminds the viewers that all that glitters is not gold.

Admittedly some portions of the film have not aged all that well, but given that it was made 50 years ago when India's literacy rate was below 35%, the minor gripes can be overlooked.

In an era long before this era of smartphones and the internet, which allows fans to instantly connect with their favourite actors, people would buy magazines for cutouts of their favourite stars. Even after 50 years, though the mystique surrounding stars has diminished considerably, things haven't changed all that much. Instead of buying magazines, fans venerate their favourite artistes' pictures on social media, and instead of writing letters, they post comments and send them DMs.