Born Vasanth Kumar Shivashankar Padukone in Bangalore in 1925, he was renamed Guru Dutt after an early childhood accident. It is also rumored that he was supposed to have dropped the latter part of his name because of his love for all things Bengali. Never formally schooled due to financial troubles at home, he joined the performing troupe of Uday Shankar (brother of Ravi Shankar) and studied with the group until it was closed down due to WWII. He later moved to Bombay and worked at a succession of film related jobs like choreographer, assistant, and also at times as actor.
His chance meeting with Dev Anand over a shirt exchanged by the laundry led to a lifelong friendship. They vowed to each other that if Guru Dutt made a film he would have Anand as hero, and if Dev produced a film then he would use Guru Dutt as its director. Dev Anand asked Guru Dutt to direct his Baazi – a noir thriller with wonderful music from SD Burman:
Guru Dutt never really did direct Dev in a film made by him, even though the wonderful CID was produced by him with Dev in the lead. The film also saw the beginning of the relationship between Guru Dutt and Waheeda Rehman:
The wikipedia lists the following as contributions that Baazi made to cinema:
“Baazi also highlights two early key technical developments in Indian movie-making that are attributed to Guru Dutt. The use of close-up shots with a 100 mm lens – there are over 14 in the movie – which became known in Indian movie-making as the “Guru Dutt shot”, and the use of songs to further the narrative in the movie. Guru Dutt also introduced Zohra Sehgal (whom he met at Almora) as the choreographer in the movie, and he also met his future wife, Geeta Dutt during the making of the movie.:”
Guru Dutt would go on to direct, produce and act in a series of outstanding films that have retained their quality and left their mark on Indian cinema. A core company that included Waheeda Rehman, Rehman, Johnny Walker, and Abrar Alvi (as writer and director for a few films) was part of most of these ventures. In Mr. and Mrs. 55 Guru Dutt played a poor artist in a marriage of convenience to the heiress played by Madhubala:
The success of this film led to other ventures like CID, Sailaab, and eventually Pyaasa. This latter film was an intensely personal story of an artist who is never appreciated until his death. Today the film resides in many international lists of best films and is gem-like in brilliance, and yet heartbreakingly melancholic. The lover who rejects the poet for a rich spose is played by Mala Sinha, and the woman who befriends and falls in love with him is the prostitute played by Waheeda Rehman. With many shades of the classic Devdas tale, Pyaasa mirrored the real life of Guru Dutt. He too was in a marriage with Geeta Dutt and yet his relationship with Waheeda was well known and not tolerated by his wife:
The next film that Guru Dutt directed was even more melancholic and even more personal, Kagaz Ke Phool was about a director, who sees all success, and then it all flees away from him. In this one too Waheeda was the muse, the actress he falls in love with, while married to another woman. The commercial failure of this film was a huge blow to Guru Dutt, and he was unable to recover fully from the shock:
After this Guru Dutt did not direct another film, though many speculate that he was the ghost-director for both subsequent films he produced, Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam and Chadavin Ka Chand. Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam was a period film, moody and sprightly at the same time. The two leading ladies were polar opposites in character states and the film is considered to be one of Hindi cinema’s masterpieces:
The other film produced by Guru Dutt was a huge box office success and it too had his indelible directorial mark. Set in the by-lanes of Lucknow, in a Muslim environment, the film about love and sacrifice, struck an instant chord with the viewers. Waheeda was the lady Guru Dutt fell in love with, and married, only to realize his best friend was also in love with the same woman:
After two unsuccessful attempts at taking his own life, in 1964 (at the age of 39) Guru Dutt was found dead, in a suspected suicide. How does one commemorate a genius who directed his first film at age 26, his best film (Pyaasa) at age 32, and died at age 39? His films have inspired many in the film industry. It is rumored that Anurag Kashyap envisioned Gulaal while he was watching Pyaasa. Certainly the masterful lyrics of the film by Piyush Mishra owe much to the lyrics of Pyaasa. Much like the fate of the heroes in the films he made, Guru Dutt’s indelible mark on Indian cinema is more visible now that he is gone. Long may he live in our memories!