Retelling of an unfinished story

2021-09-26, 4:29pm Literature

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Sudhirendar Sharma

Sudhirendar Sharma

The rebel romantic in Guru Dutt could not escape being soaked in the light and shadows of his onscreen melancholic creations.

Over half-a-century since Guru Dutt ended his life on Oct 10, 1964, film buffs continue to celebrate his cinematic creations and mourn his untimely demise in equal esteem. With a thin line separating the personal from the professional, Dutt’s life remained entwined with the craft he had mastered in his brief career as writer-producer-director of all-time classics like Pyaasa, Kagaz Ke Phool and Sahib, Bibi aur Ghulam. Was Guru Dutt so deeply engrossed in projecting the subjective imagination on screen that he failed to read life’s objective reality? Film biographer Yasser Usman has redrawn portrait of an enigmatic artist that continues to provoke interest in his unfinished story.   Guru Dutt

Between his troubled childhood and an enchanted adulthood, there were compelling vignettes of the inexorable rhythms of existence with multiple layers of varied experiences and perceptions. If watching the Baul singers made him engage with shadow figures on the walls, a brief exposure to Uday Shankar’s dance centre had inspired him to locate melody in physical movements. With this backdrop, Dutt could convert his poetic glances through the camera into shadow play of movements expressing the power of words and the spirit of music in challenging the set conventionalism of cinematic language. It was this unique touch that not only became his signature in cinema but contributed the most to his greatness as an illustrious filmmaker. 

However, the rebel romantic in Guru Dutt could not escape being soaked in the light and shadows of his onscreen melancholic creations. Drawing a sensitive and accessible biography of an iconoclast, Usman has made an attempt at unfolding the factors which may have led Guru Dutt to cut short his own life. An indecisive nature coupled with impulsive restlessness may have played upon a life stressed with unrequited love and unresolved relationships to take on the extreme step. However, being indecisive and impulsive may have contributed in equal measures for him to leave behind a rich legacy of cinematic output that continues to fascinate audiences worldwide. No wonder, Guru Dutt remains an enigma, his illustrious and troubled life open to interpretations. 

Guru Dutt- An Unfinished Story is meticulously researched biography enriched with words of compassion and concern contributed by the artist’s close friends and colleagues. Guru Dutt’s lifelong friend Dev Anand considered him ‘brimming over with artistic creation and lava that has to explode’. An important take away from the book, perhaps the most significant one, is that the pursuit of creativity comes at a price that the individual has to pay out of his/her emotional resources. It is a lesson not to take mental health for granted.

Without the contributions of Guru Dutt, the history of Indian cinema cannot be written. His masterpiece Pyaasa remains an all-time classic – one among the hundred movies to watch. With interest in Guru Dutt’s cinema getting worldwide attention, a comprehensive biography on the making and unmaking of the filmmaker could not have been better timed. Usman deserves credit for putting together the multifaceted story of Guru Dutt because his cinema was ahead of its times, not only for its technical brilliance but also for its profound take on the emptiness of life and the shallowness of materialism. 

Even if you have known the story of the enigmatic filmmaker in bits and pieces, Guru Dutt – An Unfinished Story makes for an absorbing reading on the life of an iconic artist for whom blurring the line between real and reel had become an ultimate test of enduring creativity.      

Guru Dutt – An Unfinished Story 

by Yasser Usman

Simon&Schuster, New Delhi 

Extent: 317, Price: Rs. 599.

Dr. Sudhirendar Sharma is a writer specialising in development issues. He is based in New Delhi, India.