TV journalist and Bollywood biographer Yasser Usman has taken a deep dive into the journey of the lonesome, troubled genius, Guru Dutt. He had it all – money, love, fame, and validation from his audience. His films are still revered today by critics and students of cinema. His untimely death after multiple suicide attempts shocked the film industry.
Below are excerpts from a definitive biography of the non-conformist star, exploring the man and the myth – Guru Dutt.
In Guru Dutt’s family, Geeta Roy was the star
It was the evening of 26 May 1953. After three years of being engaged, Guru Dutt and Geeta Roy decided to get married. The wedding ceremony was performed at Geeta’s mother’s home, Amiya Kutir, in Santa Cruz, Bombay. It was a traditional Bengali style wedding. That morning some of Geeta’s close friends went to Guru Dutt’s flat on 12th Road, Khar with chandan paste and garlands. He was dressed in a white silk kurta and dhoti worn in the Bengali style.
His mother remembered, “With great pomp the wedding took place! It was the film industry’s sensation at the time.” The singing icons were there in full force too: Lata Mangeshkar, Talat Mahmood, Mohd Rafi, Hemant Kumar and Kishore Kumar. The best part of the reception was Guru Dutt’s chief assistant director, Raj Khosla, had persuaded each one of the top singers there to render something — with the condition that the song had to be from a Guru Dutt movie. And such was their love for Geeta that they all obliged. The only orchestral support for the singers was the “recurring bow-wow-wow of Guru Dutt’s inseparable dog, Tony”.
“I welcomed my first daughter-in-law by performing the ‘Bou-Bhaat’ ceremony according to our customs… I prayed to god for their long life, prosperity, health and happiness,” recalled Vasanthi. Geeta was very close to Guru’s sister Lalitha Lajmi, “I didn’t call her Bhabhi. I used to address her as Geeta. She was very generous and loving. She used to tell me, ‘Open my cupboard and pull out whichever sari you want to wear.’ Once I told her I’d never travelled in a plane. She flew me to Delhi for a show, where we stayed at the Imperial hotel. It was through her that I got a chance to meet legends like O.P. Nayyar, Lata Mangeshkar, Majrooh Sultanpuri and Sahir.’
In Guru Dutt’s family, Geeta was the star.
At the time of the wedding, Geeta was more popular and making more money than Guru Dutt. The press, film industry gossip as well as the relatives were insinuating that Guru Dutt had married Geeta for her money and fame. These rumours reached Guru Dutt’s family. Though the sensitive Guru Dutt never reacted to it, his mother wrote, “The public as well as the relatives were saying that Guru Dutt married Geeta because of her wealth and her big name in the industry… Guru Dutt never had any yearning for wealth. I think he never even glanced at her jewellery. In spite of his earlier hardships he never wanted to hoard money. He had already bought a two-seater sports car for himself. He would not interfere with Geeta’s earnings, nor would he ask how she spent her money.” People who knew Guru Dutt closely were of the view that Guru truly wasn’t into money. For him money meant nothing more than a commodity to trade dreams with.
“Between Geeta and Guru, it had been decided before marriage that his wife would be still actively singing after their wedding, something in which she was flourishing. As a career woman, Geeta was accustomed to making her decisions by herself, being a singer in recurring demand. Whatever the equations at home, the picture of cooperation was Geeta at the mike,” said Raju Bharatan.
Despite these hurtful gossips, Guru and Geeta were in the happiest phase of their life together. “We met for the first time during the making of Baazi and it was three years later, during the making of Baaz, that we were married. From Baazi to Baaz it was just a matter of dropping the ‘I’ and converting it into a ‘We’,” wrote Geeta Dutt. The star-singer Geeta Roy had now changed her surname and went by the name Geeta Dutt.
But as life unfolded, she realised it wasn’t just the name that had changed.
“Somehow, I had an intuition that Guru and Geeta’s marriage would never be a happy one. Firstly, in those days, she earned in thousands whereas Guru’s income was limited compared to hers. Secondly, both were stubborn, would never yield to one another. Thirdly, Guru had a burden of responsibilities over his shoulders,” said Guru Dutt’s mother, Vasanthi.
There was a strange paradox in Guru Dutt’s approach to his cinema and his personal life. In films, he talked about ‘working women’ and breaking of useless traditions, while in his personal life, he demanded adherence to ‘traditional’ values of marriage and motherhood.
The author and music critic, Raju Bharatan, recalls a conversation with Geeta Dutt, “She was understandably bitter about her ‘continuing to sing’ being resented. She said she had made a few things clear to one and all even before her marriage. She had emphasised how her work would entail late hours almost daily. All the more so as she took on songs in not so high-grade movies. Such songs got recorded only in cheaper second shifts (3.00 to 9.00 pm with the rare evening possibility of one-hour overtime). At one stage it was even suggested that with growing kids to look after, Geeta should be singing only in Guru Dutt movies. This, said Geeta, would have virtually meant her singing for “the one and only…”, referring to Waheeda Rehman.
“Pyaasa made Waheeda Rehman a star in the Hindi film industry. In fact, the songs picturised on her had made the most impact and were much talked about. The seductive strains of ‘Jaane kya tune kahi’ and the romantic yearning of ‘Aaj sajan mohe ang laga lo’, were both in singer (and Guru Dutt’s wife) Geeta Dutt’s magical voice.
It is true that Geeta Dutt sang at her best during this period. In Hindi cinema, the star actors are often known for their successful songs. The songs they perform to on screen are mostly sung by playback singers but they ultimately become known for the stars they are filmed on.
In a way, the songs sung by Geeta contributed immensely to Waheeda’s stardom during her initial years in the Bombay film industry. By then Geeta’s own stardom had begun to comparatively fade and she was largely talked about only for the films made by her husband.
“For her part, Geeta Dutt had never taken to Waheeda Rehman. Even if, with a touch of supreme irony, it was Geeta’s inimitable style of singing that had witnessed Waheeda Rehman arriving as a heroine opposite Guru Dutt in Pyaasa,” writes film music historian Raju Bharatan.
Geeta Dutt told a family friend, “The first few years of our married life were happy. But things began getting messy the day Waheeda stepped into the studio.”