Nasreen Munni Kabir on Guru Dutt through the eyes of the late Raj Khosla
The 'CID' director describes how comfortable he was sitting with him, even if he didn't speak for hours.
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If Guru Dutt hadn't taken his own life on October 10, 1964, he would have been 90 today. Now he lives on in the memory of those who knew him closely and those who care for quality Hindi cinema. Not a week passes without some film personality talking about the enduring impact of Pyaasa or Kaagaz ke Phool. Few Indian filmmakers even today have matched his skill at working within the conventions and constraints of Hindi film while finding a singular voice and expression that equals the best in world cinema.
In the late 1980s, when I started making documentaries for Channel 4 TV, UK, top of the list was this exceptional director - the resulting film In Search of Guru Dutt was finally aired in 1989. I was fortunate to have interviewed many of his friends, family and close associates in the fall of 1988 for the film - some 25 years after Guru Dutt had died. Their memories at that time were somewhat closer to the lived experience of the man - than perhaps would be today (51 years later). Inevitably, as time passes, memories fade, and details and facts of Dutt's life have become increasingly difficult to verify.
Among those who spoke in the documentary, I felt Raj Khosla's understanding of Guru Dutt seemed particularly insightful - so much of what he said resonated in the characters that Guru Dutt developed and played in his cinema.Guru Dutt was always an important part of Raj Khosla’s life. His portrait was the first thing one would spot when entering Khosla's office. Photograph: Peter Chappell, 1988.
Perhaps somewhat of an unsung hero of Hindi films himself, Raj Khosla started off as an assistant in Baazi, and then went on to make his first film (CID), produced by Guru Dutt. Khosla was enthusiastic in remembering this important past association and was proud to acknowledge Dutt's influence on his own work, especially in how he approached the picturisation of songs.
Born in the same year as Guru Dutt (1925), Raj Khosla passed away on June 9, 1991. This interview was filmed in his office at 100 Jain Chambers, SV Road, Bandra, Mumbai, on September 22, 1988.
Raj Khosla: Well, it happened like this - Dev Anand was a friend of mine and one fine day he told me that he was giving a picture to Guru Dutt to direct and would I like to assist him. I agreed. We never knew that "just a friend called Guru Dutt" - that's what Dev said - was going to be a world famous director.
He was a tremendously generous person. After CID, one day he called me and just handed me the keys of a car. It was a Dodge convertible. He said: "Here it is, here's your car." "What's this all about?" "It's a present for you for making CID" And the beauty of it was when I took the car home, I found the paperwork and everything was in my name. I did not have to bother to do anything further.
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?"
I miss his quietness. We would sit together, he wouldn't speak for hours but I was comfortable with him. Today everybody talks a lot - they mean nothing. That company which would speak in silence - that's what I miss.
But I could never touch the core of his heart. He was deeply affectionate to everyone, to servants, and the humblest people. He was devoted but could not express his love. You see it's one thing to love someone - it's another to express love. So the whole thing came out in his films. That love he put through his movies.