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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 34, New Delhi, August 7, 2021

Was Guru Dutt a Marxist? | Radhakanta Barik

Saturday 7 August 2021, by Radhakanta Barik


by Radhakanta Barik *

In the Bombay film world there was a Calcutta school of filmmaking. Prominent of them was Bimal Roy who had a command over each area of film making. Strong tradition of storytelling was the strength of these film makers. It depended on literary works. It did not believe in stereotype and it differs from one story to another. They did depend on cinematic language to tell the story. They had a command over each area of film making. Choreography, direction and photography and to some extent editing all these were combined in a film maker. While story telling was going on, they incorporated the best songs based on lyrics and musicality of these songs. Over all the film carried a social message to the material world and social world of its time. In this tradition one can place Guru Dutt as he got training in Calcutta and trained by the dance teacher Udaya Shankar and he carried the taste for literary works and direction. He maintained a distinct style where acting got added to it. Bimal Roy became the outstanding film maker in Bombay. He went on to make the iconic neorealist films Do Bigha Zameen, Sujata, Bandini as well as Madhumati and Devdas. Some of the best actors like Balraj Sahani, Dilip Kumar Sunil Dutt and Nutan and Baijantimala were shaped by his direction and their originality got flowered by his direction. Guru Dutt was a self made director but got influenced by him. Both worked on film as a craft and choreographed some of the best songs of two decades after Independence.

Guru Dutt was an outsider and insider to Bollywood. He was an outsider as he had mastery over modern music and dance and insider as he intended to create the film in the commercial world. Different areas he had mastery such as reading the text and creating a compressed script. His command over the poetry and dance contributed to his film making. Direction and acting both were under his control as he learnt from Uday Shankar directing the musical plays. He turned out to be a worker having some mastery over skills but without the financial resources. He came from below as a worker to the film maker as the weaver in the textile industry. His imaginative world was like a weaver to have an image of sari making and weaving to reach the making of sari. He started as a weaver and went up to reach the master weaver. A great success in his short career.

As Guru Dutt did not have financial resources but talent and will power. The willpower to create beautiful films helped him to meet Dev Anand who was struggling for keeping his foot in the film world. Both the struggling actors helped each other which shaped the actor Guru Dutt. Dev Anand invited him to direct his film produced by his film production unit. This changed the fate of Guru dutt he tasted his talent in the first film which turned out to be a success. Failures create magical influence over the creative people and success brings testing of talent. Success breeds success. One after another film produced by him created an echo in film world. Artistic design was his and each film turned out to be success. His films provided new experiences with the audiences. The way songs got choreographed without going for outdoor shooting. Song needs the best lyrics which does not require a beautiful site. Lyrics itself is going to create magical influence over the audience. The art of storytelling is the second dimension of his film making style. Story gets unfolded without twisting the story to satisfy the commercial interest. His lightening impact makes the film as dazzling piece. These experiences made him to create his master piece that is Pyassa.

During 1950s the radical artists and intellectuals went with idea of India defined by Nehru. Like Raj Kapoor whose films took seriously on the idea of India. Here idea of India has no single definition and have many definitions. Another definition came from Bimal Roy and Guru Dutt who realized freedom by questioning Nehru. This is the way idea of India turned into multilayered one. By making the picture of Do Bigha Jamin Roy made persuasive arguments with Nehru that Landlordism needs to be abolished at faster pace rather than at slow pace which would help the landlords to be turned into capitalists or industrialists which is a threat to democracy. Guru Dutt brought the concept of intellectual and artistic labour which gets exploited ruthlessly by the market economy. This needs an intervention of the state otherwise intellectual as a class cannot survive. In Pyassa there has been depiction of intellectual labour specifically writers who do not have capacity to fight the market economy. They can be the best critics of capitalism by getting engaged with their intellectual activities.

Roy and Guru Dutt combined western aesthetics with Indian aesthetics. Blending of two for the first time created an age of neo realistic films in Ballyhooed. Guru Dutt had a command over the Shakespearean theatrical traditions and Brechtian critique. This reflects in the art of storytelling where the main character needs to speak the pains through eyes. Guru Dutt introduced a new style of presentation that is the eyes can speak more than the words. This he inherited from the dance drama of Uday Shankar. Picking up Waheeda Rehman as an actor for her dancing style. Through movement of eyes an actor can speak a lot and intensity of pains and joys can be communicated to the audience. Speaking about the sufferings of women working as prostitutes Guru Dutt speaks out through eyes. The same in articulating joys while looking at the beauty of an actor while singing Chowdin Ki Chand and his look is hundred percentages at the sleeping beauty while full moon is coming through the window of the house. Creating an eerie environment to speak some one’s beauty is possible only through his eyes glancing at the face under the glistening moon.

Guru Dutt understands the labour theory of value which is the underlying philosophy of Pyaassa. Marx in Capital vol 1 clearly states that artists, poets or painters all turn into labour in the capitalist society. They produce surplus for the publishers or those who manage the art in making money. He as a poet creates poems by engaging himself as an artistic labour but does not get wage from the market economy. On the contrary without money he is thrown out of his family and girl friend and publisher. They all exploit his emotions for which he suffers. Here another suffering being is a prostitute who gets exploited by the society but without proper wage as a sexual worker. Two types of labour join together in the process. Once the artist sits in a park looking disillusioned about the surroundings but suddenly hear his poem recited by a woman. He goes behind her for listening to his own poem. He ends in the red light areas. He and this woman turn to be friends because she appreciates his poetry. They share the aesthetic pleasure by coming together. Guru Dutt speaks of labour getting exploited by the capital as told "Capital will not even pay for the cigars I smoked writing it."— Karl Marx…

Our society disrespects the labour be it manual and intellectual labour. Such a hierarchical society brutalized human labour. This brutalization gets expressed in a poem written by Sahir Ludhiyani sung by Rafi perhaps the two poems are the best in history of film songs in India. Both the songs are revolutionary in nature but sung in soft tone without raising the voice. This is the strength of Guru Dutt as a choreographer and film director. Yeh Duniya Agar Mil Bhi Jaye To where the wealth of a society gets created by labour but labour does not get respect. Here buildings and wealth get respected. After death intellectual labour and his production gets recognized in the form of statue. But such a brutalized society gets condemned in his poem. This society does not respect human being where the destruction of a society is not going to create tears in any body’s eyes. Democracy cannot survive in such a brutalized society which is the theme of the song. This questions the Nehru’s India which requires destruction of hierarchical society and based on gap between labour vs rich.Here freedom has been redefined in terms of human respect for which an egalitarian society is a pre condition. It is a warning and educating the rulers of the period. Jinhe Naaz Hai Hind Par Woh Kahan Hain is the second hit poem written by Sahir ludhiani and sung by Rafi turns into a creative song over the plight of sex workers. The camera was moving on the red light areas where young women to old show their faces carrying pains of the society with them but they get forced to smile at their customers. Behind the smile, pains could be expressed as Guru Dutt showed in his acting style with a smile in his face while singing the song. This song explains the plight of women working in sex industry without any self respect in a dehumanized manner. It is the old young all work and get exploited here. They sing under the compulsion where their anklets create music but it is all false echo as they are forced in flesh trade by compulsion. They need a recognition of their dignity rather than abolition or banning of the oldest profession in the world and India. It needs to be recognized where they get proper wage in hygienic conditions with proper security. No point of allowing such a dehumanized work just because of us belong to orient society and having false pride in our Hindi festival.

The film carries the criticism of a society where things can be improved by the state by creating a human environment.

In another film Dutt is critical of patriarchy located in feudal system. Sahib Bibi aur Gulam the songs are confined to a cut where the song is choreographed which explains the confinement of women to a room and also bed. “Na Jao Saiyan Chhuda ke Bai” got choreographed in a cut of a bed room which has symbolic values carrying patriarchy. The woman’s sexuality gets ignored by her husband as he is addicted to liquor and dancing girls. This is the worst form of patriarchy exhibited in the feudal families where zamindars spend more time with their concubines in the night ignoring the sexuality of their own women. In a scene where Meena Kumari looks at the village man Guru Dutt having raw emotions towards women. This explains the sexuality of the women gets ignored by their male members.

In another case an educated women is not able to express her love because of the domination of colonial education where Victorian values are inculcated in women. This questions the colonial modernity.

Guru Dutt had a talented team consisting of Rehman and Johny Walker contributed to the film making. Rehman as a Zamindar spending time with liquor and women brought the image of a landlord. He acted as an industrialist in Pyaasa made the acting having impact on public. Johny Walker through his walking style and facial expression and talking style brought a sense of humour in a serious plays like Pyaasa. His song on oil massage perhaps the best in the Hindi film of his time.

Guru Dutt fascinated with the art of story telling under the supervision of himself. He had self analysis of himself in the film Kaagaz Ke Phool. An actor or film director has many lives combined in his persona. He has a family life with wife and children which remains on the backdrop of his acting in the film. He acts with so many actors including female actors to whom he has commitment which he exhibits in the film. He has a commitment to film goers who loves and admires him. Film making comes out of spiritual urges of the film maker. Kagaz Ki Phool turns to be the best in his spiritual awakening that man turns into be a big hero turns into a zero in his own life. In that song Dekhi Zamane Ki Yaari he depicts all the variety of feelings in the film. Directing a film brings unity of all these areas which gets exhibited in a film. Film is the first social experience of the director in his mental mapping and then the actor visualizes the scenes with his co actors and while presenting the film to the audience it turns out to be feast for eyes of the public. Film maker as a human being is having all frailties of an ordinary human being. Film as his baby fails before the audience then tears rolled down. Film creates a dancing fountain before the public he starts singing with it. This great film recognizes by the world makes him crying as his baby fails before the public.

Kagaz ki Phool turns out to be original which is more than a copy. That made him all time great as two films of him Pyaasa and Kagaz ke Phool are two of the best films of world’s hundred till now.

In Kagaz Ke Phool there is a picturisation of primary school where children used to sit in the half naked and that is the scene reminds us our economic and social situation of the primary education. The school has one child without any dress which brings the society into the school in a big way. Ek Do Teen Char Aur Paanch brings the teacher into midst of the children. The teacher takes interest in all children despite so much poverty around her. The song has got choreographed in the light of Stephen Spender’s Elementary school in slums’ which reflect the hunger of food and knowledge in the children.

In Kagaz Ke Phool Guru Dutt defines the actor not in terms of beautiful faces which is his gift to Hindi films that any actor who can act to exhibit her emotions with intellectual imagination to capture the emotional stress can be an actor. It is the body language of an actor through her facial expression specifically eyes is an additional quality of an actor.

He experimented in himself as he was not having such a stereotype physique. He learnt from the dance school the art of abhinay which he exhibited in the stage. He brought Waheeda Rehman an ordinary dancer and gave her training to be an actor. Actor is supposed to play many roles in a difficult situation like the film Kagaz ki phool and she is an ordinary woman struggling for her train fare which gets paid by Guru Dutt and her meeting with him made her surcharged with emotions which brought her to the stage. Apt direction made her a well known actor and her limited experience shaped her to flower into acting in a variety of roles. Dutt’s command over visual aesthetics shaped the classics like Pyaasa and Kagaz Ki Phool. The art of story telling remained by bringing physical environment without any disjunction. Choreographing of film songs had been done in the indoor without greenish patch. This is unique placing of the songs in the art of story telling which made it a part of story not outside the story telling.

Guru Dutt knew the strength of his direction and acting. Sometimes he avoided to act but unknowingly he turned out to be a best actor of his time. As director he created the idea of film into a celluloid illusion which gets enjoyed by many. Poetry turned out to be the substructure of this illusion. Audience experiences an illusion how beautifully blended into a whole by bringing a story and poetry and picturisation. In his film Kagaz ki Phul he realized it might not be able to create an illusion which would move the audience. It reflects in one of the picturisation of a song Ud Ja Ud Ja Pyase Bhanwre where he is running ahead of other actors indicating this that the film is ahead of its time. Critical audience appreciates the film but not masses can not be held into the illusion of life philosophy.

"When we experience a film, we consciously prime ourselves for illusion. Putting aside will and intellect, we make way for it in our imagination. The sequence of pictures plays directly on our feelings. Music works in the same fashion; I would say that there is no art form that has so much in common with film as music. Both affect our emotions directly, not via the intellect. And film is mainly rhythm; it is inhalation and exhalation in continuous sequence. Ever since childhood, music has been my great source of recreation and stimulation, and I often experience a film or play musically."
— Ernst Ingmar Bergman [14 July 1918 – 30 July 2007], “Four Screenplays” [1960]

Hindi films are organized always in a melodramatic way. Here Guru Dutt is not exception but his melodramatic ways of creating such powerful films are in a controlled manner. As songs are a part of storytelling which is his strength. He did not bring melodramatic element in ending the story with a reconciliation in the end. He was under the pressures from many to change the end of the story of Pyaasa but he did not concede. His melodramatic imagination was the subject of logic of Hindi film making. Films are meant for public which have been entertaining till today. His Pyaasa film has been used by the Marxist group for spread of critical consciousness among people. As Marc Bloch comments that any progressive thinking needs to evaluated with its result.

This is happening in the case of Guru Dutt and his two creative works leave a magical impact on the public.

(Author: Prof Radhakanta Barik (retd))

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