I personally wasn’t keen on Guru Dutt playing Bhootnath, or, for that matter, the hero in even my
comedies. I felt and still feel that as an actor he was stilled. and his feel talent lay in direction. However,
I agreed on one condition. I told him, ‘The hero is a county yokel, he us callow and unsure of himself.
You have to look the part. Your moustache make your face heavy. You need to shave it off.
Guru Dutt is probably the only Indian film-maker who, within the parameters of the box office, made a
stand testimony not only to his team, comprising stalwarts like cameraman V.K. Murthy, music director
S.D. Burman and writer Abrar Alvi, among others. In Ten Years with Guru Dutt: Abara Alvi’s journey,
Sathya, Saran looks at the tumultuous yet incredibly fecund relationship between the mercurial director
and his equally talented albeit unsung writer, a partnership that evolved over a decade still Guru Dutt’s
tragic death in 1964.
Starting his career as a diver and chaperone to Guru Dutt’s producer on the sets of Baaz, Abrar soon
caught the attention of the director with his sharp eat for and understanding of film dialogue. With Aar
Paar in 1954, Abrar rewrote the rules of dialogue writing in Hindi cinema, till then marked by
theatricality and artificiality. He followed it up with Mr and Mrs 55, Pyaasa and Kaagaz Ke Pool-all
veritable treatises on the art of scriptwriting- before donning the director’s mantle with great success in
Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam.
Full of anecdotes- about how Abrar honed his skills by writing over 300 love letters; how an accident
involving a buffalo led to the discovery of Waheeda Rehman; Guru Dutt’s visit to a kotha to get the
ambience right for Pyasa-Ten Years with Guru Dutt is a warm and insightful look at two remarkable
artists who inspired each other to create movie magic. It is, at the same time, an intimate account of the
ecstasy and the agony that marked the making pf some of the enduring classics of Indian cinema.
One of India’s leading journalists, Sathya Saran is editor of the popular women’s magazine me. Apart
from short stories and articles on cinema she has written extensively on issues concerning women. She
has won a number of awards for her contribution to journalism. Strongly influenced by Hindi cinema
and its music, Sathya grew up singing songs from the 1960s, and even today cannot ride in a car without
breaking into song. Sathya lives in Mumbai with her family and dogs.
The article I had just read got me thinking.
It was an interview with Abrar Alvi, in the Indian Express and at the end of it, the writer threw out a
challenge on behalf on the interviewee. Abrar Alvi had many stories to tell about life and his work with
Guru Dutt, if someone was willing to listen to them. Was there such a person around the interviewer
Having always been fascinated by Indian cinema, the challenge intrigued me. I was at that time going
through a rough patch emotionally thanks to matters at the workplace turning sour. This, I told myself,
would distract me, keep me from feeling that my journalistic job was the beginning and the end of the
I called Abrar and referring to the article offered my services. He was wary, yet interested. I proposed
going over to meet him. He was not sure he wanted me to, but agreed half-heartedly. We were almost at
the end of the conversation, when he asked me my name once more. I spelt it out to him.
‘Saran?’ he said ‘I thought Saral. I knew a saran in Nagpur-
The must be my family’, I butted in.
It turned out in the next ten minutes, that Abrar had known my husband’s cousins closely. A warmth
entered his voice; I could sense trust flooding in. and the date for out meeting was set.
It was the start of a long association reminiscences and narrations. Every Saturday, I would take a train
from V.T. Station (now Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus) to Andheri, then a bus to its building and the lift
up to his apartment on the tenth floor where after I had taken off my footwear and was seated in a breezy
corner of the drawing room by a window, Abrar would come in and we would start the process of
recording in my handwriting. The ten years of his life with one of India’s most creative film makers.
Surprisingly my knowledge of Guru Dutt was not as deep as that of other directors, but as Abrar began
narrating his stories I found myself living, vicariously a life that was dominated by a mind that had many
facets, many aspects of genius. Perhaps the fact that we share a date- he died on 10 October, the date
(not the same year though) I was born –has something to do with it.
Abrar himself was fascinating. Equally fluent in Hindi, Urdu and English, he would reel out stories with
amazing dexterity, sometimes meandering into a by-lane of thought till I, patiently, deftly drew him
back. He never took umbrage at the interruptions, having warned me himself that he was in the habit of
losing the thread of his thoughts and that I should goad him back to the point from where he had
As the stories unfolded sometimes chronologically mostly at random, it dawned upon me that here was
a very angry, bitter disappointed man. His anger was directed at many things.
For one, he ranted about the fact that he was still being robbed of his right the credit for directing Guru
Dutt Films most lauded most awarded, film Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam. Critics have over the years insisted
that Abrar was only a front for a director who had decided he did not want to take credit thanks to a
superstition resulting from the debacle of Kaagaz ke Phool that he was jinxed.
Abrar would bubble over when he came to that point. He had many ways of proving he was the man at the
helm, that it was his baby from start to finish. He had proof, witnesses and had produced them at times,
but the doubt remained in people’s minds-the suspicion once planted, would not be erased. More than
four decade after the films release, it still hurt him that the finest hour was attributed to someone
It did not hurt him to live in the shadow of a great creative genius, through. As his tale unfolded, it was
obvious that Abrar was the perfect harnessed to reality and life. It did not hurt him to have his ideas did
not appear. He wrote entire screenplays single-handedly and was credited only for the dialogues, but he
was happy because he had found his métier. The angst hit him only when, after his directorial success,
credit was not given to him by the world that would not accept an equal to Guru Dutt.
On many a Saturday, I spent the first hour of our meeting listening to him seething and fuming with
frustration and despair he would have watched television interview in which someone everyone except
him, and acknowledge his or her debt to all except him. He felt he did not exits that the best years of his
creative life had been erased were being erased methodically and systematically by those who choose to
ignore him only because he was not a visible powerful force any more.
It would take a lot of persuasion to calm his down, to get him back on track make him understand that
this book, when it came out, could undo some of the damage could perhaps finally give him his place in
the sun once again.
Yet it was not always a grim, challenging assignment. He could be funny jovial tell humorous stories
with all sound and action and mimicry of voices
that a grandfather uses when telling stories to children –talents which he had used to advantage in the
pas and which is one of the reasons Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam turned out the way it did.
In fact one of the highlights of my interaction with him was the tape he lent me, wherein he had
recorded an Indian adaptation of the entire screenplay of Fiddler on the roof. He had narrated the than
once I found myself on the verge of tears in the more poignant moments. The tape is still with him, and
an enterprising to give hum the rights to use the screenplay and dialogues.
A year and a bit after our Saturday trysts ended. and as the book is ready for release, Abrar Alvi is very
sick man. The many ailments that beset him-in his own words, ‘Any ailment you name, I have it’ –keep
him confined to his bed. His meandering mind phone to ask him questions that the book’s wonderful
editor, Shantanu asks he is clear in his replies.
I do wish he finds happiness again and the book vindicates his stand and places him firmly back in public
memory; that future generation, who thrill to the world-class cinema Guru Dutt Films produced will
know his as the man who was friend philosopher and guide to Guru Dutt and the writer and director of
Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam.
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