In his autobiography Eka Naukar Jatri/ Journey of a Lonesome Boat, Nabendu Ghosh wrote about his troubled friendship with the legend Guru Dutt who valued his writing yet wasted his scripts.
Translation & Post Script: Ratnottama Sengupta
Silhouette presents Parts 1 & 2 of this special 4-part feature.
That very day I met Mukul Roy in Phani Majumdar’s office. Who is he? Illustrious singer and acclaimed playback artiste Geeta Roy’s third brother. He is also proficient in music and singing. He wishes to be a composer and minutes into our conversation, I realised he had a good grasp of scoring and was a good person.
I broke the ice. “Your name is Mukul — so is my pet name…”
“In that case,” he held out his hand, “we are mates — Mita.”
I took his proffered hand and said, “Hello, Mita!”
Four-five days later, Mukul Roy showed up at Van Vihar (where I had gone back after Kanaklata returned to Kolkata).
“I am making a film,” Mukul Roy said, “titled Sailaab — it means flood. It will be directed by Guru Dutt. He will feature in the lead role with Geeta Bali. You must write the screenplay.”
At that point, Guru Dutt had garnered lot of fame as a rising director. For some days, he had worked as an assistant to Gyan Mukherjee, director of the super duper hit Kismet produced by Bombay Talkies. Then, as the director of Baazi, produced by Navketan Films with Dev Anand and Geeta Bali as the lead pair, overnight he shot into fame. Earlier, he had acted with Geeta Bali in Baaz. Quite good looking, though a bit goody goody — reminding me of the photo of a son-in-law being fed with 50 goodies on Jamai Shasti in P M Bagchi’s almanack, which has now gone out of circulation.
“Waah! Guru Dutt hero and Geeta Bali heroine! That’s splendid!”
Happily, I agreed to write the screenplay of Sailaab.
A few days later Mukul Roy took me to his two-storey house on Linking Road in the Santa Cruz area. It was clear that the house was a gift of the balmy voice of Geeta Roy. And what a captivating beauty she was! The allure of the dusky face would put to shame many a fair-complexioned charmer. And how riveting was the glance of her doe eyes! If I was entranced by the first sight of Meena Kumari, so was I by Geeta Roy. And it was in her house that I met Guru Dutt for the first time.
“Namaskar! I have heard a lot about you,” Guru said with folded hands.
“My fame is a reflection of Bimal Da’s glory.”
“That is partly true,” Guru smiled. “But that doesn’t mean Bimal Da has brought a no-gooder all the way from Calcutta to Bombay. So I am also very happy that you have agreed to script Sailaab for Mukul Babu.”
Gratified, I said, “I am even happier to get the opportunity to work with a much talked about Bengali director.”
Mukul Roy burst into a fit of laughter. Guru looked at him and chuckled. I looked at them and asked them the reason for their dual delight.
“Guru Dutt is not Bengali,” Mukul replied.
“Oh! So he’s from Punjab — Dutt, not Dutta.”
Mukul laughed meaningfully, “No, he’s not Punjabi either.”
“But he speaks such flawless Bengali!”
“I’ll explain,” Guru said. “I’m Konkani by birth but I was born in Bengal because my father worked in the railways. For many years he worked as an Assistant Station Master in the interiors of Bengal. Later, for quite a while, he was the Station Master at Purulia. Naturally, Bengali was my first language all through my school years. So my grasp of Bengali is better than that on my mother tongue.”
“That makes you a Konkani Bengali,” I remarked.
“No,” Guru shook his head, “I am a Bengali Konkani.”
All three of us laughed out loud.
When I mentioned this meeting to Aravind Sen, the director for whom I was writing Kafila, he commented, “This is good news indeed. Mukul Roy is talented, and Guru is bound to do his films.”
“Bound to? Why?!”
“Because of the ongoing romance between Guru Dutt and Geeta Roy!”
I could easily believe this because I remembered the quiet, unspoken exchanges between the two when she was serving us tea.
“Ghosh Saab, phone for you!” — the voice floated in from outside. The landlord’s son was calling out from the first floor.
Mr Raje, the owner of the 52-year-old building, broke into a broad smile as he spoke the name, “Geeta Roy’s brother Mukul Roy is on the line!”
“Hello,” I spoke into the phone.
“Namaskar Bhai Nabendu Babu,” Mukul Roy’s voice was at the other end of the line.
“Namaskar! Tell me, what made you think of me?”
“How far has the script of my Sailaab progressed?”
“It will take me another week to complete it.”
“Guru is charmed by the discussions he has had with you regarding Sailaab.”
“My thanks to him and to you too…”
“Hear me. Guru is starting his own production company. And he wants you to write the script for the first film.”
“Thanks again to both of you, and my gratitude too.”
“Mita, how can we be mates if you keep saying ‘Thanks’ and ‘Grateful’?”
“Okay Mita, now I am Mukul — go on, tell me what you have called to say…”
His voice was layered with laughter as Mukul said, “Be kind enough to come to my residence at five this evening. Guru will also be here, to discuss this with you. You must stay for dinner with us before returning home.”
The moment we met in Mukul Roy’s residence Guru Dutt said, “I have just set up my own production house, and I want you to script a film for me.”
We had already worked on the screenplay of Sailaab. I said, “Certainly and happily.”
Guru immediately narrated an idea to me. After a few days of discussion, I read out my first draft to him. Guru liked it. A month later, I handed him the complete script. Guru himself was to lead the cast paired with Shyama — she had played the female lead in Bombay Talkies’ Maa. Actress Shakeela was to play the supporting role. Music was to be scored by the new composer OP Nayyar. The film was titled Aar Paar.
In any screenplay I wrote, I used to complete it in my own way, with dialogues, either in English or in Hindi penned in Roman script. Later on, a Hindi-speaking writer would build upon my dialogues and dress it up with his literary flair, and with the flow of colloquial idioms and phrases. Guru inducted a new writer to write the dialogue of Aar Paar — Abrar Alvi. Sweet spoken gentleman.
The characters of this narrative belonged to a different class: a taxi driver and a garage owner. The protagonist Kalu was jailed for causing an accident and has just been released after a year. He is employed by Lalaji, the owner of a motor garage. His pretty young daughter Nikki is attracted to Kalu, and a romance ensues. But the moment Lalaji gets wind of the affair, Kalu loses his job.
Once more unemployed, Kalu is back on the footpath, knocking on every door, begging for a job. While working in Lalaji’s garage, he had met someone who went by the name of ‘Captain’. By chance, he meets Captain who engages him as the driver of a taxi he owns.
Captain, in reality, is a devil. And Rita, who works in his team, tries to entice Kalu. Kalu realises that he is getting entwined in a web of crime, and that Rita is trying to lure him away from Nikki. He tries to run away from there but Captain puts him into greater trouble. How, after much effort, Kalu is honourably acquitted and unites with his love interest, comprises the storyline of Aar Paar.
Soon as it was released at the end of 1953, the film proved a hit. Overnight everyone was humming the songs written by Majrooh Sultanpuri and set to music by O P Nayyar:
1. Sun sun sun sun zalima
Kaisa pyar kaisi preet re!
2. Babuji dheerey chalna,
Pyar mein zara sambhalna!
3. Kabhi aar kabhi paar
The songs rendered by Geeta Roy, Mohammad Rafi and Shamshad Begum resonate in the heart of music lovers to this day.
Sun sun sun sun zaalima (Aar Paar, 1954) OP Nayyar / Majrooh Sultanpuri / Mohammed Rafi, Geeta Dutt
About a month later I got a call from Guru Dutt and went over to his flat in Bandra.
“Narrate another story to me for my next production,” he said with a smile.
Right away, I narrated a story.
The protagonist is a writer. There are only two other members in his family — his mother and a younger brother. In the hope of a better life he moves around in the film circle, trying to sell a story. But so far he has had no luck.
When he goes to meet producers, here and there, he runs into a young girl. Not too well off, she too is looking for a break in films. This girl is the heroine of our story.
She is dependent on the family of her paternal uncle. His wife, a shrew, and his good-for-nothing son are always picking on her. Dreaming of a rosy future, at the behest of her friend, she visits studio after studio. Who knows when Lady Luck will smile at her.
One day, tired, thirsty and starving, she faints in one of the offices. The writer happens to be present there and the girl gets etched in his mind. He finds something precious in her uncared for beauty and her dignified personality.
One day the writer’s luck turns. A director likes one of his stories and purchases the rights to film it. He signs a contract whereby he will get Rs 250 every month for one whole year.
The director gets busy looking for an actress to fit the character. But he is not satisfied by the looks of any of the established faces. The writer suddenly remembers the girl who had fainted in the producer’s office. He refers her to the director. He sends for the girl and asks her to act out a scene. The girl comes out in flying colours — she gets the role.
Gratitude often is the first step to love. Thus the girl comes to love the writer and he responds to her love.
The film goes on the floor.
All of a sudden the writer realises that he is not getting his salary. Worse, he realises that for some reason, none of the publicity matter is crediting him as the film’s writer. The moment he protests, he is shown the door. The director roars that it is not his story, and that he was engaged merely to assist in its detailing. Now that assistance was no longer required.
When the girl hears this, she refuses to continue in the film. The writer points out that she is contract bound to complete it. Moreover, he doesn’t want to come in the way of her rise as an actress.
Now he is facing hard times. No money to pay his brother’s fees. Subsistence for the family comes down to one meal a day.
The girl completes the film and it is released in theatres. Overnight she is catapulted to the peak of fame. Her name is on every lip, her face in every newspaper. Almost round the clock, she is surrounded by press photographers and reporters seeking her interview. She simultaneously signs four-five movies. Her going rate jumps to a lakh per film. The girl transforms into a star who hardly has time for the writer.
Meanwhile, he is forced by circumstances to sign up as an Extra. When he goes on the sets, he does not get to meet her.
The aunt and cousin who used to be after her have changed colour, chameleon like. Now when the writer visits her house, they insult him relentlessly. Still he persists in visiting her house — only to be slighted by the girl too.
That is the last straw. He decides never to meet her again. Instead he puts his heart and soul in trying to get roles, even fleeting appearances to keep his kitchen fire burning.
By the turn of events he gets the role of a beggar whom the heroine gives alms. When the heroine comes to the floor for rehearsals, she realises that the beggar with an overgrowth of facial hair was none else but the writer — her lover who had got her, her first role.
Stunned, the writer dressed as beggar keeps staring at her. He is unable to emote as required for the scene. Enraged, the director turns him out of the floor.
However the heroine is troubled by this. Tears flooding her eyes, she rushes out of the floor. ‘Listen, hear me out, wait!’ — the girl screams out.
“And then?” Guru asked.
“And then…” I said, “the story reaches its climax. Love comes to fruition.”
“Baah!” Guru responded. “Excellent!”
Tea was served. Guru looked immersed in thought. He spoke after a while, “It’s a good story but what if I change the hero from a writer to a director?”
I thought for a few seconds. Then I said, “You want to promote the writer and give him the elevated status of a director. That is possible. That will alter the complexion of the character, but the story will still hold. Give me two days and I can narrate the ‘Director’ version.”
“Okay, let’s do that then,” Guru said.
I mulled over it for four days. Then at 9 one morning, I reached his Bandra flat. Present there was his chief assistant Raj Khosla.
“Thought it out?” Guru asked with a smile.
“Please narrate it.”
I started the narration.
Now the protagonist is a director. Young and sharp. Happily married and successful. His first film has hit the bull’s eye. He has a wife and an infant son.
The heroine comes from an ordinary, middle class family, uncared for in the family of her paternal uncle. She has a first cousin who is going to dogs. She wants to live separately, independently, but is unable to. Her close friend, aware of all that she has to go through, suggests her to try her luck in the films since she has the looks.
She approaches filmmakers but they don’t take any note of her. Eventually, she joins the ranks of junior artistes — extras — and building on that footing she moves into a tenement to escape the unbearable atmosphere of her uncle’s home.
One day this girl meets the rising director to seek a role for herself but he refuses to consider her plea. Somehow the girl feels that this director can transform her life. So, in desperation, she meets his wife and with teary eyes requests her to recommend her to her husband. Feeling sympathetic, when she speaks to her husband, he tells her to mind her own business rather than interfere in his affairs.
Preparing for his new film the director is not quite satisfied with the casting. When she gets a hint of this, the young aspirant decides to approach him once more. But out of stress, the thirsty and starving girl faints outside his office. On hearing a commotion outside his window, the director comes out and finds the girl whom he had one day refused to even consider for the role. But today, in her lean and tired face, he finds his protagonist.
After she gains consciousness, he auditions her and takes a screen test. Two days later he signs her on.
The film goes on the set. Day after day he keeps discovering her sensitivity as an artiste, is attracted to her and falls in love with her.
One day, after pack up, he offers to drop her home. He is pained to see the environment of the slum where she is living. He does not utter a word but the very next day he scouts for and finds a decent flat in a respectable neighborhood and shifts her into it.
This sets the grapevine going: people start whispering about the director and his heroine. Soon his wife gets to hear that they are ‘an item’.
One day she goes to the set and keeps a sharp eye on them. After studying their expression and behaviour towards each other she concludes that there is truth in the hearsay.
She points this out to her husband — but this causes a rift in their relationship. To save her marriage, she seeks out the girl and entreats her to leave her husband alone, not to lure him nor to let him near her. However, the actress does not respond to her entreaty.
Consequently, there are frequent clashes between the husband and wife. One day when their quarrels peak, she can take it no more. Along with their little son, she leaves home and takes shelter with her sister.
The film is completed and is released in theatres. It does not have a successful run but the girl is noticed by one and all. She is critically acclaimed and is suddenly much sought after.
On the other hand, the director suffers a reversal of fate. No producer or financier comes forward to stand by him or offer him another film while she is signing films almost every month. The uncle and aunt, who did not fail to heap scorn on her, now move into her house.
Meanwhile, the director’s financial condition goes from bad to worse. He is forced to sell off his car and then his flat. He moves into a cheap hotel and eventually since he gets no work, he shifts into a slum.
Life has turned full circle. Now when he tries to meet the girl, she has no time for him. Under the effect of glamour and money she starts neglecting the director.
She is never at home when he visits her, and if she runs into him in public, she politely asks him to visit her sometime. But neither her uncle nor her aunt can stand the director. So when he drops in, they misbehave with him, insult him and throw him out of the house.
Squirming from the insult he waits outside for her to return home. She comes home late at night with another director. Deeply hurt and fuming, he tries to confront her. In return she snubs him, goes inside and shuts the door on his face with a bang.
Days go by. While the girl keeps rising and going up the ladder of success, the director’s dismal condition forces him to enlist as an extra under a false name.
In the changed circumstance, by happenstance, he unknowingly goes on the set where the girl is rehearsing a scene. Under incompetent direction, she is acquitting herself poorly — she is hamming. This irritates our hero and in a fit of rage he irrationally interferes. “What’s going on?” he screams. “Is this acting? And what shot composition is this?”
Who? Who’s this? Who dares to speak thus?
Immediately commotion ensues on the set.
“Who am I?” The director points a finger towards the girl. “Ask her, in which film she made her debut, under whose direction she rose to stardom!”
At once, people are up in arms. “Who is this guy?” “Throw him out!”
“Get rid of this cranky man — NOW!” roars the man directing the film. His men lay hands on our hero, drag him out of the set and throw him out of the studio.
Standing helplessly on the street, in futile rage, he remembers his wife and son. After a long time he traces his steps towards his sister-in-law’s house. There he learns that his wife is no more and his son is in school.
When the classes get over the children stream out. The director goes and speaks to his son who fails to recognise him, partly because his face is covered in beard and partly because five-six years have gone by since he had last seen his father.
The director introduces himself as his father’s friend and strikes a conversation. “What do you want to be when you grow up child?” he asks.
“I want to be a famous director like my father,” the child beams.
“No no no, child!” the director cries out. “You must grow up to be an artist, a writer, or a singer, don’t be a filmmaker!”
“Okay, I will remember what you are saying. Now I must run, bye!”
A hand raised as if to bless, the director watches his son go away from him.
Then he wanders aimlessly, hither, thither, without a morsel in his tummy or a sip of water down his throat. Exhausted in body and spent in spirit, he suddenly finds himself standing outside the same studio.
He slips in and when no one is watching he enters a floor where the workers erecting a set are taking a tea break.
The floor is immersed in darkness.
“Lights,” the director calls out. “All lights!”
He sees the lights spring to life. He can see our heroine standing there.
“Start sound!” he calls out.
He watches the leading lady speak her lines — “No, I don’t love you…”
Now the workers return to the studio, perhaps attracted by his voice. The floor is immersed in darkness. They switch on the lights and discover a man lying on the floor. He is dead.
The next day. Shooting starts on the same floor. Our leading lady is rehearsing the action. She laughs out loud.
“Louder,” the film’s director instructs her. “Please laugh out louder…”
Our heroine laughs out louder.
“Waah! Very good.” Guru Dutt nodded his head. “I will do this film. You please quickly write a synopsis of this version.”
“Right Dutt Saheb, I will…”
But at that point I was in the midst of a turmoil. From 1953 we were discussing Sarat Chandra’s Devdas. I was writing the screenplay for Bimal Da. My condition was much like Yusuf Bhai’s — that is, Dilip Kumar’s. I was carrying on my shoulder the burden of Pramathesh Barua and — above all — Sarat Chandra. Nabendu Ghosh is merely a writer cum screen playwright. But at that point I was carrying the responsibility of a heritage — D-E-V-D-A-S. So I did not have much time to write the synopsis.
I had to reach Bimal Da’s office in Andheri by 9.30 every morning. Then would begin the discussions, disagreements, drafting, writing. By the time I reached home it would be 9-9.30 pm. After that too, there was no time to relax. I had to jot down thoughts and observations for the next day’s discussion. No, Guru had receded from my mind.
About two months later, Guru’s younger brother Atmaram showed up at my Malad residence. He assisted his elder brother and, like him, he spoke flawless Bengali. He told me in an unhappy voice, “Dada, in desperation, has gone to the Marathi writer Mr Rao…”
“I am one of his admirers — he is a good writer. But why has Guru gone to him?”
“Because you have not given the synopsis in two months,” Atmaram said. “So Dada has decided to get Mr Rao to write for him.”
I felt guilty. “I’m sorry Atma, I have erred. But I could not help it — I was too tied up with Bimal Da’s work. But the silver lining is that my story will get a good screenplay. I won’t lose out as I will get the credit for my story.”
“Your story?” Atmaram was taken aback. “But Dada is not saying that. He claimed that it is his story!”
I saw red. “No, it is my story,” I asserted. “And I know how to prove that it is my work.”
Atmaram left with a clouded face.
That same day at about 2 pm there was a call for me. From Mahalaxmi Studio where many production houses, producers and directors had their offices.
It was Guru Dutt calling.
His high-pitched voice resonated from the other end, “What have you been telling my brother?”
“You please do not claim my story as yours.”
Guru’s voice rose a pitch higher — it felt as if the telephone will burst in my hand. “That story is not yours!”
“Do not shout Guru Dutt Saheb,” I replied. “I can also shout. The protagonist of my story was a writer — you have promoted him to the status of a director. That does not alter the fact that it is my story. Please don’t try to pass it off as yours.”
“And what if I do?” he shouted back at the same high pitch. “What will you do?”
“If you do, you will learn what I can do to protect the right to my story,” I said and banged the phone down to put an end to the ungainly exchange.
But that was not the end of the story. Instead it set off a long drawn battle. How? Read on.
I got worried. I mulled over the matter and tried to figure out who could help me to settle it amicably.
I remembered Gyan Mukherjee, the director of the superhit Bombay Talkies movie, Kismet. I had scripted Shatranj for him and Guru had assisted him for 2-3 years.
Gyan Da heard me out at length. Then he advised me to write down the synopsis as I had narrated to Guru, then get it signed by Gyan Mukherjee and Phani Majumdar on each page, then send it by registered post addressed to myself. Once I receive it, I should not open it but keep it away in the locker, unopened. That would be my proof since the custom of registering your story idea with Film Writers Association had yet to come into practice.
I liked the suggestion. On 9th January of 1954 I got the hand-written synopsis signed by Gyan Mukherjee and Phani Majumdar, and sent it by Registered Post to myself. Within five-six days I received it. Here’s a photocopy of that for you readers…
Guru Dutt valued my writing, so he repeatedly called me. But he could never accept me fully because I dared to confront him. He made me write down several versions of many ideas we discussed but never acknowledged that the story of Kaagaz ke Phool was mine. He felt victorious by denying me the credit (the film does not credit the story to anybody).
(The views expressed are personal)
Click below to read the Concluding Parts 3 & 4 of the Special 4-part Feature
Of Incomplete Tales: My Friendship with Guru Dutt (Parts 3 & 4)
More Must Reads in Silhouette
IPR and Indian Cinema: A Scenario of Violation
Geeta Dutt – The Skylark Who Sang From The Heart
Whether you are new or veteran, you are important. Please contribute with your articles on cinema, we are looking forward for an association. Send your writings to [email protected]
We are editorially independent, not funded, supported or influenced by investors or agencies. We try to keep our content easily readable in an undisturbed interface, not swamped by advertisements and pop-ups. Our mission is to provide a platform you can call your own creative outlet and everyone from renowned authors and critics to budding bloggers, artists, teen writers and kids love to build their own space here and share with the world.
When readers like you contribute, big or small, it goes directly into funding our initiative. Your support helps us to keep striving towards making our content better. And yes, we need to build on this year after year. Support LnC-Silhouette with a little amount – and it only takes a minute. Thank you
Silhouette Magazine publishes articles, reviews, critiques and interviews and other cinema-related works, artworks, photographs and other publishable material contributed by writers and critics as a friendly gesture. The opinions shared by the writers and critics are their personal opinion and does not reflect the opinion of Silhouette Magazine. Images on Silhouette Magazine are posted for the sole purpose of academic interest and to illuminate the text. The images and screen shots are the copyright of their original owners. Silhouette Magazine strives to provide attribution wherever possible. Images used in the posts have been procured from the contributors themselves, public forums, social networking sites, publicity releases, YouTube, Pixabay and Creative Commons. Please inform us if any of the images used here are copyrighted, we will pull those images down.
Very fascinating, Ms Sengupta. Can’t wait for the concluding parts.
The narrative itself could be another script! Very absorbing. The pictures are fabulous!