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 the Concluding Parts 3 & 4 and the Post Script of this special 4-part feature.
Raj Khosla was Guru Dutt’s chief assistant. And Narendra was his second assistant. At one point Guru felt benevolent towards Narendra and assigned a film’s direction to him. The story was to be an adaptation of Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White. It was written in 1860 and 95 years later Guru asked me to write a screenplay based on it.
I suddenly recalled that in my childhood I had seen an advertisement for a novel titled Neel Basana Sundari (The Lady in Blue) in P M Bagchi’s almanac that was common in most Bengali households. I am certain that too was derived from The Woman in White.
Within two months I completed the script. Guru liked it. Within ten days the casting of artistes for each character was finalized. Guru Dutt was to lead the cast with Waheeda Rehman opposite him. The shooting was to take place in Shimla.
After three months of shooting Narendra returned with the entire team. After seeing the rushes Guru announced that the film will not be completed.
Never mind. I had got Rs 3000 for scripting it.
About a year later I was visiting Guru’s residence in Pali Hill. There I found him in a heated argument with Shaheed Latif, the highly successful director of Bombay Talkies’ Ziddi (1948) and Arzoo (1950), and Agha Jani Kashmiri, the renowned writer of Kismet (1943) and — later — Mujhe Jeene Do (1963).
Suddenly Guru’s eyes fell on me. He spoke to me, “We are differing in our opinions about a situation — we would like you to give your opinion…”
I looked at Shaheed and Agha Jani, “Do I have your consent to give my opinion?”
I had known Shaheed Latif. Both of them spoke in unison, “Yes, Nabendu Babu, please voice your opinion about it.”
I don’t quite remember the situation now but I did give my opinion. Guru liked my resolution. And, if I may add, it pleased Shaheed Latif and Agha Jani too.
At once, Guru proposed, “Shaheed ji, I have a request. I would like Nabendu Babu to write the script for this film and Agha Jani Saab to write the dialogues.”
Shaheed looked at Agha Jani. He said, “I have no objection.”
Guru said, “Agha Jani Saab dialogue likhenge, he will write the dialogues!”
Shaheed enthusiastically responded, “So be it. It will be done.”
From that very day I got busy scripting another film. For director Shaheed Latif. To be produced by Guru Dutt. It was titled Chaudhvin ka Chand.
I completed writing the script to everybody’s satisfaction. Then began the chapter of casting.
Two months later I learnt that great differences had cropped up between the producer and the director and the project had got derailed. Shaheed Latif bade goodbye, holding my hand in his, with these words: “Hope I will be able to make a film with your script sometime in the future.”
Such a soft spoken gentleman was the husband of the rebellious (daaksaitey) Urdu writer Ismat Chughtai.
However, a year later Guru Dutt announced a film titled Chaudhvin ka Chand. No no, it was not the film I had scripted — it was based on a story idea of a director named Sadiq. He had met Guru and narrated an idea that Guru liked. At once, he gave the responsibility of directing it to Sadiq. This film got made and when it released, it proved a big hit.
Guru’s fame and fortune kept rising. He became part owner of Mohan Studio.
After some time I got another call. Bimal Mitra’s famous 1953 novel Saheb Bibi Golam was extremely popular when it was filmed in Bengali (1956). Now Guru was all set to make it in Hindi. He had procured a print of the Bengali movie and watched it — now he wanted me to watch it as well.
I went over, and found Sachin (Dev Burman) Karta had also been invited. The next day Guru asked me to write the screenplay. How much would he pay? “You quote your price,” Guru said.
At that point of time, I was getting Rs 15,000 for each screenplay. But since Guru Dutt was a precious name both as a producer and director, I lowered the amount and asked for Rs 10,000.
Guru knitted his brow and said, “T-e-n thousand! Why should I not get Bimal (Mitra) Da to write?”
Immediately I felt my blood course all the way up to my head. Smarting from the insult, I said, “Do that Dutt Saheb, his right is certainly greater than mine since he is the creator of the great novel.”
I left right away. Later I found that he had disagreed with Sachin Karta too over his rate.
Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam (1962) had an exquisite performance by Meena Kumari in a role in which Sumitra Devi had set a benchmark of excellence in Bengali.
Two years passed. Then I received another call. I went over.
“Nabendu Babu, this time I am making a Bengali movie.”
Recalling his command over the language I said, “You have the right to do so, so this is good news.”
“Then you must write the script.”
“It’s a story by Kidar Sharma ji.” Kidar Sharma had started with New Theatres. He was the lyricist of Sehgal’s song in Devdas (1936), Dukh ke din bitat naahin, among others, and he acted too. Later he came to Bombay, and produced and directed landmark movies like Neel Kamal (1947) and Jogan (1950). He was much respected by stars like Raj Kapoor, Nargis, Madhubala, Bharat Bhushan, Mala Sinha, Geeta Bali and Tanuja — all of whom he gave breaks in Hindi films.
He had made the film years ago from a Tamil story which went thus:
The hero is a clay artist living in a village away from Calcutta. Every year he crafts the Durga idol for a zamindar living in the city. This year again he does so and earns much money and acclaim. He is accompanied by a friend who has a modest hair cutting saloon in the village. This friend takes him on a tour of the city and at night he drags him to a red light area. There the barber enters the room of one of the ladies. Our hero had no taste for such liaison. He wanders around and chances upon a girl forcibly detained in a tiny room.
This girl is yet to be inducted into the profession — in fact she has been imprisoned because she is resisting the plight.
The hero is attracted to the girl and decides to liberate her. He meets the Madame, pays a hefty amount for the girl and sets out for the village with her. On the way back, he stops at a temple and urges the priest to marry them as per the rituals. Then he takes home his newly wedded wife. At home he has no relatives other than his widowed mother. She is taken aback but she accepts the bride as her daughter-in-law.
Soon the word spreads through the village. Two days later, the barber friend comes home for a couple of days. On hearing about his friend’s marriage, he comes to meet the bride. He realises that this is the same girl from the red light area who had been imprisoned and within an hour the entire village is agog with this news. A group of highly irate young men raid the house. When our hero protests, a brawl ensues. He is hurt and a massive punch leaves him unconscious.
While he is still senseless, his furious mother drives the girl out of their house. When he regains consciousness, he gets to know what has transpired. He sets out in search of his wife. Not finding her anywhere in the village, he goes to Calcutta. There too, his search proves futile.
The heroine, fortunately, finds shelter with a compassionate elderly citizen and starts living like his daughter.
A year passes by. It is autumn once more and the drumbeats bring to life the festival season. Like every other year, our hero erects the idol of the ten-armed goddess Durga.
Meanwhile, the heroine has contracted tuberculosis. The aged samaritan leaves no stone unturned in her treatment. He also takes her out for Devi Darshan, in the course of which they visit the zamindar’s house. There, standing before the idol, she is startled to see that the goddess has six instead of the usual five toes on her right foot. She concludes that this idol has been crafted by her husband. Because? She has the same feature, and her husband had lovingly caressed that extra toe.
On asking around she realises she had correctly surmised: he is indeed the artist of the clay idol. But still they are not fated to meet. On the day of Dashami, when the clay idol is being immersed in the waters of the Ganges, her pyre is being set alight in the cremation ground on the banks.
Heart rending story. Sachin Karta had shed tears even as he listened to the narration.
Who would play the lead roles? Guru Dutt would, of course, be the hero and the heroine? Guru’s captivating wife, the enchanting singer Geeta. Yes, because one day she had confronted her husband about his enchantment with Waheeda Rehman. “Why do you go on and on about Waheeda? I can be just as good an actress. Am I any less than her in looks?” This grievance had pierced the flinty heart of her husband and so he has decided to cast her in the eponymous role of Gauri.
So I wrote the screenplay. Everybody liked it. Renowned lyricist Gouriprasanna Majumdar came down from Calcutta, camped in Bombay for a month and wrote five songs for the film. Sachin Karta set them to tune. This famous song was recorded:
Banshi shuney aar kaaj nai,
Shey je dakatiya banshi
Shey je din dupurey churi karey
Raattire toh katha nai,
Banshi shuney aar kaaj nai (Gauri) Sachin Dev Burman / Gouriprasanna Majumdar / Sachin Dev Burman
Guru went to Calcutta with his entire unit and within three months he completed nearly half the film. Then suddenly he came to Bombay and did not go back. Why? Why?? But why?! Whispers in the industry revealed that the teardrops of a dusky beauty had washed away his intention to complete the film. And who? Who’s this beauty? Grapevine whispered, ‘Waheeda Rehman, the leading lady of Guru Dutt’s company…’
Bass! Once more my script for Guru Dutt had gone to the waste bin. But I couldn’t pick up a cudgel: for years now Geeta calls me Dada; now Waheeda also addresses me as ‘Dada’.
Jaani, bhromora kaino katha koy na (Gauri) Sachin Dev Burman / Gouriprasanna Majumdar / Geeta Dutt
You might ask, what kind of relationship did Geeta have with Guru? Husband and wife they certainly were but…? Now tell me, if from time to time the wife senses there’s another woman lying next to her husband, what shape would their relationship take?
I got wind of that on more than one occasion. How? Let me share. But before I do so, let me tell you about a doctor from Goa — Dr A G Rebeiro, MBBS, soft-spoken and astute. His double-storey residence on Santa Cruz main road housed the chambers of two brothers. Dr Rebeiro was a general physician and his brother was a dentist. Such was his fame that all the respectable citizens of the posh Khar-Bandra-Santa Cruz area were his patients. And why only residents of the posh area? From distant Malad, I used to take a 20-minute ride on a train, alight at Santa Cruz, and then walk for another 10-15 minutes to reach Dr Rebeiro’s clinic. I put in all this effort for myself as much as for my wife, my sons and daughter.
In particular, Dr Rebeiro was favoured by the film folk. The founder of Filmistan, the biggest name in Hindi cinema of those days, Sashadhar Mukherjee was his patient. So were directors Arabind Sen and Shakti Samanta, among others. Guru Dutt was no exception.
I have already mentioned that I frequented Guru’s well-appointed flat in Pali Hill for discussions. One morning I reached at 10 am and found a dumbfounded look on everyone’s face. The servants seemed scared. Above all, I found Dr Rebeiro entering Guru’s bedroom and coming out every three-four minutes looking worried.
“What’s up Doctor?” I asked him.
“Guru has consumed an overdose of sleeping pills and is still not conscious. I have been trying for the last half an hour. Geeta is crying incessantly.”
After precisely five minutes, Dr Rebeiro went into their bedroom to try again. About ten minutes later he came out and flopped into a chair: “Thank god, he is now conscious!”
Another day, about three months later.
That day again Dr Rebeiro was shunting in and out of their bedroom.
I lowered my voice to ask him, “What is the matter today?”
“Today, the Mrs is lying senseless. She has swallowed handfuls of sleeping pills. Guru is sitting speechless. I will try for another ten minutes. If she doesn’t regain consciousness, I will be forced to report the matter to the police.”
He didn’t have to: Five minutes later, Geeta regained consciousness.
Two more years went by.
One day, coming out of Shakti Samanta’s office, I went into Guru Dutt’s. Before entering his room, I overheard him discussing something with Abrar Alvi. From the little, I could hear I realised they were discussing that story of mine. So, on entering the room, I asked him with a smile, “So Guru Dutt Saab, are you filming my story?”
Guru smiled back as he replied, “I haven’t yet decided to, but yes, the story keeps playing in my head.”
Then for a year and half, we didn’t meet.
Suddenly I got to know that Guru has completed a film titled Kaagaz ke Phool, and “it’s excellent.”
I asked the person who said this, “What is the story?”
“It’s about a film director. Totally new idea.”
I realised it was that same story of mine.
“Whose story is it?” I enquired.
“The story is not credited to anybody. The screenplay and direction is by Abrar Alvi.”
The entire picture was clear to me.
I went to his office in Mohan Studio, Andheri.
Guru was not there, he had gone to Poona.
The year was 1959.
I could not go again. I was caught up in writing too many things.
On and off I used to go to Calcutta, two or three times a year. I would stay for ten-fifteen days to connect with my literary friends and publishers. I had gone in 1964 too. That’s where I read the news, Guru Dutt is no more.
Period. Despite being the author of Kaagaz ke Phool, I remain deprived of the credit.
Dekhi zamaane ki yaari (Kaagaz Ke Phool, 1959) SD Burman / Kaifi Azmi / Mohd Rafi
Vasanth Kumar Shivshankar Padukone. No, you don’t know the person, right? Neither did I when I was growing up with the name the person acquired on screen: Guru Dutt.
Subsequently I have personally known, admired, interacted and befriended names connected to him: Kalpana Lajmi, director of Rudaali, among others. Her mother, contemporary artist Lalitha Lajmi. Shyam Benegal, his not-so-distant cousin. His nephew Vivek Benegal, son of Som Benegal, both of whom like Guru Dutt and his brother Atmaram, were born and bred in Bengal and spoke flawless Bengali.
Several others of Indian cinema are linked with the name Guru Dutt. Geeta Dutt, most certainly. Then, Waheeda Rehman, Dev Anand. Meena Kumari. S D Burman, Abrar Alvi, Johnny Walker, Rehman … These names got etched in our heart through films like Pyaasa, Kaagaz Ke Phool, Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam, Aar Paar, Baazi…
As many titles have, unfortunately, remained off the silver screen because the legend decided to drop the project at different stages of filming, Nabendu Ghosh wrote about some that never got made. I would like to mention that some did get made, under a different dispensation altogether.
Raj Khosla was his chief assistant but Guru Dutt chose Narendra (as mentioned by Nabendu Ghosh) to direct the adaptation of Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White. It seems from some reports that Sunil Dutt was initially chosen to play the role which Guru eventually essayed in Shimla. But for some reason he was unhappy enough with what he saw. He dropped the film that was shaping up under the title Raaz.
Later, when Guru was no longer on the scene, Raj Khosla reworked the shelved film as Woh Kaun Thi? (1964) with Sadhna and Manoj Kumar. This time the story was ascribed to Dhruv Chatterjee.
Gauri, as Nabendu Ghosh writes, was launched after the grand success of Pyaasa in 1957. Had Gauri been made, it would have been India’s first Cinemascope film. But that was not fated to be.
After shooting some reels of the Bengali film that was to see the acclaimed playback singer Geeta Dutt debut as an actress, Guru Dutt took a break. While he went back to Bombay, he left back many members of the team in Calcutta since he was planning to return soon. The wait was to prove inordinate though they didn’t know that then.
Among them was the Art Director who was a Marwari gentleman hailing from Calcutta. While he kept waiting, he dreamt one day that Lord Krishna was beckoning him to Vrindavan. So vivid was the dream that the devotee decided not to wait for Guru but to respond to the call of Govind. He shifted to Vrindavan and took to painting images of Vrindavan’s reigning deity. And such was his bhakti that he would decorate the image with precious and semi precious gems.
Soon the world came to love the art of Kanhai Chitrakar who subsequently was bestowed with a President’s Award. I got to meet him while I was the Arts Editor of The Times of India, through the effort of his son Krishna Chitrakar.
Atmaram was distressed to learn that his brother, his Guru, was depriving Nabendu Da of the credit for Kaagaz Ke Phool. Since he was assisting Guru he knew that the original story was by the author who had already scripted Sailaab and Aar Paar, and who had adapted the Wilkie Collins classic and also Kidar Sharma story to write the scripts for Raaz and Gauri.
Hence, when Guru Dutt passed away in October of 1964, he returned to the writer and proposed an adaptation of the Charles Dickens classic, Oliver Twist. This got made as Chanda Aur Bijli, featuring Master Sachin, Padmini and Sanjeev Kumar in the major roles. Shankar Jaikishan had scored the music and Neeraj had got the Filmfare award for the lyrics, Kaal ka pahiya ghoomey re bhaiya… And, yes, the title cards of this Guru Dutt Films Combine production did credit the screenplay to Nabendu Ghosh.
Years after all the players have gone to eternal rest, it is gratifying to see that critics and cine journals have all found Chanda Aur Bijli to be “Easily one of the best adaptations of a literary classic” (IMDB).
Allow me to quote one writer — Madhulika Liddle in Dusted Off:
“This is easily one of the best adaptation of a book into a movie. It is as good as the book, if not better.
If you loved the book, you’ll fall in love with this movie too. And it’s simply ‘unputdownable’ just like the original book. And considering this is a Bollywood movie we are talking about, that’s some achievement!
And they (the script writer and the director) have made the necessary modifications to the story to adapt it to Indian situations and also sort of ‘upped the ante’ in the plot which works out quite well in the end.
All in all, a beautifully crafted, heart-wrenching, emotionally satisfying film.”
Imagine what the script might have attained under the direction of Atmaram’s Guru!
(The views expressed are personal)
Eka Naukar Jatri/Journey of a Lonesome Boat was serialised in Sangbad Pratidin for a year (the then editor was noted author Dibyendu Palit). The completed manuscript was handed over to Dey’s, leading publishers in Kolkata in August 2007. Nabendu Ghosh passed away on 15 December 2007. The book was released two months later in Calcutta Book Fair ‘Boimela’ in February 2008. Nirendranath Chakraborty, President, Bangla Academy, had presided over the launch.
If you missed Parts 1 and 2 of this Special Feature, click below to read:
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