On the Set and Off
Madhu Jain
TEN YEARS WITH GURU DUTT: ABRAR ALVI'S JOURNEY by Sathya Saran Penguin/Viking, 2009, 203 pp., 499
March 2009, volume 33, No 3

Settling-of-score books can be entertaining, vindictive, or just plain boring. More often than not such a book reveals more about the writer than his subject. Alas, it can also be one long whine—not just me-too, but me-not-him/her, mostly both childish and petulant. Abrar Alvi’s account of a decade of working with legendary film director-actor Guru Dutt could have been fascinating if only the raison d’être of this book had not been to establish and iterate the fact ad infinitum that he and not Guru Dutt held the director’s baton for one of Indian Cinema’s masterpieces: Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam (1962). Depite the fact that the credits of the film clearly give Alvi’s name as director, the impression that he was ‘just a front’ for Guru Dutt gained ground. And to some extent, even today, many believe that, disheartened by the box office failure and lukewarm response to Kaagaz Ke Phool, Dutt, did not let his name go as director.

Apparently, Dutt feared that he was jinxed. Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam went on to become the most lauded film to come out of the Guru Dutt Films stable, with Meena Kumari’s performance as the Choti Bahu considered by many to be her best career performance. The film also became a cult favourite, along with Pyasa and Kaagaz Ke Phool, on both the international film festival circuit and in India.

Clearly, Abrar Alvi has been ill-served in the collective memory of critics and Guru Dutt fans. The quasi-cult status of the film-maker, not to speak of his tragic suicide, volatile marriage to singer Geeta Dutt and his intense relationship with actress Waheeda Rehman, ensured that Alvi’s contribution to and involvement with Guru Dutt Films would be overlooked in the discourse round the oeuvre of Guru Dutt. The director had, according to Alvi, insisted on shooting all the song sequences in Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam, a fact that he resented.

Continue reading this review