What makes this coffee meet interesting is that Biswajeetda was the filmmaker’s first choice to play Bhootnath, through whose eyes this story of aristocratic debauchery in feudal Bengal plays out. Bimal Mitra, who had helped the film’s writerdirector Abrar Alvi turn his voluminous novel set in colonial India into a workable script, had taken Guru Dutt saab and his singer-wife Geeta Dutt, along with Abrar saab, to see the play, which drew packed houses every week at Kolkata’s Rang Mahal theatre, to check out the young actor playing Bhootnath. “He liked my performance and invited me to dinner at the Grand Hotel. I had always assumed that Dutt was an abbreviation for Dutta and that Guruda was a Bengali. So, I was happily chatting with him in fluent Bangla till Surya Ladia, his distributorfriend who’d escorted me there, started speaking in Hindi. Frowning, I asked him if he was from Kolkata or a probashi Bengali who’d grown up outside the state. He laughed and admitted that he was a Konkani but had spent his growing up years in Kolkata, studied dance at Uday Shankar’s academy and his guru was Jhoola and Kismet director Gyan Mukherjee,” shares Biswajeetda, who, after being offered the role of
It’s another story that Biswajeetda regretfully turned down the offer, and peeved with
He was afraid Guru Dutt would be upset with him for turning down Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam, but while filming his debut Hindi film, Bees Saal Baad, Biswajeetda would stay with his producer, singer-composer Hemant Kumar, and Guru Dutt would often drop by his good friend Hemantda’s Khar residence, ‘Geetanjali’. “And never did he convey through word or gesture that my refusal had irked him, even during a music session of Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam with Hemantda. In fact, on occasions, I’ve been invited to his
All through these years of camaraderie, Biswajeetda was most impressed with the way Guru Dutt seamlessly made the transition from commercial romcoms and thrillers like Baazi, Jaal, Aar Paar, Mr & Mrs 55 and CID to classics like Pyaasa, Kagaz Ke Phool, Chaudvin Ka Chand and Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam, in which he played the lead by default. I recalled Abrar Alvi saab telling me that after shooting two reels of Pyaasa, his director-friend had suddenly gone to Dilip Kumar with the role of Vijay. “It was only when Dilip Kumar turned it down, that he returned to play the protagonist. Even for Kagaz Ke Phool, he had approached Chetan Anand, who had demanded as high a price as his brother
Biswajeetda, who believes Pyaasa was his best performance, admits that he had hoped he’d get another chance to work with Guru Dutt after he came to Mumbai. “Geetadi dropped by my place one day with Nazar, Mehboob Khan saab’s assistant director, and informed that she was producing a film which he was to direct. She asked me if I’d play the leading man. I agreed immediately without even a script narration. But a few days later, Guruda passed away and Geetadi never spoke of the film again,” he rues.
Guru Dutt was born on July 9, 1925, and 39 years later, he was found dead at his Peddar Road apartment. He was working in two outside films at the time—Picnic with Sadhana and K Asif’s Love And God opposite Nimmi—and his own production, Baharein Phir Bhi Aayengi with Mala Sinha and Tanuja. “I had gone to meet Guruda at his studio shortly before his death. When I enquired about him, the watchman told me he had just driven past me,” Biswajeetda flashbacks. “He would do his make-up in his own studio before going for the shooting of Love And God. In his Majnu costume and beard, I had not recognised him. Even after all these years, I remember Guruda for the gentleman he was, soft-spoken, with a sweet smile always playing on his lips. Just imagine all the films he would have made had death not snatched him away too soon.”