Sunday, November 22, 2009

A Date with a Cinematic Genius

Abrar Alvi, close confidante and friend to Guru Dutt, died last week. And with him, perhaps died an era in what was thankfully still not called Bollywood (implying that there was still a desire to create something new rather than ape Hollywood). Thankfully Sathya Saran was able to distil successfully the essence of this man and present it in a very entertaining and insightful book over a year back, thus ensuring that the contribution of this genius and his knowledge of an era in filmdom which we all seem to take for granted today, would not be forgot. That he would not be merely remembered as a side kick of Guru Dutt, but a creative genius who stood his own ground even against Guru Dutt. Here’s a review on the book I had written that was published in the March, 2009 issue of DNA Me.

A Date with a Cinematic Genius

Satyen K. Bordoloi reads 'Ten Years With Guru Dutt: Abrar Alvi's Journey' and recommends the book for everyone, lovers of cinema and otherwise.

The Cover of the book

Guru Dutt was without doubt one of the most creative directors in the history of World Cinema. His 'Pyaasa' has left audiences thirsting for more, the smell from his 'Kaagaz Ke Phool' has intoxicated cineastes and viewers have been the slave in his 'Sahib, Bibi Aur Gulam'. However, what audiences do not know is that Guru Dutt had a partner in crime, a creative 'sidekick' who though largely responsible for the success of his films, artistic and commercial, has largely been forgotten both by the film fraternity and the general audiences. The person is Abrar Alvi.

The writer of this book read an article about Abrar and took it upon herself to tell his story, wondering if she could correct this injustice. Once you are through with the book, you'll realise, she manages to do much more.

Abrar Alvi had a very nondescript beginning in the film industry: driver and escort to Guru Dutt's producer on the set of the film 'Baaz'. However, his sharp sense of cinematic observation and fearless way of expression, thanks to his work in theatre as a collegian, caught the attention of Guru Dutt who hired him. It was only a matter of time that he began writing dialogues, going against the cinematic trends of the times, and later wrote stories for Guru Dutt Films.

Guru Dutt and Abrar Alvi

It was his relationship with a streetwalker named Gulabo that became the genesis for the masterpiece 'Pyaasa' and created the unforgettable character of the same name, essayed marvellously by Waheeda Rehman. Also, major credit (besides a buffalo) also goes to Alvi for discovering Waheeda Rehman.

For 10 years (until Dutt's untimely death) Alvi remained Guru Dutt's closet friend and associate. It is hence without surprise that in the book he offers a fascinating ringside view of Indian commercial cinema and its creation. That he also manages to take you inside the head of Guru Dutt and the creative urges that drove this melancholic genius, is the cream over the milk.

Like a good film, the book exercises sufficient tension over its readers and glues their attention by going back and fourth in time. Where the writer scores an ace however, is her restraint. It is obvious to anticipate a universe of ideas and information from a person like Abrar Alvi. But the writer does not loose the plot in offering fascinating insights into the working of the Indian film industry, without indulging in vanity or patronising anyone, so disgustingly common to commercial cinema and its practitioners across the world.

The book often makes for a funny, but fascinating reading. An example is of how, according to Abrar, a buffalo helped discover Waheeda Rehman. On their way to Hyderabad, the car Abrar and Dutt was travelling on was hit by a buffalo. With three days to kill before it came back from the mechanic, they went to visit a distributor. Here, they saw a new Telugu starlet who had become a dancing sensation, walk into a office opposite theirs. They asked to see her, only to feel uninspired by this first meeting. It would however be much later, when looking for a girl to dance and seduce their hero in the film 'CID' that they would remember Waheeda and call for her. The rest as the cliché goes, is her-story. 

The Writer - Sathya Saran

Throughout history, mankind has been fascinated by the sources of creative inspiration. Whereas poets, writers, painters and musicians are famed for creating alone, filmmaking is unique for its teamwork. What are the nuts and bolts of creating cinematic visuals that haunt us for life. By bringing the story of Abrar Alvi, and through him Guru Dutt's most productive years, this book adeptly answers these and many more questions. The time it takes to read the book is like going on a date with the genius, only from beyond his grave. And it is a date that is sure to leave you 'Pyaasa' for more.


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