Guruduttji was sitting in a distributor’s office (in Hyderabad) when they heard a commotion outside. Guruduttji asked him if there was some trouble on the street and he was told the stars of a popular Telugu film were passing by and excited fans were making the commotion. The distributor then added: ‘A new girl has performed a song in the film. It has caused a sensation. When the stars go on to the stage, the audience demands to see this young girl. Her name is Waheeda Rehman.’ Guruduttji was surprised: ‘Waheeda Rehman? That’s a Muslim name. Does she speak Urdu?’ ‘I hear she also speaks Telugu and Tamil.’... That’s when Guruduttji told the distributor he would like to meet me because he was looking for new actors to cast in his next production. The distributor then called Mr Prasad to set up a meeting. Mr Prasad had not heard of Guruduttji. Very few people in the south had heard of him in the mid-fifties. I think there weren’t many film magazines at the time and in any case no one in my family read them, so we were unaware of his name. The distributor explained to Mr Prasad that his friend was a wellknown Bombay director and had made a number of successful films. Then Mr Prasad called my mother and told us that Guruduttji wanted to meet me. My mother and I made our way to the distributor’s office the next day. I think the meeting lasted about half an hour. Guruduttji hardly spoke. He asked us a few questions in Hindi: Such as where we were from. That was it.
We went back to the hotel where we were staying. When Mr Prasad asked about the meeting, my mother commented that Guruduttji said very little. Mr Prasad said some people were just made like that. We returned home to Madras a few days later.
He hadn’t seen the film. He had no idea what I looked like on camera. He heard my name and asked to meet me without having seen me at all. There was no reason why the distributor had to mention me in the first place. So how could I not believe it was destiny?
After our first meeting in Hyderabad, three months went by and then someone came to see us at our home in Madras. He said he was from Bombay. I think he was a film distributor. He said he had come on behalf of the director whom we had met in Hyderabad. Of course, by that time, we had even forgotten Guruduttji’s name, to which our visitor said: ‘Well, Guru Dutt has asked me to take you to Bombay. He wants to sign you.’ My mother was most surprised and decided to discuss the idea with her friends. They advised her to say Bismillah and go. She was very reluctant. Bombay was like a foreign country to us. As usual she asked Mr Prasad for his advice and he said: ‘Go, Mrs Rehman. There’s no harm if she works in Bombay, but remember she is not a slave. Don’t agree to all their demands. If you don’t agree to something, say it. If you don’t like living there, come back. Just don’t get intimidated.’ So the three of us—my mother, a family friend who was called
Mr Lingam and I—landed in Bombay at the end of 1955. We stayed at the Ritz Hotel in Churchgate. *** I t was finally agreed at the next meeting that I could keep my own name. They asked my mother to go ahead and sign the contract... as I was under eighteen. Just before she could put pen to paper, I said: ‘I’d like to add something to the contract.’ (Director) Raj Khosla was surprised: ‘Newcomers don’t usually make demands. Just sign.’ Guruduttji kept silent. Then I told them if I did not like any costumes, I would not wear them. Guruduttji sat up. Then he said in his quiet voice: ‘I don’t make films of that kind. Have you seen any of my films?’ ‘No.’ ‘All right. Mr & Mrs ‘55 is running in town. Go and see it. We’ll talk about the costumes later.’
We were given cinema tickets and we went to see Mr & Mrs ‘55. The following day we returned to the office. We said there was nothing wrong with the costumes... But I said I still wanted the clause about costumes added. Raj Khosla looked at Guruduttji and said: ‘This is amazing, Guru. You’re listening to this girl and not saying anything. The choice of costumes depends on the scene and not on the actress.’ I can’t believe I was so outspoken, but I insisted: ‘When I am older, I might decide to wear a swimsuit. I won’t now because I am very shy.’ Raj Khosla retorted: ‘If you’re so shy, why do you want to work in films?’ I said calmly: ‘I haven’t come here of my own accord. You called us.’ No decision was made. We were driven back to the Ritz Hotel. The next day we went back to the office. The clause about my costumes was added and my mother signed my three-year contract with Guru Dutt Films.
*** Everyone makes films that don’t work. His sister Lalli [the artist Lalitha Lajmi] told me once that Guruduttji suffered from depression. In the last years of his life he was very confused. We could all see that. He was unhappy. But no one realised just how depressed he was. He started a film called Raaz in which I starred opposite Sunil Dutt... I shot many good scenes, but Guruduttji shelved the film. When we asked why, he said: ‘ Nahin jam raha hai.’ [It isn't working.] Then he started Gauri with Geeta (his wife) who wanted to act. He shelved that too.
My husband suffered from depression as well and we didn’t realise it. He started losing interest in everything. He didn’t want to meet people and basically didn't feel like doing anything. In the same way, no one knew how Guruduttji was really feeling.
His death was a mystery—no one knew for sure whether it was a suicide or an accident—there was much curiosity. His death was such a shock to us all. He was only thirty-nine. He was young. The question everyone asked was: ‘Why did he have to die like that?’ None of my film colleagues have ever asked me personal question about our relationship. It was always other people and the press who were curious, and still are, almost sixty years later. I know we are public figures, but I strongly believe my private life should remain private. What ultimately matters and concerns the world is the work we leave behind.
(RIGHT) A SHOT FROM WAHEEDA REHMAN’S FIRST HINDI FILM C.I.D., WITH DEVANAND; (BELOW) WITH GURU
DUTT IN PYAASA