India Today - - LEISURE -

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.



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