Just a few days before the Oscars, I watched “The Artist”, a movie that was much talked about. I was rather a little skeptical to watch it. However, a conversation with Bollywood enthusiast and a columnist urged me to finally book a ticket at a “not-so-good, not-so-bad” theatre in Pune. I wish I could have got to watch “The Artist” in Regal, Eros, Sterling, theatres where I have enjoyed most English classics. I had had enough of Apes, Spider-men, Lord of Rings, all sorts of aliens attacking our planet, and many other specially-abled creatures with high visual-sound effects. “The Artist” was a welcome change for my movie watching experience. Black-and-White and Silent, a courageous thing to do in the times of 3D-VFX etc. A wonderfully crafted movie at the able hands of writer-director Michel Hazanavicius, and effortlessly portrayed on screen by Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo. The movie is an exciting ride with classical imagery and impressive-inventive filmmaking techniques. It is packed with apt adroitness, euphonious background music, impressive acting with right coalescence of exactitude and melodramatic hyperbole. In its most entireties, “The Artist” is a work of perfection that B/W hue can be experimented with. I watched the movie once again yesterday. This time, I was transported to the golden era of our black & white movies, when our industry was still known as Indian Cinema and not Bollywood. While I am in no power to draw parallels between “The Artist” and our times of B/W cinema, watching “The Artist” for the second time echoed “Pyaasa” and “Kagaz Ke Phool” all the while; the themes differ though, While Michel’s creation has a comical-happy ending base, Guru Dutt movies were dark with tragic ending, but both the creations are equally iconic.
When I talk to some people I know about Guru Dutt movies, ridges of cynicism get etched on their forehead. They consider Dutt’s movies to be slow, melodramatic, and archaic much similar to the reputation that silent movies have. I have seen only few silent movies (including our very own “Raja Harishchandra”) and found them to be lissome and amusing contrary to the belief about silent movies. Silent movies focused more on acting skills as evidently referenced in Sunset Boulevard, “We didn’t need dialogues, We have faces”. Filmmaking essentially is a means of communication, expressive means of narration using gestures and body language, when talkies was yet to be defined or rather technique to capture sound was to be devised. Cinema-men’s predicament could have been similar; they had ideas but no means (technically) to convey it. And then facial expressions, body movements, use of eyes was the resort to portray emotions on screen, which appealed to everyone universally, a language could still have been a barrier but emotions are same across the world – an upper curve of lips meant smile and downward meant a frown. Chaplin used this means effectively and to the optimum level, which makes him undisputed king of silent movies.
Guru Dutt has such a widespread that he could have effortlessly made silent movies had he been in those times and he could have masterminded an equally picturesque “The Artist” in today’s times. This 84th Academy Award winning film shot in black-and-white, is a pleasing experimentation of lights and shadows, of which our own Guru Dutt has been a master. Guru Dutt, a perfectionist with extraordinary vision. Like “The Artist” where language is no barrier to understand, Dutt’s movies too appealed universally and are a subject of research studies till date. I have watched “Pyaasa” over 50 times and each time I have found something new in it. For e.g. when I watched “Pyaasa” recently, I noticed when Dutt stands at the doorway with a halo-like effect behind him, and his hands stretched holding the door frame, it almost resembles like Jesus on the cross; wherein to my understanding, it was like Vijay (the poet in “Pyaasa”) had been crucified by the immoral & selfish attitude of the society, and possibly enlightening the people that what you seek is not the ultimate thing at all through his ‘yeh duniya agar mil bhi jaye toh kya hai’. Like in “The Artist”, the reel hero (Valentin) and the real hero (director Michel Hazanavicius), concentrate on the form of art than the glamour, Guru Dutt too focused on the artistry and not on the success that is made of few awards or bunch of flowers, may be just like the “Kagaz Ke Phool”. Michel could have easily used the latest technology and effects to make a movie. But perhaps he wasn’t just making a movie, he was trying to make a difference. Much like what Guru Dutt tried to do at that time, when in the post-independence era Satyajit Raj was epitomizing poverty, Raj Kapoor was giving life to street characters of Mumbai, Bimal Roy was marching ahead with social issues, Mehboob Khan was glorifying romance-melodrama. And there was this Guru Dutt trying to differ by portraying a different point-of-view, nihilistic story telling. Dutt focused mostly on the hypocrisy of the society, the pseudo-morals they followed, and the exploitation of the underprivileged. The poise of “The Artist” lies in the fact that though watching a silent, black-and-white movie, you are in no way conditioned to think that it is an old-fashioned ancient movie. Dutt’s movies had a similar virtuosity that effortlessly bestrode the demarcation between socio-contextual cinema and a form of prevalent movie without burdening the audience.
Dutt was gifted with great musical sense and he was a trained dancer too, which made his movies musically pleasing and aesthetic. He understood the depth of acting which made him a successful director who could make his actors emote naturally. Guru Dutt, a master of camera tactics, along with V. K. Murthy (the best cinematographer Indian Cinema has ever had), captured the best frames, they knew well when to take a long shot and when to capture the glitter in the eye (see Waheeda Rehman in Jaane Kya Tuney Kahi in “Pyaasa”).
“The Artist” a great collaborative effort by Michel Hazanavicius (writer-director), Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo (main leads), Ludovic Bource (music), Guillaume Schiffman (cinematographer), went on to sweep the Academy Awards. Well, a kind of magic that Guru Dutt, V K Murthy, Waheeda Rehman, Abrar Alvi, S D Burman, Sahir Ludhiyanvi created 50 years ago and they could have surely done that today as well with striking screenplay, particularized cinematography, and mellifluous dialogues. His movies went to become cult classics, with “Pyaasa” and “Kagaz Ke Phool” enjoying the status of finest films ever made with a mention in the prestigious Time. Unfortunately, Guru Dutt could not live so long to see his days of glory, and witness the resonating impact his movies have on hearts & minds of many across the world, they have cult following in Germany, and France, from where comes “The Artist”.