guru-dutt-geeta-dutt

Guru Dutt and Geeta Dutt view the city of Rome from a hill-top. From the Middle East both went on to London.

Even in boyhood the wanderlust was in me. Lured by the fascination of far-off places, I longed to be a gypsy. But it was only during my schooldays that I was able to travel to many places in India.

When I joined films the wanderer in me was put into solitary confinement and the door of my “prison” was opened only after the release of my film “Pyaasa”. Never before had I worked so hard on a film. Tired in body and mind, I wanted a rest—a holiday and a change of surroundings. It was a surprise for me when Geeta, my wife, who is an inveterate stay-at-home, heartily agreed with me. We decided to go abroad on a six-week holiday with our friend, Distributor K. K. Kapoor, and his charming wife.

Teheran, the garden apital of Iran, was the first city in our itinerary. I have always been fascinated by the land of Omar Khayyam and Hafiz and in the plane I remembered the lines of the Persian poet, Abdul Rehman Jami:

“In the morning when the Raven of Night had flown away

“The Bird of Dawn began to sing,

“The Nightingales warbled their enchanting notes,

“And rent the thin veils of the Rosebud and the Rose.

“At this time Zulaykha was sunk in pleasing slumber,

“Her damsels touched her feet with their faces,

“Then she removed the veil from her cheek.

“Like a tulip besprinkled with dew,

“She opened her eyes, yet dim with sleep,

“From the border of her mantle the sun and moon arose.”

We prepared ourselves to see veiled damsels, roses along river banks, and gardens in bloom. But in Teheran, we saw none of them. Every man and woman was clad in European dress. I asked one of the officials at the aerodrome whether we were really in Teheran. We were, he said. But it was not the Teheran of the Persian poets. There is nothing of the Orient in Teheran. In the costumes of its people, it is in no way different from Marseilles or Boston.

From the aerodrome the taxi-driver shot of at seventy miles an hour. I could not explain my anxiety to him. He knew only Persian and French and I did not know either. I asked him to slow down, but he merely laughed.

We went to a comfortable, modern hotel, completely Western in style. The only thing Oriental about it was its interior decoration.

The people of Teheran are hospitable, polite and courteous. They hold our Prime Minister and our country in high esteem.

In the evening we went out with some Indian friends who have settled in Teheran as traders. One of the first things we saw was a poster of the film “Dhoon” which stars Raj Kapoor and Nargis. I came to know that films starring Raj Kapoor are very popular in Iran.

I was told his films are popular for two reasons. Firstly, although they do not understand the language, the Iranians enjoy Raj Kapoor’s comic interludes, which he makes expressive with his gestures. Secondly, they find Indian film music utterly delightful. When Raj Kapoor’s pictures became popular in Iran a few unscrupulous Indian distributors sent some old films of poor quality there. But they learnt their lesson soon enough. They failed in their ventures.

I wanted to see a film studio and went looking for one, but there wasn’t a single studio worth the name. One studio consisted of a couple of sound-rooms where they dub foreign, mostly Egyptian, films in Persian. They have no professional actors in Iran. But most of the handsome men and beautiful women I saw seemed to be good star material. They have a natural grace and charm. I wondered why Hollywood did not make use of this abundant material.

Iran is also a country of beautiful music and every Iranian is a lover of music. Here is a big market for our musical extravaganzas. But experience has shown that such musical dramas must have good stories in them.

We also visited the Shah’s Old Palace. In the middle of one of its large halls once stood the famous Peacock Throne of Shahjehan. The Palace is a treasure-house of the arts and crafts of the Orient.

When we left Teheran I wondered if Iran had not lost her ancient soul.

 

The more I see of other countries the more I love my own - Guru Dutt.

Our next stop was at Beirut, the capital of Lebanon. It has a beautiful harbor and is known as the Paris of the Middle East. There are luxurious hotels, gay night-clubs and beauty parlors. In this city Mehboob Productions’ “Aan” had an uninterrupted run of several weeks and opened a new market for Indian films. Beirut is the center of music, drama and the cultural life of the Arab world and the proper place to judge the film tastes of the people of that part of the world.

One of my objects in breaking journey at Beirut was to meet the famous composer, Abdul Wahab. From Morocco to Baghdad, his name is a household word. It is said that not a single song composed by him has failed to be a hit. His records sell by the million. The Egyptian maestro does not “look a musician.” But, when he talks, you feel even his speech has Taal in it.

I asked him to write the music for one of my forthcoming films, which I propose to make in Arabic and Hindi. In order to prove my bonafides I said I would show him a few reel of my pictures, which I had taken along. But it was not necessary. Abdul Wahab said: “Your manners have convinced me that you are an artist. I will write the music for your film.”

Our stay in the Middle East was coming to an end, and my thoughts centered round the vast potentialities of this little-exploited market for our films. In the countries of the Middle East the prestige of India as a nation and of Prime Minister Nehru as a statesman is very high. Indian music, specially film music, is very popular.

Before Independence there was no market here for Indian films. Now it is an important market. It is estimated that a good Indian film can earn several lakhs of rupees in the Middle East. In exceptional cases like “Aan”, the figures can be even higher.

It is not merely the Indian settlers in those countries who enjoy our films. The entire Arab world, where French and English films have long enjoyed a virtual monopoly, is keen on importing good Indian ‘films.

A major problem is caused by the severe restrictions prevailing in several countries on the import of foreign films and on the remittance of earnings from them. Perhaps India is the only country where restrictions on the import of films and remittances of their earnings are minor in character. Only with Government assistance can these difficulties be overcome. Wherever possible, trade agreements should be entered into regarding the mutual exchange of films. Customs regulations should be simplified so that films can be exported and imported freely, and there should be no time limit for the re-import of films without duty.

Apart from proper publicity for our films in a potential market, it would be of immense value to send out a few top stars to make personal appearances on the stage when our films are exhibited there. The great popularity of Raj Kapoor’s films in Iran perhaps has much to do with the personal appearance of Raj in that country.

We said goodbye to the Middle East and West Asia and were flying over the Mediterranean. An Italian, an engineer by profession, was sitting next to me in the plane. The American air hostess, who looked as curvaceous as Marilyn Munroe, brought us tea. The tea powder was in a sachet which had to be dipped in a pot of hot water. The Italian thought this procedure most funny. He said, “These Americans have their own way in everything—even in making tea.”

I wondered why the Italian was so critical about Americans. I learnt the reason when I arrived in Rome.

In Rome I visited the famous Cinecitta Studios. It is a huge establishment, bigger than a dozen Bombay studios put together. I walked through its vast gardens and stages. Everything seemed to be deserted. Then I came to a corner where a unit was shooting an outdoor sequence. Conditions on the set were the same as those in Indian studios. The pace of work was slow. Dialogue is written and rehearsed on the set as casually as it is in our own studios. The devices, sets, decor and techniques are similar to those we have in India.

The Italian film industry is in the grip of a crisis. Several big-budget productions have not been financially as successful as was anticipated. The Americans, who launched co- productions, ousted several Italian film makers from business. Talented Italian actors have been lured to Hollywood, where they are paid fabulous wages which the Italians cannot afford. As a result there are no front-rank stars left in Italy today. The average Italian blames the Americans for all his misfortunes. I understood why the Italian engineer in the plane was so bitter about Americans.

Arriving in Paris, we went sight-seeing. Geeta was mobbed everywhere. People gathered round her not so much to admire her multicolored sari or her features, but for the excitement they got from anything unusual. We visited the theatre, art galleries, shopping centers and night-clubs. Everywhere people showed the same excitement.

In Paris I felt that the more I see of other countries the more I love my own. In London I felt more at home than anywhere else during the entire journey. A musical function was organized by the Asian Film Society and Geeta was the star of the evening. There were many English and Continental guests. Although they did not understand the language, they seemed to enjoy Geeta’s singing. Music has no geographical frontiers.

There was further evidence of the appreciation of our film music when my film “Pyaasa” was shown to a mixed audience of Europeans and Indians. This information may come as a surprise to many highbrows in our country who frown upon our film music and are critical about the number of songs and dances in our pictures. They wonder why film songs are so popular with our masses. They would wonder all the more if they saw how foreign audiences enjoy our film music.

On our journey back I met a genial Norwegian in the plane. He pointed to Geeta and Mrs. Kapoor and asked me, “Are both of them your wives?”

When I told him that only Geeta was my wife, he apologized and said, “I believe, in India a man can marry as many wives as he likes.”

I introduced him to Geeta and Mrs. Kapoor and told him that no Indian can now have more than one wife at a time.

This simple incident goes to show that our Government does not pay sufficient attention to publicizing present-day conditions in India abroad. In every country the film is regarded as a powerful medium of publicity. Not so in India.

Our Government should help the Indian film industry to establish itself in the world market. We import a large number of American films every year. Government should enter into trade pacts with the U.S.A. and the countries of Western Europe, so that the import and export of films may be conducted strictly on a barter basis. This step alone can make the world market accessible to the Indian film industry, which is the third largest in the world.

It was an enjoyable holiday.