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'Guru Dutt's death was a mystery -- no one knew for sure whether it was a suicide or an accident'

Last updated on: April 21, 2014 18:42 IST

'Guru Dutt's death was a mystery -- no one knew for sure whether it was a suicide or an accident'

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Waheeda Rehman and Nasreen Munni Kabir

Nasreen Munni Kabir: The Berlin Film Festival was held between 21 June and 2 July 1963. So that means you did not meet him for a whole year, and then you heard he had passed away in October 1964. Is that right?

Waheeda Rehman: Yes. The last time I saw him must have been in Berlin. We did not work together after Sahib Bibi...

Waheeda Rehman on Guru Dutt, and the last time they worked together.

Waheeda Rehman rarely gives interviews.

But we get a wonderful peek into the legend's life in Nasreen Munni Kabir's latest book, Conversations with Waheeda Rehman.

A fascinating excerpt from a fascinating book:

Nasreen Munni Kabir: Pyaasa and Sahib Bibi... created a world that felt authentic -- as a viewer, you could almost imagine living among the people you were watching.

Now this might be an awkward question, but who actually directed Sahib Bibi...? Was it Abrar Alvi or Guru Dutt? Is it something you can talk about?

Waheeda Rehman: It's unfair to discuss it since Abrar is no more. I know Guru Duttji did not always come on the sets. He would stay upstairs in his office at Natraj Studios. But he did come down to the set, if Abrar needed him.

When Sahib Bibi... was being cast, I wanted to do Chhoti Bahu's role, but Meena Kumari had been cast. So I didn't think I would be part of the film.

Then Abrar came over and told me he was going to direct it. It was news to me. He asked me to do Jabba's role. I was reminded of Guru Duttji's advice not to play the secondary heroine. I was quite popular by then and so I refused. But Abrar insisted.

Guru Duttji called me later and asked if I had agreed to do the film.

He said: 'Rehman has the role of the Sahib, Meenaji is the Bibi and I play the Ghulam. Your role isn't the lead role.'

I told him I agreed to play Jabba since I didn't want people to think I had refused because Abrar Alvi was directing the film.

I do recall telling Abrarsaab once that I didn't understand what he wanted me to do in some scene, and said he wasn't explaining it to me clearly. I did not complain to Guru Duttji, but I think (V K) Murthy (Guru Dutt's cinematographer) went and told him that I was finding it difficult.

Excerpted from Conversations with Waheeda Rehman, by Nasreen Munni Kabir, Penguin Books India, with the publisher's permission, Rs 499.

Buy the book here

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Image: Waheeda Rehman on the cover of Conversations with Waheeda Rehman.


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'Is it right for someone to get so disheartened by one flop?'

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Waheeda Rehman and Nasreen Munni Kabir

Nasreen Munni Kabir: What about the songs in the film? Who directed them?

Waheeda Rehman: We shot the song Bhanwaraa Badaa Nadaan Haye and then the whole unit saw the rushes. Abrarsaab wasn't there that day.

I felt the shot taking was dull. So we told Guru Duttji it was all right if he didn't want to direct the scenes, but he had to do the songs. He then spoke to Abrar and reshot the song brilliantly. He directed all the songs in Sahib Bibi...

Nasreen Munni Kabir: I wonder why Guru Dutt decided not to sign any film as director after Kaagaz Ke Phool. Do you think it was because the film had flopped?

Waheeda Rehman: It is very strange. He never told me he didn't want to direct any more. You mean he never directed again? What was his last film?

Nasreen Munni Kabir: Baharen Phir Bhi Aayengi. Shahid Lateef directed it. The last film Guru Dutt signed was Kaagaz Ke Phool.

Waheeda Rehman:Is it right for someone to get so disheartened by one flop? Everyone makes films that don't work.

His sister Lalli (the artist Lalitha Lajmi) told me once that Guru Duttji 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.

His chief assistant Niranjan was directing it. The story was something on the lines of Woh Kaun Thi? Rehmansaab and I shot many good scenes, but Guru Duttji 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, the singer Geeta Dutt, who wanted to act. He shelved that too.

Excerpted from Conversations with Waheeda Rehman, by Nasreen Munni Kabir, Penguin Books India, with the publisher's permission, Rs 499.

Buy the book here

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Image: Waheeda Rehman
Photographs: Photograph courtesy: Arun Dutt

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'None of my colleagues have ever asked me questions about our relationship'

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Waheeda Rehman and Nasreen Munni Kabir

Nasreen Munni Kabir: Sadly, none of the footage of the unfinished films exist. Maybe the failure of Kaagaz Ke Phool shook Guru Dutt's confidence and perhaps unnerved him.

Waheeda Rehman: 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 Guru Duttji was really feeling.

His brother Atmaram was not in India at the time. He was very fond of his sister Lalli, and very close to his mother, but I don't know whether he talked to them about his feelings.

Nasreen Munni Kabir: There continues to be much speculation about your relationship with him. Everyone assumed that you were in love with each other. Did that cause a scandal when you were making films with him?

Waheeda Rehman: Because 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 39. 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 questions about our relationship. It was always other people and the press who were curious, and still are, almost 60 years later.

I know we're 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.

Excerpted from Conversations with Waheeda Rehman, by Nasreen Munni Kabir, Penguin Books India, with the publisher's permission, Rs 499.

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Image: Waheeda Rehman and Guru Dutt in Pyaasa.
Photographs: Photograph courtesy: Arun Dutt

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'I knew he had tried to commit suicide before, but it was still a terrible shock'

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Waheeda Rehman and Nasreen Munni Kabir

Nasreen Munni Kabir: Maybe it was because he filmed you in such a romantic and loving light that stirred this curiosity -- which just doesn't seem to go away.

Waheeda Rehman: It was true of the way he filmed others too. Don't you agree with me that Meena Kumari has never looked as beautiful as she did in Sahib Bibi...?

You must know all directors want their leading lady to look special. I think a director has to be a little in love with his leading actress so he will project her as the most beautiful woman in the world. Considering the kind of romantic stories we make, this is a must.

Guru Duttji was good to me and to many people, including Sadiqsaab and Johnny Walker, whom he introduced to films. In fact, he was sensitive to everyone's needs. He helped me in many ways and guided my career. He was caring and protective.

But in truth, he looked out for everyone.

Nasreen Munni Kabir: Do you remember when you worked with Guru Dutt for the last time?

Waheeda Rehman: It must have been in 1961 or 1962. I don't remember the exact date -- but it was during the filming of the final scene in Sahib Bibi.... Jabba is waiting for Bhoothnath in a carriage in the haveli ruins. That was the last time we worked together. He never offered me another role after Sahib Bibi...

I was in Madras when Guru Duttji passed away.

I had gone there for a charity cricket match with a group of stars. Dilipsaab (Kumar) was there too. The actress Shammi Rabadi, who is a close friend of mine, came and told me she had some very bad news.

She said: 'Guru Dutt is no more.'

Oh my God, I was completely stunned.

I knew he had tried to commit suicide before, but it was still a terrible shock.

I immediately flew back to Bombay. This was on 10 October, 1964. There were many people at the funeral, including Raj Kapoor and Dev Anand. It was a very sad day.

Excerpted from Conversations with Waheeda Rehman, by Nasreen Munni Kabir, Penguin Books India, with the publisher's permission, Rs 499.

Buy the book here

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Image: Celebrated artist and set designer M R Achrekar painted this portrait of Waheeda Rehman in the early 1960. Poonam Apartments, Bombay
Photographs: Photograph courtesy: Waheeda Rehman

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'No one liked Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam in Berlin'

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Waheeda Rehman and Nasreen Munni Kabir

Nasreen Munni Kabir: Do you recall when you last saw him? Or spoke to him?

Waheeda Rehman: Abrar, my sister Sayeeda and I had gone to the Berlin Film Festival in June 1963 where Sahib Bibi... was screened. Guru Duttji joined us there.

No one liked the film in Berlin. They found it slow, despite the fact that a shorter version was screened there on the evening of 27 June.

The festival director asked me: 'If Chhoti Bahu is so unhappy with her husband, why doesn't she go away with Bhoothnath?' (laughs)

I said: 'It doesn't happen like that in our culture.'

Their culture is totally different.

I tried explaining why the aristocrats of that time could do no such thing. In fact, when Chhoti Bahu steps out of the house for the first time, she is murdered for having broken with tradition.

Besides, Chhoti Bahu is not in love with Bhoothnath and neither does he love her -- it is her sadness and beauty that fascinate him.

Guru Duttji was present at the screening, but he left Berlin the following day.

Nasreen Munni Kabir: The Berlin Film Festival was held between 21 June and 2 July 1963. So that means you did not meet him for a whole year, and then you heard he had passed away in October 1964. Is that right?

Waheeda Rehman: Yes. The last time I saw him must have been in Berlin. We did not work together after Sahib Bibi...

Losing someone is always upsetting. Even though Yash Chopra was 80, his death was a shock to me. I met Yashji at Amitabh Bachchan's 70th birthday party about 10 days before Yashji passed away.

He hugged me and said he was feeling tired and wanted to go home. His wife, Pamela, thought they should stay at the party a little longer.

I think Yashji was admitted to the hospital a few days later.

The next thing I heard was that he had passed away. I was very sad.

So you can imagine what a shock Guru Duttji's death was for his family, for me and for all the people who worked closely with him.

We must, however, think of the amazing respect he has in the world today. No other Indian director after Satyajit Ray has, I believe, that kind of international recognition and admiration.

Excerpted from Conversations with Waheeda Rehman, by Nasreen Munni Kabir, Penguin Books India, with the publisher's permission, Rs 499.

Buy the book here

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Image: Waheeda Rehman on the sets of Bees Saal Baad in Panhala, 1962.
Photographs: Photograph courtesy: Waheeda Rehman

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'I am lucky to have worked in Guru Dutt's films'

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Waheeda Rehman and Nasreen Munni Kabir

Nasreen Munni Kabir: That is true. It is ironic that Guru Dutt's fame spread after his death -- something he predicted in Pyaasa as being the fate of some artists. But few Indian film-makers have as enduring a power as he has.

I also believe if popular Indian cinema had been better known in the West in the 1950s, Guru Dutt would have most certainly been counted among world cinema's finest directors. He had such a singular voice and vision.

Waheeda Rehman: I am lucky to have worked in his films. I don't believe they will ever be forgotten.

Nasreen Munni Kabir: You have contributed to many classics and I can imagine it is satisfying to have such a substantial legacy. I am not sure how many Indian actors will leave behind as many memorable films. I'd like to ask you about another important film in your career -- Mujhe Jeene Do. Set in the Chambal Valley of Madhya Pradesh, this tale about a dacoit and a dancer was among the highest-earning films in 1963.

What made Sunil Dutt decide to produce a dacoit story?

Waheeda Rehman: From the early 1960s, Vinoba Bhave and Jayaprakash Narayan encouraged the Chambal River Valley dacoits to surrender.

It was around the same time that the story of dacoits became a popular subject in Hindi cinema. The trend started in 1960 with Raj Kapoor's Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai.

In 1961 came Gunga Jumna with Dilipsaab and in 1963 Sunil Dutt released Mujhe Jeene Do, directed by Moni Bhattacharjee who had worked as Bimal Roy's assistant on the classic films Do Bigha Zamin and Madhumati.

You could say even Sholay was about a dacoit, Gabbar Singh. And Sunil Dutt himself had played a good son turned dacoit in Mother India.

When we were shooting Mujhe Jeene Do, Sunilji told me about an incident that took place during the making of Mother India. He had to play an emotional scene and, to get the emotion right, Mehboobsaab asked him to lie face down on the ground.

He then stood on Sunilji's back and twisted his arm. When he screamed in pain, Mehboobsaab said: 'I want you to cry out just like that in the shot!

I told Sunilji I hoped he had no intention of doing that to me. (We laughed)

Excerpted from Conversations with Waheeda Rehman, by Nasreen Munni Kabir, Penguin Books India, with the publisher's permission, Rs 499.

Buy the book here

Please click Next to see more...


Image: Zahida, Nargis, Amitabh Bachchan, Waheeda Rehman, Sunil Dutt, Vinod Khanna, Amrish Puri and Sukhdev during the Rehma Aur Shera shoot in Rajasthan, 1971.
Photographs: Photograph courtesy: Waheeda Rehman

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'We had police protection while we were shooting Mujhe Jeene Do'

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Waheeda Rehman and Nasreen Munni Kabir

Nasreen Munni Kabir: I read an article by Deepak Mahan in which he interviewed several former outlaws who believed Mujhe Jeene Do had the most authentic depiction of dacoit life while they felt that films like Sholay were glamorised figments of imagination that bore no connection to reality.

Waheeda Rehman: Sunil Dutt's intention was to show the reality of dacoits, and that was the interesting thing about the film -- 85 percent of the story was based on real-life incidents, including those involving the notorious daaku Maan Singh.

We had police protection while we were shooting the film in the ravines of Bhind-Morena.

I remember hearing about a woman who had been kidnapped and who later became a dacoit.

One of her hands had been cut off and so she had to fire her gun with one hand. I have forgotten her name, but it is a true story.

Her daughter came to see me during the filming of Mujhe Jeene Do and, when she saw our costumes, she said: "My mother never wore a ghagra-choli, she wore pants."

Excerpted from Conversations with Waheeda Rehman, by Nasreen Munni Kabir, Penguin Books India, with the publisher's permission, Rs 499.

Buy the book here


Image: Waheeda Rehman on the sets of Guide, 1964
Photographs: Photograph courtesy: Waheeda Rehman

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