'Guru Duttji was miscast in Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam'
Fifty years after it released in theatres, Guru Dutt's Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam continues to charm audiences.
The film has not only stood the test of time but continues to grow.
Directed by the renowned writer Abrar Alvi, Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam explores the layered relationship that develops between Chhoti Bahu, a neglected, cloistered housewife, and Bhootnath, her male confidante, against the backdrop of late 19th-century feudal Calcutta.
Film historian Dinesh Raheja's latest book -- Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam: The Original Screenplay co-authored with Jitendra Kothari -- seeks to archive the screenplay of this seminal film.
It also explores the behind the-scenes processes of creative filmmaking through interviews with the film's cast and crew and incorporates analytical essays from both authors that bring into focus Guru Dutt's preoccupation with the themes of loss, longing and platonic friendships, and delineate his enduring fascination for bygone eras.
We present here excerpts from an interview that Raheja and Kothari did for the book with actress Waheeda Rehman, one of the central characters in the film.
Courtesy: Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam: The Original Screenplay
Compilation, Translation, Essays & Interviews: Dinesh Raheja & Jitendra Kothari
Paperback 204 pages Price: Rs 595 Free Film DVD
Published by Om Books International
An initiative of Vinod Chopra Films Pvt Ltd
Image: Rehman and Meena Kumari in Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam
'Guru Duttji wanted to cast Shashi Kapoor as Bhootnath'
During your association with Guru Dutt, you saw him in the role of a director as well as an actor. Do you think Guru Dutt made a better filmmaker or actor?
I always considered him as a director, never an actor. Do you know he always considered other actors for his films first?
For Pyaasa he wanted to cast Dilip saab (Dilip Kumar); only when Dilip saab refused did Guru Duttji decide to do the role himself. For Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam, Guru Duttji wanted to cast Shashi Kapoor in the role of Bhootnath.
However, Guru Duttji wanted bulk dates from Shashiji because he had already built a huge set and had acquired Meena Kumari's dates. Shashiji couldn't spare the required dates even though he was still a newcomer.
What an opportunity Shashi Kapoor lost.
Image: Waheeda Rahman in Saheb Bibi Aur Ghulam
'Shashi Kapoor was appropriate to play the naive Bhootnath'
By a quirk of fate, Shashi Kapoor was paired opposite Meena Kumari soon thereafter in another film about an unusual relationship -- the Bimal Roy production, Benazir (1964). Biswajeet had once told us that he had also been approached for Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam.
Correct. Guru Duttji spoke to Biswajeet too.
One can only wonder what Shashi Kapoor and Biswajeet would have made of the role. Eventually, the role was essayed by Guru Dutt, and he seemed apt for it.
No, I did not think so. I felt Guru Duttji was miscast in Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam; he looked older than the role. Shashi Kapoor had an innocent face; he would have looked young and vulnerable.
He was appropriate to portray the naive Bhootnath who is fascinated by Bibi, played by Meena Kumari.
Image: Guru Dutt and Meena Kumari in Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam
'When I saw the complete film, I realised that I wouldn't have looked the part of Bibi'
By the year 1962, you had featured in several successful films. Did you have any qualms about playing a secondary role in Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam?
The moment I read the novel, I was clear that I wanted to play Bibi. When Guru Duttji refused, I asked, "Am I not a good actress? You think I am not capable of doing this role?" He explained to me that the problem lay elsewhere.
He pointed out, "You don't look like a woman. You look like a girl who will get excited at the prospect of going to a movie or a restaurant or on a holiday."
He asserted that the role of Chhoti Bahu demanded a woman who is craving for the love and attention of her husband.
I was not easily convinced. I complained that he was making excuses. An actor, I reasoned, can play any part at any age.
Since I was adamant and pleaded with them, Guru Duttji and [cinematographer] Murthy made me do a photo-session in which I was dressed up as Chhoti Bahu in a Bengali saree and with a round tika (dot) on the forehead. When Murthy looked at the final prints, he expressed his reservations: "Waheeda, Guru theek keh raha hai. Tum bachcha lagte ho" (Guru is right. You look like a child). I relented.
Subsequently, Guru Duttji entrusted the film's direction to Abrar Alvi. One day, I got a call from Abrar saab and he expressed a desire to meet me. I was surprised when he told me that he wanted to cast me in Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam because I knew that they had already decided on Meena Kumari.
I was secretly quite happy about the call -- I assumed that there must have been some glitch and they were asking me to portray Bibi's role.
However, Abrar Alvi quickly pointed out that he wanted me to play Jaba. I responded, "Fine, that's also an interesting character." I agreed, instantly.
When Guru Duttji came to know about this, he thought I had gone crazy. He soundly ticked me off on the phone, "You have become a big star. How can you play a secondary role to Meena Kumari?"
He emphasised that the film's title encompassed the names of Sahib (Rehman), Bibi (Meena Kumari) Aur Ghulam (Guru Dutt), and not that of my character, Jaba. He even forewarned me that my name would come after Meenaji's in the credits. I told him I was fine by it. I never had any hang-ups about playing a secondary role.
Looking back, I think Guru Duttji rightly convinced me that I wasn't the apt choice for Bibi's role. When I saw the complete film, I realised I wasn't old enough to play Chhoti Bahu; I wouldn't have looked the part of Bibi.
Image: Waheeda Rahman in Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam
'I kept pleading with them to incorporate a scene for me with Meena Kumari'
You did not share a single frame with Meena Kumari in the film.
I kept pleading with them to incorporate one scene but they refused, citing the fact that the novel did not have such a scene.
I said, "Come on. It will be cinematically interesting if Bhootnath gets tired of Jaba's questions and unspoken suspicions of Chhoti Bahu and says, 'Come, I will arrange a meeting.'"
Image: Waheeda Rehman