The idea that songs are central to Guru Dutt's cinema is well known. His legacy is unimaginable without the classic songs from his films. He also helped Hindi cinema learn how to shoot them, bringing all the resources of film to craft exquisite audio–visual experiences. Besides being an actor, writer, director and producer, Dutt was also a choreographer. On his birth anniversary, here's a list of his songs we love.
A simple scene. Just a girl with a guitar, serenading Dev Anand, belting out a musical number — and what a number it is: sung by Geeta Dutt, composed by SD Burman, with lyrics by Sahir Ludhianvi. These are personalities who would not only shape Hindi film music, but Guru Dutt's own life and work. This early Navketan noir is also early Dutt. You can see the flair with which he would shoot songs in the beautiful way he captures Geeta Bali's sweet face, while a shadowy Dev considers her suggestion to gamble away.
"Sun Sun Sun Sun Zaalima" works within the tightness of a single space – a fitting environment for the cat–and–mouse dynamic Shyama and Guru Dutt share in the song. The lyrics are a teasing rapid fire: 'Sun sun sun sun zaalima, dil se mila le dil mera, tujhko mere pyaar ki kasam," he says to which she petulantly replies, 'Jaa jaa jaa jaa bewafa, tu na kisi ka meet re, jhooth tere pyaar ki kasam.'
Shyama and Dutt embody the lyrics – one pushes while the other pulls, circling each other in quick steps before one of them breaks the ritual to stand a bit too close to the other. A recurring shot is taken from within a car, framing the new lovers in two separate windows before placing them together in one. Aar Paar is one of Dutt's lighter projects and it is delightful to see him carry his boyish charm. In the song, there is something inherently mischievous about his expressions and yet, he's never bursting with affection. In his collected but indulgent mannerisms, he's affording her the kind of attention I have never quite found the English equivalent of: he's manaa–oing her.
Can the first interaction between a sex worker and a potential customer be described as a meet–cute? If yes, then "Jaane Kya Tune Kahi", composed by S. D. Burman and sung by Geeta Dutt, is a prime example of it. The angsty poet Vijay sees Gulabo from under a footbridge. She's humming poetry that he has written. When he tries to inquire about it, she breaks into song, beckoning him, with flirtatious lyrics and eyes to follow her. The lilting rhythms and Waheeda Rehman's beauty, even richer in black and white, make this gorgeous song.
Geeta Dutt singing a song composed by S.D. Burman, with lyrics by Kaifi Azmi, picturised on Waheeda Rehman, directed by Guru Dutt. It looks like a deceptively simple scene. A man and a woman stand facing each other in a film studio. Sometimes they face each other, sometimes they move away as though they can't bear to look upon the other anymore. Between them is empty space while around them, in the penumbra, are carts, chairs and other remnants of past performances that stand as symbols of the film industry that brought these two people together and also reflect the emotional landscape of an estranged couple. She invariably finds the light, an opalescent beauty crowded by shadows. He slips deeper and deeper into darkness. Crystalline slants of light slice the dense, black reality apart to create spaces for memories and dreams. All the while, Geeta Dutt's silvery voice, with its sad sensuality, sings of time, love, longing and despair. There is not a detail in this iconic song from Kaagaz Ke Phool that isn't heartbreakingly perfect.
Though the film was directed by Abrar Alvi, the songs of Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam were helmed by Guru Dutt, a tussle of control whose stories are as famous as the film. In 'Bhawra Bada Nadan' — composed by Hemant Kumar to Shakeel Badayuni's lyrics and Asha Bhonsle's playful, almost child–like chirpy voice — listen to how she says 'naadaan', as though invoking all the innocence of the word in the way she stretches the second 'a' syllable — Waheeda Rehman vents poetically about how this man, like a bee, who flits around, would not look at her, the flower, even once. The man (Guru Dutt) is overhearing this, aghast at being called a bee full of the naïveté of a man who has never loved before. The whole song is light on its feet, with none of the self–doubt or pathos that comes with affection. (The song, initially directed by Abrar Alvi was re–shot by Guru Dutt because it was lacking the humour the song needed.) It's an entirely innocent conception of love, a playful plea to be seen by the beloved, performed with wide–eyed radiance and sweetness. Who loves like this anymore?
To see a woman think, write, and frame the man from her perspective is something even movies today have a difficult time doing. In a white sari, a little naughty, a little tired of being jilted, a little in love, Rehman's character is constantly being touched and played with by VK Murthy's swooping camera that keeps inching closer. The wind — that element that every love story makes ample use of — is employed here too, but in a context very different. To shuffle the pages she is writing in, and to allow Guru Dutt's character, who is entirely suspicious, one moment of softening.
Pyaasa appears twice in this list because, well, it's Pyaasa. Instead of "Yeh duniya agar mil bhi jaaye" or "Jaane woh kaise" – masterful in their choreography, heightened pathos, performance – here's a less talked about song from the movie. Dutt lies on a bed of grass in a city park and inspired, hums a melody. It's the opening scene. A probably afternoon ennui has been awakened by sights and sounds of nature. Dutt's face is so full of feeling, in tune with Rafi's voice, the utterance of each Sahir Ludhianvi word precise: 'Yeh hanste hue phool, Yeh mehka hua gulshan'. His admiration and gaze then shifts to a bee — a 'bhanwra' ('Yeh phoolon ka ras peeke, machalte hue bhanwre'). Like Dutt himself in that scene, a poet drunk on nature, the bee is heavy with nectar. But a man steps on it. Dutt's face turns sad. He has seen beauty, and then he has seen its destruction. The song foreshadows the events of Pyaasa, which is about the soul of an artist crushed by society.
Anupama Chopra, Rhea Candy, Deepanjana Pal, Prathyush Parasuraman and Sankhayan Ghosh contributed to this list