Guru Dutt’s tragically short but celebrated career resulted in not just some of the greatest films of Indian cinema, but also some of its most enduring and iconic posters. In this Posterphilia column, we take a look at the posters for six of his most significant films.
First up, we have the noir comedy, Aar Paar (1954) starring Guru Dutt, Shyama, Shakila and Johnny Walker. The poster with its desaturated grey-brown tones has a distinctly noir thriller feel – the lead couple look like they’re on the run, and Shakila resembles a menacing villain – though in a curious touch, both actresses are adorned with bindis, which appears to be artistic license.
The film booklet cover uses a photorealistic version of the same image, and we see Shyama in red lipstick and overalls, minus the bindi. An alternate (perhaps more ‘commercial’) poster throws in a bit of everything – a love triangle, the lead actress in a pose designed to highlight her voluptuousness and Johnny Walker thrown in for good measure – against an orange backdrop. Both posters feature Shakila with a cigarette, clearly marking her as the femme-fatale in this story.
Next up we have the Guru Dutt’s zany romantic comedy Mr and Mrs 55 (1955), where he starred opposite the luminous Madhubala. The first poster has a cheeky, flirty vibe – very reminiscent of Hollywood rom-coms, with the hero in pursuit of the haughty heroine.
Another poster however, uses the same visual but also flips the equation with a mirror image of Madhubala at Guru Dutt’s feet, though here, she seems to be pleading with her lover to not leave her, rather than pursuing him. While the role-reversal imagery is exaggerated for effect, it does follow the film’s taming-the-shrew narrative and its heroine’s transformation and ultimate rejection of anarchic ‘western’ feminism in favour of ‘traditional Indian’ values. Like in the film’s climax, the western outfit makes way for a saree, to go with this more sanskaari and submissive avatar.
We also have a photographic variant of this poster with a more symmetrical layout. Lastly, the publicity booklet cover features Madhubala along with a collage of newspaper headlines announcing a ‘Divorce bill’ in the Lok Sabha, The film opens with the news of this very bill being passed- a thinly veiled reference to the Hindu Code Bill, which became the Hindu Marriage Act in 1955.
Next, we have the actor-filmmaker’s two tragic masterpieces – Pyaasa (1957), widely regarded as his greatest film and Kaagaz Ke Phool (1959), which was a massive commercial failure when it released but gained classic status in the years to come. Both feature Waheeda Rehman and Guru Dutt in now-iconographic images that radiate with passion, pathos and old-world romance.
The main poster for Chaudhvin Ka Chand (1960) – directed by Mohammed Sadiq – features yet another indelible image – that of a small Guru Dutt in silhouette atop an old building looking up at Waheeda Rehman’s face in the sky – quite literally, the titular chand. We also get a sense of the film’s milieu with a glimpse of Lucknow’s splendid architecture.
Finally, we come to Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam (1962), directed by Abrar Alvi. The film’s poster is in two halves depicting the two main relationships driving the narrative – and this time it’s Meena Kumari who plays the film’s central tragic figure. The top half shows Chhoti Bahu (Meena Kumari) with her husband (Rehman) – and below, we see her descent into depression and alcoholism, as her friend and confidante Bhoothnath (Guru Dutt) looks on helplessly. Much like artist Manohar’s posters for Pyaasa and Kaagaz Ke Phool, this also includes lyrics of one of the film’s most famous songs.