The director and actor Guru Dutt (1925–64), who worked in Bombay with scriptwriters and lyricists who belonged to the world of the mushaira, came to know and represent this North Indian ethos well. Dutt wasn’t North Indian himself: he was born in Bangalore, in South India, but grew up partly in Calcutta in the east, and then lived in Bombay in the west, where he became successful in popular Hindi cinema (which, in the seventies, would come to be called Bollywood). He was an exceptional artist; the foremost among a handful of directors who would bring to the commercial Bombay movie a luminosity of imagery and specific aesthetic preoccupations with the cinematic language: they either employed, or themselves were, terrific editors and cinematographers. Dutt began exuberantly as a filmmaker; his early films are comedies. But “thereof in the end [came] despondency and madness.” His last two films as a director, Pyaasa (The Thirsty One), released in 1957, and Kagaz ke phool (Paper Flowers), which fared dreadfully at the box office in 1959, are at once extraordinarily beautiful and utterly disillusioned with success, with the ethos I’ve just described, of appreciation and response.
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