Sabtu, 04 Juni 2011

Guru Dutt - Baazi aka High Stakes (1951)


Baazi, the first film by acclaimed director Guru Dutt, who made some of the most politically conscious films in India during the turbulent times of Nehru's leadership, follows a young man forced by circumstances into a life of crime. Faced with dire poverty, Madan (Dev Anand) has taken to gambling, and soon wins enough to open his own casino with the money he wins. When he meets sophisticated doctor Rajani (Kalpana Kartik), the two are instantly attracted to each other, but their different social classes and backgrounds make their union impossible. Instead, Madan takes up with Leena (Geeta Bali), a free-spirited girl who teaches him that, just as in gambling, to get what he really wants he must go all in. But when tragedy strikes and Madan is framed for murder, Inspector Ramesh (Krishan Dhawan)--the man Rajani's father wants her to marry--steps in. He understands that Madan is not the criminal that society wants to believe he is, and works to clear his name.

The film

Baazi was Guru Dutt's first film as director. The film, clearly influenced by the film noir movement of Hollywood in the 1940s, does admittedly appear stilted and dated today. Its various elements represent the classic clichés we have come to see in Indian films. The hero being lead to a life of crime since he cannot afford keeping his sick sister in a sanatorium, the goody two shoes heroine bent on reforming him, the moll who loves him and takes the bullet meant for him, asking him to acknowledge that she's not such a bad woman after all and dying before he can say so in his arms, and the villain is surprise...the heroine's father, on the surface a decent and well respected man! But while viewing Baazi we have to remember it was among the first of its type. In fact Baazi set the tone for the spate of urban crime films that were to come out of Bollywood in the 1950s and early 1960s.

Baazi also showed a criminal hero with a tough as nails exterior but of course with a heart of gold inside. The film took actor Dev Anand to dramatic star status. He was the ideal actor for the crime wave films and played in a number of them - Jaal (1952), Pocketmaar (1955), C.I.D. (1956), Nau Do Gyarah (1957), Kaala Bazaar (1960), Jaali Note (1960) to name some.

But in spite of the now much imitated plot, there are some moments of inventiveness and experimentation, which give a glimpse of the genius of Guru Dutt, which were to be seen in later films. Songs were integrated into the story line rather than standard items or appendages to the plot. The entire scene where the moll warns the hero he is going to be killed is done through a club dance - Suno Gajar Kya Gaaye. A ghazal, Tadbir se Bigdi Hui Taqdeer was set to a hep western beat as the moll tries to seduce the hero. The experiment worked and how! In fact the entire music score of the film had a lively and zingy beat to it, all in all a most jazzy score by S.D. Burman. The songs also saw an untapped side of singer and wife to be Geeta Roy. Known only for sad songs and bhajans till then, the ease with which she went western was marvelous to behold. The sex appeal in her voice was brought to the fore and helped her build an identity of her own, a style no singer could copy.

Baazi promoted a lot of new talent, several of whom went on to make quite a name for themselves - Lyricist Sahir Ludhianvi, choreographer Zohra Sehgal, comedian Johnny Walker, actress Kalpana Kartik. The screenplay was written by well known actor Balraj Sahni.

The film though being a trendsetter interestingly also shows Guru Dutt's traditional attitude to women. The moll is mostly dressed in western clothes, while the goody two shoes heroine is always in traditional Indian attire. The moll is immoral and she has to pay for it with her life, her redemption being taking the bullet meant for the hero. (This attitude to women was further noticed even in the posters of Mr.and Mrs 55 where the poster on one half showed the heroine Madhubala dressed in western attire making the hero, Guru Dutt, buckle her shoe while the right half showed the heroine in a traditional sari touching the hero's feet!)

About the director

Guru Dutt is remembered in the history of Indian cinema as the brooding intense romantic who attempted to reflect the changing social situation in India in the fifties. Within his short life, he created some of India's most socially-conscious movies like Pyaasa (Thirsty, 1957), Kaagaz Ke Phool (Paper Flowers, 1960) and Baazi (1951). He also introduced Waheeda Rehman in C.I.D. (1956) and propelled her to stardom through his films.

Born in Calcutta in 1925, Guru Dutt worked as a telephone operator before he embarked on his career as an actor and director in 1944. The fifties was the time when India, under Nehru's brand of state socialism, was embarking on massive industrialization. The conventional wisdom has it that rapid changes introduced by industralization were undermining 'traditional values'. What is certain is that industrialization, and the accompanying migration from rural to urban areas, was creating -- as it still does in India -- anomie, dislocation, and new social norms. In the urban environment, new social relations developed. It is, therefore, not surprising that a recurring theme in his films is the attraction, bound to be fatal, that develops between a middle class girl and a tough but likeable character from the lower class. His most memorable movie in this genre is probably Pyaasa. Inspired by Sarat Chandra's novel, Srikanta, it depicts the romance between a poet and a prostitute. The genuine poet cannot survive amidst philistines and publishers interested only in profiteering: the spectre of the big city is everywhere in Guru Dutt's films.

Guru Dutt's films are also said to be marked by a certain nostalgia, most evident in Sahib, Bibi aur Gulam (Master, Mistress, and Servant), a film that explores the decline of feudal landed family. An aristocratic demeanor, a flair for style, characterize this film. Yet in all of his films, Guru Dutt was to show mastery over cinematic elements, from lighting and camera-work to film composition; and every film bears the unmistakable imprint of his work. Though not known widely outside India, Guru Dutt's work compares with that of any director working at that time around the world. His brilliant career came to a premature end with his suicide, following a protracted struggle with alcoholism, in 1964.


Subtitles:English .srt
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