The Film Society of Lincoln Center will compliment the selections of the 47th New York Film Festival with "Masterworks" - special screenings highlighting the history of global cinema. One of two Masterworks series (the other, "Re-Inventing China" - see separate release), "A Heart as Big as the World: The Films of Guru Dutt" (October 7-11) is the first American retrospective on the legendary Hindi director, producer and actor, featuring six films spanning his career as a director, two as an actor and producer and a documentary on Dutt. Most films have never screened in the U.S. and those that have, have not been seen in decades.
"Unlike Satyajit Ray, who broke away from the conventions of Indian cinema to create his own style of filmmaking, Guru Dutt's contribution was in the manner in which he introduced modern and often intensely personal ideas within the conventions of popular Indian cinema. He was easily the most personal of all the Indian filmmakers of his time." - Shyam Benegal, Director
Too often discussions of Indian cinema imagine a landscape that divides between the deeply personal, highly independent works of Satyajit Ray and the exuberant excess of the Hindi commercial cinema known as Bollywood. Guru Dutt was one of those rare film artists who straddled both worlds. Throughout his film career he worked in the Bombay-based Hindi industry, turning out crime thrillers (Baazi), screwball comedies (Mr. and Mrs. '55), pirate swashbucklers (Baaz), and melodramas (Chaudhvin Ka Chand) with equal verve. All who worked with him attest to how he transformed each film into a personal expression, focusing often on the experiences of outsiders or loners while decrying the hypocrisy and corruption of those in power. Especially in his two masterpieces, Pyaasa (Thirst) and Kaagaz ke phool (Paper Flowers), both featuring Dutt in the lead roles, the space between creator and creation seems almost nonexistent. His impressive command of the all aspects of the medium, led to wide praise within his lifetime. Though his career was tragically cut short by his suicide in 1964, when he was only 39, he is now one of India's most important and influential film artists.
A Heart as Big as the World will open on Wednesday, October 7 with Pyaasa (1957), Dutt’s penultimate film as a director and considered one of the most important films in international cinema: it was named one of the 100 best films ever by TIME magazine’s Richard Schickel and Richard Corliss, and British magazine Sight & Sound included it in 2002 in its Top Films Survey (alongside Kaagaz ke Phool). It stars Dutt as a poet made destitute by the indifference of the world and, in a plot twist out of Preston Sturges’ Sullivan’s Travels, he attends his own memorial after he’s believed dead and then hailed as a true artist.
A passionate film about filmmaking, 1959’s Kaagaz ke Phool(Fri, Oct 9 & Sun, Oct 11) follows a successful director who sacrifices everything he’s earned for true love. The elliptical narrative led some critics to regard the film as India’s Citizen Kane – Dutt has also been referred to as the country’s Orson Welles. Sadly, this now-celebrated work was a box-office disaster, and Guru Dutt would never again take directorial credit for his work.
Also showing is 1953’s Baazi (The Gamble – Wed, Oct 7), Dutt’s debut as a director, a noirish crime yarn set in the Bombay underworld which cemented his stylistic flourishes (his frequent tight close-ups were referred to as “Guru Dutt shots”); and 1962’s Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam (Master, Mistress and Servant – Fri, Oct 9 & Sun, Oct 11) a rich period drama told through flashbacks directed by Dutt’s longtime screenwriter Abrar Alvi and winner of four Filmfare awards (India’s Oscar equivalent), including Best Film. It became Guru Dutt’s final significant work: He died just over a year later, at age 39. Finally, In Search of Guru Dutt (Sun, Oct 11) by Nasreen Munni Kabir is an informative look at Dutt’s life and art peppered with generous clips from many of the director’s films and interviews with his collaborators (screenwriter Abrar Alvi, cinematographer V.K. Murthy).
A Heart as Big as the World: The Films of Guru Dutt is organized by The Film Society of Lincoln Center in collaboration with Uma da Cunha. Special thanks to Mr. Arun Dutt, for making this series possible. Thanks also to Ms. Nasreen Munni Kabir, Mr. Dev Anand, Shemaroo Entertainment Pvt. Ltd. (Mr. Hiren Gada), the National Film Archive of India, and the National Film Development Corporation (Ms. Nina Gupta). The Film Society also wishes to recognize Mr. Amitabh Bachchan for his generous support.