In a gorgeous apartment in Mumbai suburbs, Lalita Lajmi has surrounded herself with quaint artefacts, her gorgeous paintings, and some of her daughter Kalpana Lajmi’s works. You cannot help, but be overawed by the amount of art and artistry confined in the rooms of her house and to think, I am there to discuss her legendary brother whose work has been applauded for decades, especially posthumously. What was it like to be Vasanth Kumar Shivashankar Padukone aka Guru Dutt’s sister? What was Guru Dutt like when he was alive? Where did he write those stories that make textbooks for filmmakers, generations after his alleged suicide? Lajmi shared it all.
Draped in her white sari with delicate flowers, Lalita Lajmi’s eyes don’t leave your face but even after five odd decades of her brother’s alleged suicide, you sense the feeling of loss. “He used to really pamper me, I remember as we were growing up there wasn’t much excess around us. We lived modestly, if not a lower middle-class kind of life. We lived in a small house and though he (Guru Dutt) had started working on films we were still a long way from getting out of that space. But every time he travelled, he would get me small perfume bottles. As did Geeta (Guru Dutt’s wife, Geeta Bali – Dutt) after all, I did play an important part in their romance.
“I remember the small desk in our house that sat snug in the corner. For hours my brother would pour out onto those pages. All his work has been written sitting there in that corner. His gift for writing and performance perhaps came from our father, but he was his own man.”
“Geeta started singing at a very young age, by the time my brother started making films and being a part of the industry, Geeta was already an established star and doing very well. Obviously, her family was not too pleased with her relationship with my brother. I still remember that feeling of being in awe of her beauty and the look of her in those saris, her jewellery but she was completely at ease in our small house whenever she would come by. Of course, her parents thought she was coming to meet me, whereas I was just their glorified postman. I used to be responsible for passing letters and also stand as their alibi when parents objected. It was beautiful. I remember going with them for long drives with them in Geeta’s swanky car. Never did we think that their family would be hit so badly by fate!”
Guru Dutt’s active career spanned only for around 20years. Within that his movies like Kaagaz Ke Phool, Pyaasa, C.I.D., Chaudhavi Ka Chand and Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam have been the most noted of his work. Pyaasa being lauded as one of his best work has even found a place for itself in the 100 best films of all time. To think, Kaagaz Ke Phool, which enjoys its cult status today, was considered the biggest flop … having seen her brother through these highs and lows might have been difficult to keep up.
“I remember the small desk in our house that sat snug in the corner. For hours my brother would pour out onto those pages. All his work has been written sitting there in that corner. His gift for writing and performance perhaps came from our father, but he was his own man. His mind, his works was so far ahead of his time that it took a while for audience to catch up to it! But his work never did suffer because of his love for it. He was so passionate about films that there was nothing and no one who could have come in between,” reminisced Lajmi.
Not even his wife’s suspicion of his affair with his muse Waheeda Rehman, not even the failure at the box office, not even his weak mind which compelled him to attempt suicide twice prior to his death stopped his genius. The films that Guru Dutt made, have made him immortal, giving him a legendary status that eluded him through his life, despite his friends believing in him. Though Lajmi feels that the pathos in his characters might be a reflection of life he saw around with the family, decades later they still resonate through us the audience – “Mujhe kisi insaan se koi shikayat nahi hai … mujhe shikayat hai samaaj ke us dhanche se joh insaan se uski insaaniyat cheen leta hai … matlab ke liye apne bhai ko beghana banata hai … dost ko dushman banata hai … mujhe shikayat hai us tehzeeb se, us sanskriti se jahan murdon ko puja jaata hai … aur zinda insaan ko pairon tale raunda jaata hai … jahan kisi ke dukh dard pe do aansoon bahana buzdili samjha jaata hai … chupke milna ek kamzori samjha jaata hai … aaise maahaul mein mujhe kabhi shanti nahi milegi, kabhi shanti nahi milegi!” –PYAASA (1957)