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      EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW! Gashmeer Mahajani: Guru Dutt's Pyaasa Made A Mountain Of Difference To Me


      'The master of feelings', 'a true film man' and the list goes on...There are several epithets used to describe the iconic filmmaker-actor Guru Dutt. Each time you hear his name, your heart swells with immense respect for him and his incredible body of work. He was mercurial and enigmatic, both on and off screen. His portrayal of the heartbreak of middle-class romanticism made him one of the finest storytellers that we have ever seen. Dutt's hunger for love and his suppressed passion translated into some great pieces of art which have been immortalized in the pages of Indian cinema.

      The enduring mystery around this legend has swept generation of cinema lovers off their feet. Over the years, Guru Dutt's films and his approach towards his craft has become a textbook for filmmakers and students of cinema. Among the countless fans who are enamored with this genius of a man is actor Gashmeer Mahajani.

      Remembering Guru Dutt! A Look Back At Pyaasa- A Timeless ClassicRemembering Guru Dutt! A Look Back At Pyaasa- A Timeless Classic

      Around six months ago while researching for an article on Mani Ratnam's Dil Se, I came across a video snippet on my Instagram feed which featured a scene from a TV soap recreating Shah Rukh Khan-Manisha Koirala's 'grand escape from a bomb blast' moment from the 1998 film with its lead pair. As someone who had stayed away from the small screen since the last few years as 'saas-bahu sagas and naagin tales' ain't my thing, I was blown away by the way the makers had mounted that sequence and the sheen intensity screaming aloud in that frame.

      Serendipity or whatever you may call it, a few weeks later, I came across another video from the same show. This time, it featured the male protagonist breaking down in the midst of heavy rain showers, trying to revive his leading lady who is presumably dead from a gunshot wound. This was my first introduction to Gashmeer Mahajani who is currently winning hearts with his portrayal of Aditya Kumar Tripathi in Star Plus' popular show Imlie. There was something about his performance which lingered with me for a long time. How did I miss this bundle of talent?

      EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW! Imlie Director Atif Khan: Gashmeer Mahajani Is A Blessing For A DirectorEXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW! Imlie Director Atif Khan: Gashmeer Mahajani Is A Blessing For A Director

      The next few weeks were spent in binge-watching Gashmeer's previous body of work and at the same time, the lad also pulled my attention back to the telly screen. The more I watched his work, the more I discovered his metamorphosis as an artist. While the world knows him as an action and dancing star (which he is no doubt), I was more drawn towards him in his scenes which dwelt largely on emotions. It felt personal, it felt deep and familiar, but I couldn't pinpoint the exact reason. Until one day, two things popped up in front of me in his set of interviews- his admiration for Guru Dutt and his revelation that he lends his own personality to the characters that he essays on screen which makes them unique. I realized that consciously or subconsciously, there is a strong influence of Dutt's work in Gashmeer's cinematic journey.

      Take a look back at some of Guru Dutt's masterpieces and you will comprehend that the maverick director's films are not just sheer black and white poetry but also self-reflective in nature. Each one of them contains a piece of his real-self. Well, isn't it rightly said, 'Art is all about connecting with people's emotions. It's personal and at the same time, universal?'

      In an exclusive tete-a-tete with Filmibeat, Gashmeer Mahajani opens up on idolizing Guru Dutt, shares some interesting trivia about what went behind the scenes of some of the iconic songs of the legendary filmmaker and much more.

      'The Song 'Babuji Dheere Chalna' from Aar Paar Made Me Follow Guru Dutt's Cinema'

      'The Song 'Babuji Dheere Chalna' from Aar Paar Made Me Follow Guru Dutt's Cinema'

      Q. You have always mentioned that you are highly inspired by Guru Dutt & it's him who made you think about films in the first place. Which was the first film of Dutt Saab's that you watched & do you recall your reaction to it?

      A. The first film of Guru Dutt Saab that I saw was Pyaasa. It made a mountain of difference to me with the language of cinema that I got introduced to while watching that film. More than that, I completely for the first time ever, thought that okay, I want to watch this man's movies was when I saw 'Babuji Dheere Chalna' song from Aar Paar in which there was a massive use of silhouettes. There is this lady (Shakila) dancing by a table where there are a few men sitting, smoking and watching her. The men are in can only see their outlines and white smoke being blown into the light while the girl is standing in front of them and dancing. There's just a couple of feet of difference between the men sitting at the table and the lady dancing. She's completely lit up and the men are in silhouettes. I just felt that was a piece of art and that I have to watch movies of whoever made this song or this movie. That's how I started out with Pyaasa.

      Q. What drew you towards this legendary filmmaker? And today, do you observe any of that influence in the work you have done so far when you sit back & reflect upon your cinematic journey?

      A. What drew me towards the filmmaker was that 'Babuji Dheere Chalna' song and yes, his influence stays, I think even today in the last fifty-sixty years. Nobody can shoot a song the way Guru Dutt Saab did for his movies. I think the way he shot his songs was epic. And that one song made me follow his cinema. It made me start watching his movies.

      'I Have Followed Guru Dutt's Work So Much That I Just Want To Experiment With Designing Songs In My Films'

      'I Have Followed Guru Dutt's Work So Much That I Just Want To Experiment With Designing Songs In My Films'

      Q. Be it the use of alluring black & white close-up shots, light-shadow play or the ability to weave multiple thematic layers in the narrative, Dutt knew how to ignite great cinema on screen. As someone who plans to get behind the camera in the future, do you feel his cinematic legacy is a huge source of inspiration to you when it comes to breaking away from formulas?

      A. Ya, like whenever I see people discussing cinema and they take Guru Dutt Saab's name, though they haven't in detail watched his movies the way they need to watched or deserved to be watched by any student of cinema, I often see a lot of actors around me throwing out names like 'Arey, Guru Dutt Saab ka woh 'Waqt ne kiya kya haseen sitam', kya woh light ka shaft aata ha upar se..oh my god, etc etc,' Woh toh kamaal ka tha hi...but if that's the only reference point for Guru Dutt Saab's songs that you have then I feel there's nobody more shallow than you because I feel every song that he shot...If you are talking about tight close-ups, the song in the bedroom with Meena Kumariji and Rehmaan Saab in Sahib Biwi Aur Ghulam ('Na Jao Saiyan Chhuda Ke') where she is not letting him go and trying to keep him in her bed, isn't that shot in close-ups?

      Now, when we talk about language in cinema, this is what we speak. Why is the song shot in close-ups? It's entirely shot in supremely tight close-ups in the bedroom because he really needed the intimacy to come across in the song. So, you will hardly see a wide shot in the entire song. It's all close-ups. So not just the actor's intimacy is coming into play, but the filmmaker's language of cinema is what I talk. He has used his camera, his magnification and his lens to create the intimacy on a subconscious level in the mind of the viewers as well. So, it's not just the intimacy portrayed by the actors, the filmmaker is also through the language of his film-making, portraying that intimacy, creating that feel of intimacy in the audience's mind.
      From the same movie, if you see the song 'Saakhiya aaj mujhe neend nahi aayengi' in which all the background dancers are all girls. In the entire song, you don't see a single background dancer's face. Only the girl who is dancing at the forefront , the lead dancer, you can only see her face throughout the song. Now why was that done? Because when Guru Dutt Saab landed on the set, he didn't like a single background dancer. He wasn't happy with them at all, the way they were looking. They had limited amount of time to shoot that song because of location and budget issues. He couldn't cancel the shoot as well because the background dancers were not up to the mark. Since he couldn't cancel the shooting, he created a light pattern where all the background dancers are kept in silhouettes. They are all in the dark, you can only see their outlines so that the frame doesn't look empty. But he didn't want to show their faces because he wasn't very happy with them. So, he just created that light pattern and set that tone for the entire song. It works brilliantly well so you can see only the lead dancer's face. There is not a single background dancer's face visible in a single shot throughout the song. So, these fun things are great to know like what went into the making of a particular song and today, people say 'Arey silhouette create kiya hai, oh my god, kya piece of art hai!' Arey piece of art..aap jaante bhi ho kyun kiya thha and kaise kiya thha? What's the reason behind it? So, these finer details are so nice to study from his pieces of work.
      'In Babuji Dheere Chalna', the first song that I described, the art of Chiaroscuro was introduced for the first time in India. Chiaroscuro is a pattern of lightening which was never used in Indian cinema. Guru Dutt Saab introduced that. Chiaroscuro is where the structures are lit up. No where in Indian cinema were structures lit up earlier. 'Babuji Dheere Chalna' is the first song where the structure is lit up like the pillars that you see in the song and the textured walls at the back. Earlier, only the subject i.e only the actors used to be lit up in cinema. Nobody bothered the lighting of the structures to create a visual impact. 'Babuji Dheere Chalna' was the first song where Chiaroscuro was used.
      So, all these lovely things that I got to learn by watching the making of his movies and you know, figuring his way of shooting a song. So for me now in my Marathi films recently, I have shot songs. I am working as an actor in those movies, but I have requested the production houses to let me design those songs. So, somewhere that's inspired from the kind of work that he has done. I have followed it so much that I just want to experiment with designing songs in my films as well and I try and attempt it.

      'A Lot Of People Nowadays Pretend To Be Suffering Thinking That People Will Call Them Great Artists'

      'A Lot Of People Nowadays Pretend To Be Suffering Thinking That People Will Call Them Great Artists'

      Q. I have often heard people say that Guru Dutt's films are a testimonial to the popular quote, 'Great art comes from great suffering'. What's your take on that?

      A. It does apply to Guru Dutt Saab that great art comes from great suffering. (pauses). But I think that's just one aspect of it. The art also comes from a lot of deep rooted passion for the craft of making movies that he had in himself. It does stem from that. It stems from a lot of study; self-study and study of the things that are happening around you and how you want to grab them in the lens. There are multiple facets to it. I think you just can't limit it to saying that great art comes from great suffering, although suffering was a very big part of Guru Dutt Saab's life. A lot of people nowadays pretend to be suffering thinking that people will call them great artists (laughs). So, it's quite funny how people use this quote so shallowly and easily nowadays.

      Q. Speaking about the genius artist, renowned poet-writer Kaifi Azmi who worked with him in Kaagaz Ke Phool had once said, "Unki naakamiyaabi mein ek baat yeh bhi thhi ki woh waqt se pehle paida ho gaye." In fact, some of Dutt's popular works were celebrated only post his demise. Do you think he was a visionary way ahead of his time?

      A. I would completely agree to that considering a few of his films like Kaagaz Ke Phool or many others as well. But I think, despite of that, it's quite credible that he also tasted a lot of commercial success. A few of his films didn't do well which are classics till date. For example, Kaagaz Ke Phool. But apart from that, there were a lot of films that did commercially well and are pieces of art at the same time. So, having that blend of art and commerce together on a such a great level is a big achievement. So, he was ahead of his times, there's no doubt about it. But he did taste success as well. So, it's a feel good factor for fans like me.

      'I Don't Think There Should Be A Biopic On Guru Dutt Because It's Scary To Even Think About It'

      'I Don't Think There Should Be A Biopic On Guru Dutt Because It's Scary To Even Think About It'

      Q. Lastly, if any one plans to make a film on Guru Dutt's life, what do you think would be the biggest challenge?

      A. I feel if anybody plans to make a biopic on Guru Dutt Saab, the biggest challenge would be playing the man himself. I feel anybody would only be able to try and play it and not actually play it. Also, I feel scared thinking that anyone including the most brilliant actors of our times would end up turning his portrayal into more of a first copy. I don't know...its not possible to wholly and wholesomely portray the genius that he was very realistically at the same time. So, I feel it could only end up being a first copy. For example, like you have an iPhone which is original and you go to any of the gulf countries where on the streets, you can buy an iPhone at 20 percent of its cost which is a first copy. It looks like an iPhone completely, functions like that, but can shut off any day at any moment. (laughs) I feel playing the man himself would be the biggest challenge. I don't think there should be a biopic on him because it's scary to even think about it.

      Post Guru's Dutt's demise, Kaifi Azmi who shared a close bond with him, had paid homage to the legend with a nazm in one of his video interviews. A part of that tribute read, "Rehne ko sada koi deher mein aata nahin koi, tum jaise gaye aaise bhi jaata nahin koi. Ek baar toh khud maut bhi ghabra gayi hogi, yun maut ko seene se lagaata nahin koi. Darta hoon kahi khushk na ho jaaye samundar, raakh apni kabhi aap bahaata nahi koi. Saaki se gila tha tumhe maikhaane se shikwa. Ab zeher se bhi pyaas bujhta nahin koi. Mana ke ujaalo ne tumhe daag diye thhe, beraat dhale shama bujhata nahin koi, Rehne ko sada koi deher mein aata nahin koi, tum jaise gaye aaise bhi jaata nahin koi."

      The master director left for his heavenly abode decades ago, but his cinematic universe intrigues Gashmeer and many of us even today, and will continue to do so for the years to come!

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