This is one of those cool coincidences. The two brilliant directors of Indian film, one from Bombay and one from the south, were born exactly 5 years apart to the day. There is something special about July 9th. And, just to put the cherry on top, one of the most brilliant actors in Hindi film history was also born on July 9th.
Guru Dutt is the greatest director in the history of Hindi film. It’s just a fact, like Sholay being the greatest film. If you ask any modern director, from Karan Johar to Anurag Kashyap, they will agree with this. They each may have their individual tastes, preferring Yash Chopra to Hrishikesh Mukherjee or vice versa, but Guru Dutt is over and above all of that. He is over and above everything, his films are too big to be grasped by any simple description, his art is too vast to be fully understood. You can only feel him, there are no words to describe him.
So, I won’t try! For Guru’s birthday, I will simply give an example of his greatness. The first Guru Dutt song I ever saw, on a flickering youtube video looking over a friend’s shoulder at her computer. And it was still so powerful that I can remember everything about that moment, the light coming into the room, the feel of the chair under me, even my breathing in and out, all frozen in time.
And then years later I watched another Guru Dutt film in which he captured that same frozen in time feeling, that magical sense that this was a moment beyond anything you had ever experienced before.
K Balachander is different from Guru, not in talent but in how his talent was expressed. Guru Dutt is like a comet streaking across the sky, only 8 films officially directed by him, plus two more unofficial, in a career that only lasted 13 years. Balachander on the other hand, over 100 films in 51 years. His first film released the year Guru died, we lost one giant of film and gained another.
In Balachander’s career of over 100 films and 51 years, there is a variation in quality. Unlike Guru, we are not left with only a handful of films to discuss and bring out every small moment of brilliance, instead it is an overwhelming number and some of them are inevitably lost along the way, brilliance forgotten. But there are others that cannot be forgotten, that are too brilliant to ever fade away.
In 1976, Balachander introduced Sridevi and Rajinikant as lead actors in the same film, Moondru Mudichu. The legacy of these two actors being introduced is enough for this film to always be remembered. But it can stand on its own, can stand above those famous names, can make you forget that this is a pivotal moment in Tamil film history and merely sit back and admire the artistry of how the film was created.
And then there’s Sanjeev Kumar. Another one of those “greater than all else” options. You can argue about Amitabh versus Rajesh Khanna as the greatest actor of the 70s, but once someone brings out Sanjeev Kumar, the argument goes away, because Sanjeev trumps all.
Sanjeev died at 47, after only working for 25 years in the industry, during which he worked on 147 films. I started to count how many of those films included classic Sanjeev roles, and lost count somewhere around 23. Everything he did was classic, because it was Sanjeev. He brought something special to every performance. The best I can do to show his greatness is the almost entirely silent sequence from Sholay, in which Sanjeev proves why only he could take this role and bring with it the pain and determination and strength of a man who has lost everything.