March 17, 2010

Sahib, Bibi, CMYK

Guru Dutt films in colour? His cinematographer V.K. Murthy and fans baulk at the idea.


The shadows have never spoken so eloquently. That was one of the most perceptive among the hundreds of ecstatic comments captured by a film journal when Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam, a black-and-white Guru Dutt classic, was released in 1962. This comment can, in fact, be safely extended to cover all of Guru Dutt’s movies, especially Pyaasa (1957) and Kaagaz ke Phool (1959). Along with Sahib, Bibi aur Ghulam, these two films belong to the heritage of not just Indian, but world cinema. And if there is one man other than Guru Dutt who can claim credit for the cult status of these movies, it is the legendary cinematographer V.K. Murthy, who will receive the Dadasaheb Phalke award on March 19 for his lifetime contribution to Indian cinema.
Ironically, however, in the very year that we are celebrating the magic and metaphor of Murthy’s images and recalling the astonishing modernity that he gently ushered into our collective consciousness, a ‘sacrilege’ of sorts is being committed. A few weeks ago, Arun Dutt, Guru Dutt’s son and director of Guru Dutt Films Private Limited, announced that he shortly intends to release Sahib... in colour, a la Mughal-e-Azam and Naya Daur, two other landmark black-and-white films that have been “colour-coated” in recent years. “The process is under way,” Dutt said at the 2nd Jaipur International Film Festival. “I wish it may be released tomorrow, but since colourisation needs to be done with perfect care, it is hard to predict the time it may take.”

This announcement has naturally unsettled Guru Dutt’s fans, friends and colleagues, among them Murthy himself. It has, moreover, given rise to a host of questions: what will happen to the stalking dark shadows in this movie? The luminous intensity of the frames? The shafts of light that layer the mood of the characters? And will this experiment with colour also be extended to Pyaasa and Kaagaz ke Phool?

“I am not happy at all. It is not good to colour an old classic. I don’t think classics should be touched,” says Murthy.

Dressed in immaculate white, with the afternoon light making patterns on the floor of his verandah, V.K. Murthy told Outlook this week: “Black-and-white movies are creative works. There are only two colours and many grades in between them. It all depends on how one makes use of these grades to create depth. Colour does not expect this level of ingenuity. Guru Dutt allowed me a lot of freedom. In fact, he did not object to anything I did.” Confirming that he had heard about the colouring project, he remarked: “I am not happy at all. It is not good to colour an old classic. I don’t think classics should be touched, but I am in no position to tell Arun not to do it. Perhaps I will try when I meet him.”
Murthy also revealed that Guru Dutt was “not very happy” when colour was introduced, but thought that he should follow the trend. “Immediately after Sahib..., we started a colour film called Khaneej. It was like an Arabian Nights story. I had done a lot of tests with colour film, but then he abruptly halted the project. And before he could make a colour film, he passed away.”

Renowned director and ace cinematographer Govind Nihalani jumps to support Murthy and the masterpieces he helped create. “One should not touch a film like Sahib...,” he says. “Artificial colouring will take away the delicate lyricism of it. The washes of colour will kill the nuances of the shades.” Pointing out that the response to the colouring of Mughal-e-Azam and Naya Daur had not been enthusiastic, he said it was even worse that classics like Guru Dutt films should be treated this way.

“Murthy saab is a pioneering modernist,” Nihalani stresses. “When Indian cinematographers were besotted with Hollywood-style images, glamour and strong backlights, he introduced modern aesthetics. This, even before Satyajit Ray’s cinematographer Subrata Mitra came on the scene. He had the courage to light up Waheeda Rehman’s face from below, a technique followed only in horror movies before that. His images have a deep emotional dimension.”

“The process is under way,” says Guru Dutt’s son Arun. “But since colourisation needs care, it’ll take time.”

G.S. Bhaskar, who trained with Richard Attenborough on the sets of Gandhi and later handled the camera for filmmakers like Sai Paranjape, Girish Kasaravalli and M.S. Sathyu, is also unequivocal in his dissent. “The producer may have paid for the film,” he says, “but the ownership of the image lies with the cinematographer. One should not tinker with the world that Murthy saab has created. Tampering with his images is like tampering with the world that god has created. It is akin to eco-imbalance.”
M.S. Sathyu also agrees. “They will ruin the film. It is a sacrilege. Colouring Mughal-e-Azam is different from colouring Sahib... or any of Murthy and Guru Dutt’s films. In Mughal-e-Azam, for instance, one song was in colour even when they shot it initially.”

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Pardesi said...

I hope the father haunts the son's dreams forever - this is a sacrilege.

Caulfield said...

I don't have any problems with coloring the film. I very much enjoyed watching Naya Daur in color. Though, I don't mind B&W films at all, I think by coloring these classics, it will reach to more number of people. OFC, there are films which can only look good in B&W. I think those films shouldn't be touched.

Pardesi said...

IMHO Pyaasa, Kagaz ke Phool, and SBAG are pure classics that will become like falooda in color. Same thing happened to Mughal-e-azam, the colors are LOUD and destroy any charm the film had.

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