Abrar Alvi could be called the first modern writer in Hindi
cinema. It was he who to a large extent brought realism into dialogue in Hindi
cinema, which was otherwise stagey and theatrical. And he along with Nabendu
Ghosh could be considered the earliest writers who were responsible for writers
getting due respect for their work in the Hindi film industry.† It is a well known fact that eminent
screenplay writers Salim Ė Javed always spoke of Abrar Alvi being their major source
Alvi was born in 1927 and after a Post-Graduate Degree in English Literature from
Nagpur, came to Bombay like many before him to become an actor much to his
fatherís chargin who wanted him to be a lawyer. A distant cousin of the actor
Jaswant, he stayed on and off with Jaswant and would often drive him around as
Jaswant didnít know how to drive!† At the
time Jaswant was working in Guru Duttís Baaz
(1953) and Alvi would drive him to the sets. One day assistant Raj Khosla
sought his help for some dialogue for a scene. This was noticed by Guru Dutt
and he enquired after Jaswant† about
Abrar.† Abrar, meanwhile, was working as
an assistant director on Bahu Beti (1952)
when Jaswant told him Guru Dutt wanted to meet him. When they met, Guru Dutt
showed him some rushes of Baaz and
asked Alvi about his opinion. Alvi found them trashy but didnít have the
courage to say so. Youíre very photogenic, he told Guru Dutt.† Yes, but was he also actogenic, Guru Dutt
replied! Guru Dutt offered Alvi the dialogues for his next film, Aar Paar (1954). It was the beginning of
a partnership that would last ten long years till it ended with Guru Duttís
death and would produce masterpieces like Pyaasa
(1957), Kaagaz ke Phool (1959)
and Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam (1962).
With Aar Paar (1954),
Alvi set a trend for future Hindi cinema dialogue. For
once characters spoke with a language that reflected their background. The hero
is from Madhya Pradesh in central India so he speaks in a particular style. The
garage owner, a Punjabi, spoke with a Punjabi slang and so on. †The dialogues proved to be extremely popular.
Abrar Alvi had arrived.
Guru Dutt and Alviís next collaboration
was the classic comedy Mr and Mrs 55
(1955). The film, based loosely on a play written by Abrar Alvi called Modern Marriage, makes great use of
intelligence repartee rather than the usual slapstick and buffoonery that was
prevalent in other Hindi comedies. And unlike most Hindi films where dialogues
repetitively stress the same emotions again and again, each dialogue exchange
in the film skillfully develops the plot while the dialogue as a whole invokes
a range of feelings. Also Abrar Alvi's dialogues diffuse highly charged
situations with a down-to-earth and matter-of-fact repartee. A splendid example
of this was the scene where Preetam draws a cartoon of Sita Devi wearing a
Roman toga, standing in a Roman chariot with a whip in hand. Anita and Preetam
are the horses that pull the chariot. On seeing the cartoon Sita Devi is
furious and confronts Preetam. He answers every question with 'Ji Haan' (Yes)
but the scene is brilliantly constructed in a manner such that each reply gives
it a different shade, a different meaning. And of course not forgetting the
unforgettable exchange between Sita Devi and Preetam when they first meet and
after listening to his views, she asks him if he is a communist. No, a
cartoonist he replies! With Mr and Mrs 55
and the next Guru Dutt production, CID (1956),
Alvi also fulfilled his acting ambitions playing small roles in both
By now Alvi and Guru Dutt had become
close friends and Alvi began getting more and more involved in the shooting of
the films of Guru Dutt.† He was deeply involved with
both Pyaasa and Kaagaz ke Phool and in fact, based the Gulabo track in the former
on a prostitute he knew and had interacted with. †It was Alvi who used to deal with the way
actors should speak their dialogue and he would often be the man to call the
shots when Guru Dutt was facing the camera.
The flopping of Kaagaz ke Phool saw a shattered Guru Dutt decide never to lend his
name as a director to a film again and financial constraints saw Guru Dutt take
Abrar Alvi off the company payroll.† Meanwhile
Guru Dutt began Chaudhvin ka Chand (1960)
with old timer M Sadiq at the helm in a bid to recoup the losses from Kaagaz ke Phool. Chaudhvin ka Chand, one of the best love
triangles ever in Indian cinema and set against the backdrop of the Muslim culture of Lucknow,
was a huge commercial success and it is said that unofficially Alvi did help Guru
Dutt with some script doctoring. Officially, during this period, Alvi was involved
with writing the Shammi Kapoor starrer, Professor
(1962) for good friend and director, Lekh Tandon.
Alvi was recalled by Guru Dutt to adapt
Bimal Mitraís novel Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam.
As work proceeded, Guru Dutt felt he was not in the right frame of mind and
offered the film to Alvi to direct. Controversy still goes on as to who really
directed the film and it was always Alviís one big grouse that he never got due
credit for his directorial efforts on Sahib
Bibi aur Ghulam (1962). Since the film is characteristic of Guru Dutt's
feel and style, it is difficult to think that he did not direct the film.
However Guru Dutt never denied Abrar Alvi's role in the film nor did he make
any counter claims when Alvi won the Filmfare Award for Best Director for the
film. Abrar Alvi has stated that Guru Dutt did direct the songs in the film,
but not the film in its entirety. The editor of the Film YG Chawan says
that for the film it was Abrar who sat with him. To quote him,
"Abrar worked so hard on that
film but he never got any credit. People say it was produced by Guru Dutt so it
had to be Guru Dutt's film."
associated with the film insist that Guru Dutt did do everything behind the scenes. Whatever be the truth, there
is no doubt that, the film, a romantic and somewhat nostalgic tale of a bygone
era of Bengalís decaying feudalism at the turn of the 20th century, is
a magnificent and sombre work with heightened atmosphere, rich dialogues,
haunting cinematography, extraordinary song picturizations and brilliant
performances. It went on to win the Presidentís Silver Award at the National Awards,
swept the Filmfare Awards and the Hindi section of The Bengal film Journalistsí Association Awards and was
screened at the Berlin Film Festival as well. Following Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam,
Alvi wanted to work on an adaptation of Munshi Premchandís short story, Kafan, but was unable to get the project
off the ground.
Abrar Alvi and Guru Dutt were working
on Baharen Phir Bi Aayengi (1966)
when Guru Dutt died unexpectedly in 1964, thus bringing their deep association
to an end. It is said that Alvi was the closest confidante that Guru Dutt had and
it was he who really knew the true picture of events surrounding Guru Dutt.
Even on that last fateful night, Alvi was working late with Dutt on the climax
scene of Baharen Phir Bhi Aayengi. He
left late at night to be told next morning that Guru Dutt had passed away that
night, actually early morning.
Post Guru Duttís death, Alvi
unofficially completed Baharen Phir Bhi
Aayengi with Dharmendra replacing Dutt, only for it to flop badly.
Thereafter he never directed again but continued to write sporadically for Hindi
films. Some of his major films post his association with Guru Dutt include Suraj (1966), Sunghursh (1968), Shikar
(1968), Manoranjan (1974) and Bindiya
Chamkegi (1984). It is said he was too much of a maverick who would work
only on his own terms and time schedules and this did not go down well with his
Producers. Sadly, a large number of these films were nowhere as distinguished
as the ones he had done for Guru Dutt.
Abrar Alvi passed away in Mumbai on
November 18, 2009. He had been ailing for sometime.