Most people would not talk about Abrar Alvi without talking about Guru Dutt. And that may be fair, given that Dutt was the man who gave Alvi his break as a writer in Hindi cinema, and the man in whose films Alvi did arguably his best work. But equally, it is impossible to talk about Guru Dutt without talking about Abrar Alvi. The dialogue and screenplay writer, who even went on to direct Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam (1962), was the voice of most of Guru Dutt’s films, because it was his words that made the films come alive.
Born on 1 July 1927, Abrar Alvi actually owed his writing prowess to the daily love letters he would write his girlfriend when he was in college. Biographer Sathya Saran, in her book Ten Years With Guru Dutt: Abrar Alvi’s Journey, writes that Alvi told her, “I did not realise it then, but it was my first brush with the discipline of daily writing, and of pushing my creativity to perform on command. In each letter, I would address her differently. I never ever used her name, and I would ensure that each letter was as fresh and as engrossing as the previous one.”
That creativity would stand him in good stead in his film career, which began when he assisted his actor cousin Yashwant and accompanied him on set. During the filming of Baaz, in which Yashwant had a small part, one scene was proving to be tricky. Alvi suggested a few changes that impressed Guru Dutt so much that he went on to offer Alvi the job of dialogue writer for Aar Paar (1954), which also featured the work of other Guru Dutt regulars such as actor Johnny Walker, cinematographer V.K. Murthy, music composer O.P. Nayyar, whose soundtrack for this film had some real gems.
The film was a massive hit and Alvi became a permanent part of Guru Dutt Films. Aar Paar also established Alvi as a dialogue writer with a sense of realism, something that was missing from the rather more theatrical dialogues a lot of movies tended to have.
He became known as a writer who had his ear to the ground, almost literally. Because the beauty of Aar Paar’s dialogue is that every character speaks in a language that reflects where they’re from, their upbringing and education. Instead of one-size-fits-all Hindi, there’s a bit of Punjabi, a bit of Parsi, inflections of Urdu, a smattering of street Bambaiyya, some heartland Hindi mixed with clumsy English. That attention to detail not only made the dialogue more authentic to the character, but also to the city of Bombay, long known for its cosmopolitan population.
In the week of Abrar Alvi’s birth anniversary, we rewind to Aar Paar.
Noirish comic thriller with a fun soundtrack
The film opens with Kalu Birju (Guru Dutt), a taxi driver in Mumbai who’s in jail for rash driving, being pardoned two months early for his good conduct. When he’s saying his farewells in prison, one of the other inmates asks him to go to a hotel and deliver a coded message to someone called Captain.
Kalu tries to get his old job back, but finds his former employer unwilling to give him a second chance. Even his own brother-in-law doesn’t want anything to do with him. He manages to get a job at a garage owned by Lalaji (Jagdish Sethi) where he also romances Lalaji’s daughter, Nikki (Shyama).
But Lalaji is furious when he finds out about this dalliance and fires Kalu, who responds by giving Nikki an ultimatum to run away with him or forget about him forever. “Aar ya paar” (This way or that), he says, insensitive to the bind this ultimatum will put her in.
Meanwhile, Kalu hasn’t forgotten his promise to his former jailmate, and in the process of delivering his message to Captain, he not only unwittingly gets entangled in Captain’s plan to loot a bank, but also meets his moll, a dancer (Shakila) who falls in love with him.
Between his new job and the complicated love triangle he finds himself at the centre of, Kalu’s life is a bit of a mess. And he doesn’t handle it very well, treating both Nikki and the dancer rather shabbily.
Things come to a head when his personal and professional lives get mixed up, and what follows is a classic 1950s noir caper that blends comedy and thriller, complete with high-speed car chases and guns.
It’s an interesting film for Guru Dutt, who is known for the more nuanced, sensitive, multilayered roles that he did later on in his career. Kalu is not terribly complicated, he’s just a bit of a cad and doesn’t particularly care.
The mood of the film is strictly, deliberately kept light and easy, even when Kalu gets his heart broken and his ego bruised. In fact, that particular moment is where O.P. Nayyar’s genius comes in handy, with a fun, peppy track that isn’t considered a classic like some of the others in this film, but is perhaps one of the best. Just like Aar Paar itself.