Suman K Sharma
On 27 May, under the full glare of a wide- awake Sun, a dreamer turned into a dream. It was unbelievable and yet a bitter truth, said everyone who learnt of the sudden demise of Shiv Dutt.
Shiv Dutt who? The starry-eyed scion of an orthodox Brahmin family of Maheshpura, Jammu, who wrote Geeton Bhari Kahaniyan – short stories interspersed with Bollywood songs – whenever he could scrimp time from improving his Sanskrit? Or a young father of two who eked out a living as a supplier of sundry items to government departments and ended up providing life-time opportunities to countless actors, writers and poets who came into his contact or were sought out by him? Or was he one of those provincial hopefuls who made his wildest dreams work for him and in the end, in the inimitable words of Prof Lalit Gupta (SHIV DUTT, POINEER FILM MAKER PASSES INTO HISTORY – DE, 3 June, 2018), ‘…led others to emulate him, desire like him.’ Shiv Dutt was all of these and much more. At age 65, when he left the world, he was in the midst of shooting a film, literally in the process of adding yet another feather to his cap. Such was his keenness to live up to his dreams.
It was in 1971 that we met for the first time. The occasion was a session of the Sahitya Sabha of Jammu’s MAM College, being chaired by Prof Madan Mohan Sharma, the highly acclaimed Dogri author, who taught us English. When Shiv Dutt stood up to read out his composition, the audience greeted him with a thunderous applause. There were muted laughs and appreciative vah-vahs at every turn and twist that Shiv Dutt introduced in his story. His handsomeness and superb confidence added charm to his performance. Prof Sharma himself commended him highly for his talents.
Looking back, one is prone to jumble up the past. Events get telescoped through the lens of mind and appear as if they had happened all at once. I recall Shiv Dutt taking a leading part in the activities of the Yuvak Kala Sangam – a youth club of sorts – which regularly organised literary meets, cultural programmes and even shram-dan trips to the villages adjoining Jammu. To fund such diverse activities, Shiv Dutt and the Sangam’s executive would go from bazar to bazar of the town and cajole even the most thick skinned of the shop owners to donate a tenner or two. Back at the club’s headquarters, housed in a bachelor’s ‘quarter’ of Bakshinagar, we would sit for hours planning for the forthcoming events.
Our salad days were over before long. Exigencies of life demanded that we made something of ourselves. A few of us got government jobs while most others still pondered the options before them. I too landed a job in the Central Government and moved to Delhi.
But Shiv Dutt had to make a harder choice. Following his father’s strict dictate, he had obtained a creditable MA degree in Sanskrit. Shriman ji, as Pandit ji was deferentially called, demanded now that his son should take charge of the pathshala that he ran and inculcate in children the timeless values he (Shiv Dutt) was fortunate to have imbibed at home. To this Shiv Dutt said a blunt ‘no’. If his father was obstinate, he too would prove unyielding. In Delhi lived a family friend, Mr DN Saraf. It was to him Shiv Dutt went for guidance.
Mr Saraf was a senior bureaucrat of the Central Government, then posted at New Delhi as Commissioner, Handicrafts. I recall accompanying Shiv Dutt several times to his residence in RK Puram, Sector XIII. Shiv Dutt was treated there as a family member. Mr Saraf, I believe, exerted considerable influence on the aspiring youth from Jammu. It was under his mentorship that Shiv Dutt learnt the basics of doing business in India – to be sincere and steadfast in any job one undertakes; not to mix emotions with business; to derive the best out of each member of the team, including self; to be on sweet terms with all those who might prove useful ‘now’ or at any point in future, and most importantly, to manage one’s time. Shiv Dutt always carried in his battered black briefcase a thin notebook, in which he assiduously jotted down, hour by hour, what he was to do during the course of the day.
Shiv Dutt’s business-like attitude not only saw him through some really trying periods of his life, but made him one of the most successful entrepreneurs in the town. His decision to marry Kamlesh, whom he had met at the University, again did not go down well with his father and the couple with their infant daughter had to move to a one-room tenement. But this did not deter the gutsy man to carry on with his business venture, which he ambitiously named ‘Bharat Business Bureau’. He roped in his college-time friends, he managed to lure the best artisans from Saharanpur, UP, and he persuaded the local Super Bazar to allow him to sell his products. As luck would have it, BBB didn’t take off. In the 1970’s, Jammu people were not yet ready for the fancy artefacts that it offered.
But Shiv Dutt was not the one to be put down by any setback. On a visit to Delhi during that period, he was cheerful as usual and took me to a five star hotel. There he ordered masala tea for both of us. I took a sip and did not relish it much. We sat there for over an hour, talking and talking. Finally, the bearer brought the bill. It was three hundred (three hundred of late 1970’s!) or something. Shiv Dutt paid the bill and left a generous tip for the bearer. On the way back, I asked him what was the fun of paying so much money for that insipid tea. Shiv Dutt smiled and said, ‘I didn’t pay for the tea. I paid for the luxury of spending some time with a friend in a grand hotel.’
From Jammu, Shiv Dutt moved to Srinagar, then to Kargil and from there to Leh, where he set up a sizeable establishment. Eventually, he sold off even that business and came back to his hometown. During those venturesome decades, Shiv Dutt tried his hands at selling knick-knacks, furniture, office-stationary and practically everything else that a government office might require in performance of its day-to-day activities.
Destiny was calling him through a tortuous route. It was while making supplies to Doordarshan, Srinagar, that Shiv Dutt landed for himself an assignment of a casual TV anchor. He had the aptitude, talent, experience and personality required for the job. Things started falling into place and in a short period of time, he became the first outside director of DD Srinagar’s in-house productions and the first producer-director from J&K to have been approved by DD Headquarters, Mandi House, New Delhi.
During his remarkable career of over 30 years, Shiv Dutt must have directed and produced hundreds of films of diverse genres. I take vicarious pride in his films in the same manner as a fan of Amir Khan might take of the histrionic skills and perfectionism of the Bollywood actor. Shiv Dutt spared no effort or expense to produce a film. With his canny insight, he found talent in the wide circle of acquaintances he had made. When that did not meet the requirement, he hired the best professionals from Mumbai. Be it the equipment or technical expertise or even outdoor shooting, Shiv Dutt was always chary of the heavy cost a film producer must pay, at the end of the day, for cutting corners. A trailblazer of film industry in J&K, he set standards for others to follow.
By the time Shiv Dutt came up with LAKEER, he was already a seasoned film-maker. The full-length feature film was made in Pahadi, a language that people in Jammu do not normally speak. The characters too were Muslim and so was the culture evoked in the film. It was a bold decision. Where was the audience to come from in a Dogri-Hindustani-Punjabi speaking and Hindu dominated region like Jammu? But the story, based on the separation of a couple in the 1947 riots in the State, demanded such treatment and the film proved a roaring success. There again, it was Shiv Dutt who had, foreseeing the near impossibility of finding traditional cinema halls in the remote areas where the potential viewers lived, shot the film in digitised format. If his audience could not come to watch LAKEER in the towns, he would take LAKEER to them in their villages. I recall how he would stuff his SUV with the digital projector, gen-set, a canvas screen, cooking pots, plates, spoons, mugs and such other things, and set out with his son Himanshu to screen his film in places as far as Mandi in Poonchh and Karnah in Kupwada.
Shiv Dutt was proud of his culture and upbringing. It was his mission to highlight the Dogra cuisine, music, dance forms, shrines and rituals. His NGO, evocatively named ‘Abhiyan’ and the unit ‘Teleman Films’ carried out his mission illustriously.
His adherence to the ‘satvik’ food habits was remarkable, given his ties with the liberal world of glamour. A strict teetotaller, he loved to imbibe desi chaay and fruit juice. Sugary daliya, rich in ghee and topped with a glass of milk, was his favourite breakfast. Mangoes he loved dearly, so much so that once he came to Delhi just to attend Mango Festival and enjoy, as he said, ‘plenty of mangoes of different varieties’. The irony was that the festival was postponed and he had to go back disappointed. There is another incident I can’t forget. Once, while my wife was out of the town, Shiv Dutt came to stay with me. It was mid-morning and I was in the kitchen preparing tadka for the dal. As I was about to put minced onion and garlic cloves into the sizzling oil, in strode Shiv Dutt and snatched away the bowl from me. ‘No thom-pyaz for me, just put some jeera!’ He almost shouted at me. For him garlic was tamsik and so was onion.
Shiv Dutt relished the life that he lived. By virtue of sheer grit, he had turned most of his dreams into everyday reality. Yet, he had many more to realise. But when Death came calling all of a sudden, he had to bid good bye to dear life. Lalit Magotra must have had someone like Shiv Dutt in his mind when he penned these lines:
O katthaan jinne gi snaana ha,
O geet jinne gi gaana ha,
Al vida! Al vida!
Je kish bi pichchhe rehi gya –
Al vida! Al vida!
The tales I had to tell,
The songs I had to sing,
To them, bye-bye, goodbye!
The unseen, the unexperienced
And untried by me,
Whatever is left behind –
To them all, bye-bye, goodbye!
Suman K Sharma