He rolls the dice, asks the girl standing next to him to kiss his hand and voilà! he gets a pair of six. Dev Anand lights his cigarette, flashes his Dev Anand smile and tells us what kind of a baazigar he is: Main beimaani ka jua nahin khelta (I don’t gamble dishonestly)…
Guru Dutt made his directorial debut with this Anand-Geeta Bali-Kalpana Karthik starrer Baazi, a crime thriller with noir elements. The film was planned as a quickie to keep Anand Bros’ family banner, Navketan, afloat after the failure of Afsar (1950). It was Anand’s decision to get Dutt on board as director after their famous pact that they would give each other a break when they had a chance. In Sidharth Bhatia’s book, The Naveketan Story: Cinema Modern, Devsaab reminisces that this was a difficult decision because it meant keeping his brother Chetan out of the film, and trust a relative newcomer with not only his status but also the fortunes of their production company.
Dutt and Anand assembled a power-packed team for Baazi. Balraj Sahni, who had just returned after a stint with the BBC was entrusted with the story, screenplay and dialogues. Zohra Sehgal was brought in to choreograph the dance sequences. SD Burman composed the music while a young poet named Sahir Ludhianvi was given a chance to pen lyrics for the songs. Raj Khosla served as assistant director. A bus conductor who Sahni had seen entertaining passengers was called in for a cameo, to play a drunkard, and while the film credits him by his real name Badruddin, after Baazi, the world knew him as Johnny Walker. With such luminaries at work, it is no wonder that Baazi has “stellar” written all over it.
True to its noir roots, the film pitches Madan (Anand) as a flamboyant anti-hero who wants to play fair, but unlike a tragic hero, he doesn’t brood when the odds are stacked against him; rather he fights till he can. The mood of the film is darkish, full of shadows — Dutt would use a similar colour palette in his later films such as Jaal, CID, Aar Paar. There is also a siren Leena (Bali), who dances in seedy bars and enjoys a flirtatious relationship with Madan. The first time she meets Madan, she offers him a bevarage saying,“Sharab nahin.. thandi coffee hai (It’s not alcohol, it’s cold coffee).” She checks him out and declares, “Anari maloom hote ho (You appear to be a novice)” and then removes his beret, ruffles his hair affectionately and tells him, “Tum khoobsurat ho (You are beautiful).” He shoots back, “Tum aafat ho (You are a troublemaker).” She bats her eyelashes and whispers, “Shukriya.” That’s the kind of girl she is.
Bali strikes the perfect balance between endearing and intriguing and even in a supporting role, she shines in every frame. Be it the dances — look how she teases Madan when she croons, Insaaf tere saath hai ilzaam laga le… or when she warns him with Suno gajar kya gaaye — Bali as Leena is dignified and alluring.
Dev is romantically paired with Karthik nee Mona Singha, who was introduced in this film. She plays Rajani, a socially aware doctor “jo gareebo ka muft ilaaj karti hai (who treats poor patients for free).” She also happens to be arch villain Bossman KN Singh’s daughter in the film. When Madan and Rajani fall in love, the baazi is turned against him.
Incidentally, Baazi was a personal milestone for Anand and Karthik: they fell in love on the sets of this film and eventually got married. The film also made Anand a superstar. In his autobiography Romancing with Life, Devsaab reminisces: “Baazi gave me an image that stayed in the minds of people, and made a genuine star out of me. For the first time I felt and saw what stardom was in terms of adulation and fan following. I became a phenomenon after the release of Baazi.”
The film’s recall value is boosted by the music brought to us by the winning team of Dada Burman, Ludhianvi and Geeta Dutt. Just listen to the soundtrack and you will have a memorable Sunday.
PLAY IT AGAIN
Film: Baazi Year: 1951
Director: Guru Dutt
Cast: Dev Anand, Kalpana Karthik, Geeta Bali, KN Singh
Music: SD Burman
Sharmaaye Kaahe: Shamshaad Begum
Yeh Kaun aaya: Geeta Dutt
Tadbeer Se Bigdii: Geeta Dutt
Aaj Ki Raat Piya: Geeta Dutt
Mere Labon Pe: Kishore Kumar
Dekhte Akele: Geeta Dutt
Tum Bhi Naa Bhoole: Geeta Dutt
Suno Gajar Kya Gaaye: Geeta Dutt
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