In this weekly column, we revisit gems from the golden years of Hindi cinema. This week, we revisit the 1951 release Baazi.
If you have grown up knowing a fair bit about Hindi cinema, chances are, you know about the cult of Dev Anand. The mythical charm of the star had women go weak in their knees as he majestically glided through the silver screen. But which was the film that made Dev Anand a bonafide star?
In Dev Anand’s own words, that film was Guru Dutt’s 195 release Baazi. It was with Baazi that Dev Anand “saw what stardom was – in terms of adulation and fan following.” The 1951 film was the first film of the legendary Guru Dutt and also made stars out of composer SD Burman and lyric writer Sahir Ludhianvi. Balraj Sahni, who later became known as one of the most accomplished actors of Indian cinema, was brought on board for writing the motion picture and delivered a film that introduced a new narrative and style. Over the years, they became tropes, but that is a story for another day.
It is well known that Dev Anand and Guru Dutt shared a deep friendship and promised to have each other’s back in the world of showbiz, even before they made a name for themselves. Baazi, in its literal terms, means a bet and this was Dev betting on Dutt. When Dev launched Navketan Films with Chetan Anand’s Afsar, the film didn’t deliver as expected. So, Dev took a chance and gave Dutt the reigns of his next Baazi – the film that was going to determine the future of Navketan Films. Baazi hit the bull’s eye and changed the fortunes of everyone who was associated with the film. The film started the sub-genre known as ‘Bombay Noir’ where the city was almost a character. The genre was later developed in films like CID, Taxi Driver.
Also starring Geeta Bali and Kalpana Karthik, Baazi could very well be termed a potboiler. With a pulpy story that has mystery and intrigue, a love triangle, a murder, an investigation, and an innocent hero who is not that innocent otherwise – Baazi checks all the boxes for the popular tropes of a masala Hindi film. This was the film that started the trend that others soon followed.
Baazi has Dev playing Madan, a morally ambiguous man who doesn’t mind gambling to earn some money but he does it only for his “bimaar behen ka ilaaj.” He loves a kind-hearted doctor who treats the poor for free and maintains his distance from the flirtatious Leena (played by Geeta Bali) who calls him an “anari” for being a little too naive.
The film’s plot is simple. Madan works for a man named ‘Maalik’ who runs a gambling den but the boss lives a dual life. When Madan learns of the same, Maalik wants him out of the picture. Of course, there is a plot about Madan and Maalik’s righteous daughter being in love. And the seductress Leena, who is constantly pulling Madan into the lion’s den. As Madan is struggling with a dilemma of choosing the moral or the immoral path, Leena’s ‘Tadbeer se bigdi hui taqdeer bana le’ push him towards the latter because in the world of Baazi, no one is as lucky with cards as Madan. Boosting himself with confidence, Madan bets on himself as we hear ‘Apne pe bharosa hai toh ek daanv laga le’.
While this track is probably the most popular song from the film, Baazi’s music was a game-changer in the 1950s. SD Burman and Sahir Ludhianvi struck a golden partnership with this one. ‘Sharmaaye Kaahe Ghabraaye Kaahe’, ‘Aaj Ki Raat Piya’, among other songs gave Baazi memorable music.
Baazi started the era of Guru Dutt as well. The filmmaker, who in his later works explored different facets of existentialism, was as mainstream as one could be with Baazi. And although his themes might have narrowed down in his later works, his style of filmmaking is quite typical from the get-go. The sharp shadows, the precise dialogues, the celebration of love and the naughtiness of temptation, Baazi has it all.
Watching Baazi in 2021 wouldn’t make you long for the 1950s but it is evident how with hits like Baazi, Bollywood got its ‘formulaic’ structure that has since been evolving.
Baazi is streaming on YouTube, MXPlayer, ShemarooMe.