How A Buffalo Changed Waheeda Rehman’s Destiny!

A lovely anecdote I read about in Sathya Saran’s book Ten Years With Guru Dutt: Abrar Alvi’s Journey.

It was sometime in 1955. Mr and Mrs 55 (1955) had released, the screenplay of Pyaasa (1957) was being written and Guru Dutt was on the lookout for a new project to start as there was still be some time for Pyaasa to go on the floors. A distributor from the South suggested that maybe Guru Dutt could consider re-making Missamma (1955), a Telugu film starring Savithri, NT Rama Rao, A Nageshwara Rao and Jamuna that was a huge hit in Andhra Pradesh. Guru Dutt asked if he could get a print but the distributor, Manu Bhai, suggested he go down to Hyderabad as the film was still running in theatres there and added that he would arrange a  translator as well.

Guru Dutt asked his writer, Abrar Alvi, to take a flight to Hyderabad, see the film and report back to him if it was worth remaking. However, there were no flight or train tickets available for days. Dutt suggested why not Alvi drive down to Hyderabad in Dutt’s car? Alvi requested Dutt to also come along as the Plymouth was a big car and so the duo set out at nine-thirty in the evening along with Production Coordinator, Guruswamy, and a driver.

The driver suffered from night blindness which they only found out when he drove the car into a mound of rubbish. So Alvi took the wheel and drove through the night and they reached Hyderabad at about ten the following morning. Though the driver offered to take over the wheel, Alvi refused and continued to drive, tired though he was. Driving on, there was a cart with a buffalo tied to it, and as Alvi drew alongside intending to overtake it, he let out a honk of warning, which startled the poor animal, who ran out straight in the direction of the car. According to Alvi, the animal was not badly hurt but the car was badly smashed. Paying off the cart driver to avoid any further trouble, they drove the crumpled heap to a garage in Hyderabad.

The garage owner said the car could be repaired but it would take two or three days, which meant that Dutt was stuck in Hyderabad. To make things worse, he was not impressed by Missamma, which also had a ‘marriage of convenience’ between the hero and heroine like Mr and Mrs 55.  Guru Dutt, Alvi and Guruswamy then dropped in at the office of a distributor in Secundrabad. As they were lost in conversation, a car drove up, a group of urchins chasing it. A woman got out, avoided the urchins and entered the building opposite. Alvi enquired who was the woman.  She is a dancer he was told.  She had done a dance in the Telugu film Rojulu Marayi (1955) and the film was a big hit largely due to her dance number. And what was her name, Alvi asked and was told it was Waheeda Rehman. When asked if she could speak Hindi, the distributor said she could. He asked Guru Dutt if he’d like to meet her to which Dutt agreed as they had time to kill anyway. So the distributor sent a message to the opposite building and soon Waheeda came across.

The meeting was awkward and an anti-climax. According to Alvi, Waheeda looked plain without make-up, spoke in monosyllables and left soon after. The distributor, however, pushed them to watch her dance. Again, they agreed – not because they wished to do so but because they had nothing else to do. And since arrangements had to be made to get the reel and arrange a hall for projection, the group’s attention shifted to beer and lunch!

By the time the projection was arranged, Dutt and Alvi were floating, six bottles down. As the song was screened, both agreed that she was extremely photogenic and Dutt asked the distributor for another meeting.

Once the car was repaired and Dutt returned to Bombay, Waheeda was forgotten. As Pyaasa was still to take off, Dutt soon launched another thriller, CID, to be directed by his assistant, Raj Khosla. And when it came to casting the vamp, who had to dance and seduce the hero, suddenly Guru Dutt remembered the starlet he had met in Secundrabad. And so Waheeda Rehman was called to Bombay, where she signed a contract with Guru Dutt Films for 5 years, and began work on CID and soon after, Pyaasa. The rest as they (always) say is history.

PS: Missamma (Missiamma in Tamil) was remade later in Hindi as Miss Mary (1957) with Meena Kumari and Gemini Ganesan, proving to be extremely successful at the box-office. Oh, and what about the song that Guru Dutt and Abrar Alvi saw from Rojulu Marayi? Here it is! Leave alone being Waheeda Rehman’s stepping stone to stardom, it also proved to be the inspiration for SD Burman’s hit composition Dekhne Mein Bola Hai Dil Ka Salona from the film Bambai Ka Babu (1960)!

Header photo courtesy Arun Dutt

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