In August 1962, Dev Anand returned from an extensive tour of Berlin, Paris, London and the US, and hinted about pursuing an extremely ambitious venture. Dev Anand was planning to go international.
Thus, began a long and interesting story. One which was embroiled in controversy, personality clashes, envy, volte face, political intervention, rigging, débâcle and triumph.
All these gain more relevance in the context of S D Burman, as the music of Guide which was its strongest point, was the worst impacted.
There are many versions about how Guide was conceived. The one which had gained credence in the early 1960s was…. After the Berlin Film Festival in 1962, Dev and his wife travelled to London and later, at the invitation of the Nobel laureate, Pearl S Buck and the Polish-American TV film director, Tad Danielewski of Stratton Productions, to New York. It was while eating a dish called ‘Scorpion’ at a restaurant in ‘The Village’ (as Greenwich Village is commonly referred to), that Dev presented Pearl S Buck with a copy of R K Narayan’s The Guide .
While both Pearl and Tad were impressed by the possibilities of a cinematic adaptation of the novel, they had doubts whether Narayan would be willing to part with the film rights of his novel. Secondly, the book had been adapted into a Broadway play starring Pakistani actor, Zia Mohyeddin as The Guide .
Dev immediately sought an appointment with R. K. Narayan and signed a contract with him. There was also a broad consensus that the film be made in both English and Hindi. While Tad was de facto director of the English version, for the Hindi, it was a toss up between Chetan Anand and Raj Khosla. Neither worked out. Finally Vijay ‘Goldie’ Anand was chosen to direct the Hindi version.
By June 1963, the shooting of the English version of The Guide was completed and Pearl S. Buck who viewed the rushes, found it up to the mark. But then, around that time, music composer S.D. Burman had suffered a heart attack.
The thorough professional that he was, Burman advised Dev to sign on a new composer for Guide, but Dev put his foot down and insisted that Burman should first get well and then take over. Meanwhile in distant Mysore, R. K. Narayan was seething with anger, as Tad, apart from adding his own interpretations to the story, had shifted its location from the fictional town of Malgudi to the colourful Udaipur and other parts of Rajasthan. However, when Narayan saw the English version in January 1964, he wrote to Dev, labelling the film profound, artistic, and exquisite. In 1964, Dev began promoting The Guide in the US and the premiere elicited encouraging responses from a cross section of viewers.
And finally, the English version premiered at the Lincoln Art theatre in New York in February 1965. The mainstream press in America including New York Times and the Time magazine didn’t take a liking to The Guide , though.
Meanwhile, in the Hindi version —lyricist Hasrat Jaipuri had been replaced by Shailendra as the Anands were somehow not satisfied with the songs written by Hasrat. .
Dev Anand had plans to release the Hindi version of The Guide by end 1965. But suddenly, he was faced with a barrage of protests from some quarters who strongly recommended that the film be banned on grounds that it promoted infidelity, that too of a woman!
Finally, Guide released on 8 April 1966. It had a shaky start, for here was a film which didn’t present Dev Anand as the quintessential lover boy.
Gradually, good reviews started pouring in. However, the box office response was lukewarm. And, as a result, music sales were also sluggish. Gradually, realisation dawned upon the public, and the penny dropped.
Guide was a feast of colours. The music was more like an impressionist’s response to a plethora of hues around him. All the songs, even the sombre ones, and the dance sequences including the snake dance, have several layers of colourful undertones. The S.D. Burman of Guide was like Monet at Argenteuil, playing with the changing tones of the Seine and its surroundings.
Once the music was appreciated by the public, the marketing strategy for Guide was swiftly altered.
Blurbs in newspapers started with lines from songs. However, Guide did not receive the Filmfare award for its music that year. Justice came later. In 2006, in a nation-wide poll in Outlook magazine, in which only select personalities connected with music and cinema were invited to list their ten favourite Hindi film songs, two songs from Guide — Din dhal jaye and Tere mere sapne — vied with Kuch toh log kahenge (from Amar Prem , 1971) for the second position. Another song from Guide, Piya tose naina laage re was tied at number four. And ….the Outlook poll concluded Guide as the most popular musical film ever.
(The writers dwell on this subject in their forthcoming book on SD Burman)