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It all started with a buffalo. The famed Guru Dutt-Waheeda Rehman collaboration began one day in Hyderabad in 1955 when the filmmaker extended his stay in the city after a bovine crashed into his car and then spotted a young woman from across the street. He asked who she was. And the rest, as they sometimes say, is cinematic history.
On Tuesday, Rehman was named recipient of the Dadasaheb Phalke award, occasion for cinephiles to dig into her remarkable filmography.
The Dutt-Rehman story -- which starred gems such as Pyaasa (1957), Kaagaz Ke Phool (1959) and Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam (1962) -- was recalled by film writer Abrar Alvi in Ten Years With Guru Dutt by Sathya Saran.
“Waheeda has a buffalo to thank for the fact that we signed her on,” Alvi recalls in the book, flipping back to the time when Rehman, then a budding dancer, had just started out in the south and Dutt was impatiently looking to add another hit to the list of Aar Paar (1954) and Mr and Mrs ‘55 (1955).
Looking to remake Tamil hit Missiamma (1955) in Hindi, Dutt along with Alvi and their production controller Guruswamy had decided to travel to Hyderabad in a car.
A tired Alvi drove the car into a startled buffalo on the road and the trio had to extend their stay in Hyderabad by a couple of days due to the smashed up car.
On one of those days, sitting at the office of a distributor in Secunderabad, Dutt's attention was grabbed by a young woman who got down from a car and entered the building opposite.
The distributor then informed, “She is a dancer in a Telugu film Rojulu Marayi, which is a super hit thanks to her dance number.” Dutt showed interest in meeting her and Rehman was called into the office, “very plainly dressed, without even lipstick to relieve the monotony of her face” and “spoke softly in near monosyllables in response” to the queries.
Waheeda Rehman had been discovered! She had appeared in two Telugu films Rojulu Maraayi and Jayasimha that year. The following year, Dutt introduced her to Hindi audiences through the blockbuster “CID” (1956) , produced by him and directed by Raj Khosla. That was also the first time Rehman and Dev Anand appeared together on screen.
Rehman also recalled that first meeting in Hyderabad in Nasreen Munni Kabir's book Guru Dutt: A Life in Cinema.
“When I first met him, I didn't think he was a famous and great director because he spoke very little. He asked me a few questions, and I assumed that all he wanted to know was whether I spoke Urdu correctly. The meeting lasted for about half an hour, and then I returned with my family to Madras,” Rehman said.
While the meeting was forgettable, the face and the dance Dutt had seen on a reel of Rojulu Marayi remained with him for the months to come as he toyed with the idea of CID.
Shakila was roped in to play the lead actress and it was while casting for the vamp, who would have to sing and seduce the hero, that Dutt remembered the young woman he had met briefly in Hyderabad.
Rehman remembered being asked to come to Bombay for a screen test some three months after the meeting.
“I was delighted because I had always wanted to work in Hindi films. I met Guru Dutt in his office in Famous Cine Building in June 1955. He gave me a screen test and said; 'You'll have a three-year contract',” she said.
While the shooting was only half completed, Dutt started working on Pyaasa, again featuring Rehman in the immortal role of Gulab.
The complexity of the character, a sex worker, was brought out by Dutt, Rehman recalled in a conversation with Kabir.
“I didn't know much about acting before Pyaasa. I knew about expression because I had learnt dance. All the credit goes to Guru Dutt in the way he built the character of Gulab. He had everything in his mind. I was a newcomer so it was difficult for me to follow the evolution of the character,” she said.
With Dutt in the lead role, Rehman went to perform one of her most memorable roles in Pyaasa.
The duo went on to work in 12 O'Clock (1958), Chaudhvin Ka Chand (1960), and Kala Bazar (1960).
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)