Starring Meena Kumari, Guru Dutt, Waheeda Rehman, Sapru, Nair Hussain, Krishan Dhawan and Dhumal Mukund, Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam is set in Bengal at the turn of the 19th century and tells the story of an aristocratic family on their way to ruin.
Meena Kumari plays Chhoti Bahu who is married to the youngest aristocrat in the family Chhote Babu, played by Rehman. Bhootnath, played by Guru Dutt enters this world of mystery, intrigue and crushing traditions. He lives with his uncle who teaches the children in the grand mansion. Bhootnath soon finds employment in a local factory that produces the bridal red powder to adorn the foreheads of women. There he meets Jabba, played by Waheeda Rehman, a confident daughter of factory owner played by Nazir Hussain. It is his employment in this factory that brings Bhootnath and Chhoti Bahu into close contact. Meeting with men outside of the family was forbidden and unheard of.
Exquisitely lit, the film is photographed with his long time collaborator, V.K. Murthy and was made in 1962. Although the credit of director is given to Abrar Alvi, the visual language is that of Guru Dutt’s and many still argue to this day that in fact it was Guru Dutt who directed the film but gave credit to his friend.
Guru Dutt shows Meena Kumari’s character, Chhoti Bahu, spiral into an alcoholic when she tries to seduce her husband to stay with her which by default turns into love when Rehman, Chhote Babu, is left paralysed after a brutal attack over a quarrel about a prostitute.
Complex and layered, Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam is told in flashback; when Bhootnath returns to the ruins of the grand mansion – he finds the remains of Chhoti Bahu, buried with all her jewellery. Guru Dutt shows us the stifling world of the aristocrats, their hedonisms, entertaining of prostitutes and gambling steeped in tradition, culture and machismo. He wanted to go beyond conventions and create daring work. He was forced to edit out a scene where a drunken Meena Kumari puts her head in the lap of Guru Dutt. Despite working in stifling conditions, he created a master peice.