Pyaasa: Pristine Poetry On Celluloid
On Feb 19, 1957, Guru Dutt’s classic Pyaasa was released. Read the review of this epoch making movie, which Time magazine had included in its list of 100 best films.
Actors: Guru Dutt, Waheeda Rahman, Mala Sinha, Rehman, Johnny Walker
Music: S D Burman
Playback: Geeta Dutt, Hemant Kumar, Mohd Rafi
Producer-Director: Guru Dutt
The auditorium is jam-packed. The crowd comprising the glitterati, the litterati and the common man and woman has gathered to celebrate the death anniversary of Vijay – the legendary poet.
Just then a haunting voice wafts across the hall. Heads turn and what they see is easily one of the most mesmerising scenes in Indian Cinema. The protagonist is standing at the entrance. His hair is unkempt and his arms are outstretched.
Gradually the backlight comes on and the figure silhouetted against it is distinctly Christ-like. And like Christ, Vijay (Guru Dutt) is resurrected by the very society, which ‘crucified’ him.
This scene I witnessed first around three decades ago as a kid. Even now when I think of it or see it on one of the TV channels (a rare thing of course in this age of remixes and item numbers) I get goose pimples. Any lover of Indian cinema would know which immortal scene and which awesome movie I am talking about. Yes, it is the Guru Dutt classic Pyaasa.
The story of a young and sensitive poet – Pyaasa has captured the imagination of cinegoers across generations from Paris to Pathankot and Cannes to Canberra.
The protagonist is used and abused by an apathetic and callous society for selfish ends. His beloved, his friends and even his brothers sacrifice him at the altar of Mammon.
However, in this miasma of rotting sensibilities there is a fresh fragrance – Gulab (Waheeda Rehman), a prostitute who falls in love with Vijay and his verse – a love that is selfless, pure and unconditional.
Unable to bear the all round rejection and fathom Gulab’s silent love for him, Vijay attempts suicide. A beggar to whom he has given his coat a few minutes back saves him but dies in the attempt. In his coat is Vijay’s suicide note and it is assumed that the poet is dead.
In the meanwhile Gulab pawns her jewellery and publishes Vijay’s book of verse, which becomes an instant hit. He becomes a household name.
When the reclusive poet says that he is Vijay no one recognises him, including his brothers who are bribed by the publisher. He is declared insane and locked up in a lunatic asylum. He manages to escape and reaches the auditorium where his jayanti is being observed.
Unable to tolerate the blatant hypocrisy he begins to express himself in verse. Naturally he is recognised and now every one claims ownership of the blue chip poet.
Finally another function is organised to felicitate the resurrected Vijay. In the programme he declares, “I am not the Vijay you are looking for. That Vijay is dead.”
The audience feels cheated and rushes on stage to attack him. He somehow manages to escape and reaches Gulab’s house. She is waiting for him and together they disappear into the sunset.
Why do I like this movie? Well it is as close to perfection as anything can get. Each and every aspect of the film is incomparable.
Take for instance the direction. Each and every frame of the film is chiselled to perfection. Guru Dutt’s handling of his main characters is terrific. The script is taut; the story even within the broad parameters of the Devdas saga is brilliant.
Society rejects the talented poet only to venerate him later. The poet in turn turns his back on the selfish and self-centred world and finds self actualisation in unconditional love.
As far as acting is concerned Guru Dutt’s sensitive Vijay with his brooding, haunting eyes is easily his best role and one which stays with you long after the lights have come on. Waheeda Rehman as Gulab looks like a dream and acts like one.
Whether it is the teasing Gulab of “Jaane kya tune kahi” or the yearning one of “Aaj sajan mohe ang laga lo” she is enchanting. Johnny Walker, Mala Sinha and Rehman too impress.
Moving on to songs, when you have the best lyricist and the best music director of Hindi films together what can you expect except MAGIC. Sahir Ludhianvi and S.D. Burman weave an enthralling web of verse and melody which is as captivating today as it was more than four decades ago.
Each and every song whether is the ched-chhaad college romance type “Hum aapki aankhon mein” or the masti filled “Sar jo tera chakraye”, the numbers are so apt for the situation.
Hemant Kumar’s “Jaane woh kaise log thhe jinke” is sheer poetry which raises angst to a sublime level.
“Jinhe naaz hai hind par” should be made compulsory listening for all our politicians.
Now I come to the best song in the movie, which would feature in any top ten collection by anyone, anywhere: “Yeh mehlon, yeh takhton, yeh taazon ki duniya”.
The lyrics give you a knot in your throat, the music sears your soul and the voice of Mohammad Rafi leaves you searching for the unsaid.
Finally I would like to add that while sharing with you my impressions of the movie I have committed a faux pas. I have called Pyaasa a movie – it is not a film – it is pure and pristine poetry on celluloid.
Editor’s Note: Ramendra Kumar, the author of this review is a film buff and has recently launched his first novel for the adult reader Mohini. Read the book’s review “Mohini: The Implosion Of The Brightest Star“
More to read on Learning and Creativity:
Read Ramendra Kumar’s interview Mohini: Bollywood, Beyond The Gloss And Glitter
Check out Ramendra Kumar’s short stories published in Learning and Creativity.
Pyaasa: Guru Dutt’s Immortal Classic
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