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Thursday, 10 June 2010

Love's labour lost (Pyaasa)

What dampens Vijay's optimism?
Hoping against hope that some day the world will regard his creation, this struggling poet toils on. With an empty stomach and the burden of umemployment on his sturdy shoulders, Vijay keeps penning those poems, whose beauty and poignance no one is able to comprehend save the poet himself. But, there is no stopping him. Society, reeking of materialism, keeps crushing his creativity and aspirations beneath its greed and artificiality. Just like the bee, whose buzzing life is stamped out by the passer-by and his banal existence. But, Vijay writes on. For, he believes in himself and his talent. It is this talent, he feels, that will shine forth amidst the dark dreary world of hypocricy and cruelty. It is this thirst that keeps him going...

A man, so relentlessly full of hope, is sure to succeed, we are sure. And succeed he does, with every one seeing life through his lyricism. But, at what cost? When he is shorn of every iota of honour, respect and integrity? When the world has pronounced him dead? When his near ones decline him as their own? When he is left to wither away in ignominy? Can that success taste sweet? For Vijay, that success is nauseous. Disillusioned, disgusted and disenchanted with the rampant greed and hypocrisy of the world, this struggling poet decides to relinquish the shallow honour. He will not be able to breathe in this air thick with pretense and sycophancy. He shuns his pen, this world, and walks away with his one true love into the horizon that promises a more stable future. This life may not be comfortable, but it will be honourable. This brave soldier wins the war against the consumerist world.
Guru Dutt was a filmmaker much ahead of his times. And Pyaasa proves that. This 1957 classic tackles issues that not many would dare to toy with. Dutt's Vijay is mentally strong, physically not like the typical handsome hero, boasts of a sensitive yet pragmatic mind and has the balls to shun material achievements. In fact, even his angst has direction. His calm yet sarcastic elocution of Janey woh kaise log they jinkey bears testimony to that. Instead of quarelling with a bunch of pompous shayars, he puts forth his point in a quiet but firm way, thus silencing all. His smirk at the emptiness inherent in this world is not taken so well though. But, he is not bothered. He stings his past love with the truth about her unfaithful behaviour. She sheds stifled tears but cannot refute. For, she knows...
Dutt's discourse, as a director, is never one-dimensional. Hence, he toughens up Meena (Mala Sinha is a very different role) to say that love isn't enough in life. Money is imperative for comforts. Hence, she opts for the influential publisher (Rehman is handsome, astute and cunning as Mr Ghosh). But, she is never able to forget Vijay. Why else would she snatch moments with him in the elevator and her husband's office? Vijay has the answer. She should have given him the chance at least, to prove his responsible nature. Howzzat? Meena is indecisive. Earlier, she ditched Vijay, and now she is slanting towards him again. But, Vijay's intergrity won't allow that.
This beating in love hurts him. Once bitten, twice shy, Vijay goes on to say about Meena (the woman who had inspired him to pen beautiful poetry), "Apne shaukh ke liye pyar karti hain, aur apne araam ke liye pyaar bechti hain." But, Gulabo's love is not for sale. Vijay does realise that later. But, the two have to wade through a sea of trials and turbulence.
Two women, two expressions of love. One was selfish, the other selfless. With a heart of gold, Gulabo, the prostitute, devotes her love and life to this poet. In fact, she uses his couplets to lure a prospective customer. SD Burman creates magic in Pyaasa and Sahir Ludhianvi's lyrics are unimaginably gorgeous. The tantalising nature of Jane kya tune kahi is devoid of crass titillation. Yet, it is heavy with desire. Gulabo falls in love with Vijay's poetry, which she buys from a scrapdealer, and as she comes close to Vijay in different circumstances, she falls in love with the artist. But she is the typical sweetheart, too, and is aptly curious about his past relationship when she says, "Aap dilchaspi letey hain, isliye..."
Aaj sajan mujhey aang lagalo, as a love song, is a winner. Gulabo, her soul touched by the honour that Vijay bestowed on her by introducing her as his wife to a nosey policeman, is all ready to submit herself to her saviour. This kirtan, sung heartbreakingly by Geeta Dutt, defines love in its many avatars--physical, emotional and spiritual. Waheeda Rehman is the perfect Gulabo. Initially brusque (given her trade) she reaches a realm of extreme spirituality and devotion in her love for Vijay. A prostitute, and someone's wife? Something never heard of. But her silent faith will see her through the jungle of worries. And, Vijay will, she believes...
Guru Dutt is the scorcher in Pyaasa, especially in his dhoti-kurta. Intellectually above his peers and creatively better than many, Vijay shows courage in his convictions. He is witty, too. When the publisher tells him, "Aap shayar hain, to mein gadha hoon," Vijay's quick retort is, "Aap agar apne muh se taarif na kartey to bhi mein samajh jata." But, this wit and bounce takes a beating under several dire situations--incessant slights by his brothers (one of them is Mehmood in a deliciously wicked role), dismissals by several publishers, unfaithfulness by his lover, the death of his mother and most importantly, the vicious cycle of poverty, lucklessness and lack of intergrity around him. Profound cynicism makes him sing Jinhen naaz hain is hind par and we feel, how true are his thoughts. Only, not many of us are strong enough to accept the reality. Are we?
Vijay's dejection is too heavy to be removed by Sattar's (Johny Walker) tel malish. But, this dear friend tries to balm the poet's wounds. But, Vijay is frayed: "Aaj duniye ne itna masal diya ki malish ki zaroorat nahin hain." So true. The world is unfair to him. They do not give even a puny chance to this lad to prove his mettle. They drive him up the wall of desperation. They have no decorum of honour or truth. Friends of Vijay are bought and sold. Brothers, sharing the same flesh and blood, call him theirs at their own convenience. So, who is to blame if he rants out his angst before the teeming populace, now asking him to verify his own name and existence?
Mohd Rafi breathes life into Yeh duniya agar mil bhi jaaye. And, Dutt makes the song burn our senses with his pointed expressions. He wanted to rule the world with his poetry. But, he is tired of its baseless persona. No, this world will not satisfy him, this world that has robbed his very basis of existence. What is a man without self respect? Vijay is better-off without this false appreciation that can be transacted with a handful of filthy lucre. His poetry cannot survive these noxious fumes of flattery. God willing, Vijay will find peace in Gulabo's care, his poetry shall thrive in the warmth of her love...


  1. What a fine analysis of a superb film. Pyaasa remains one of those very few Hindi films that, despite being sad and turbulent, are so mesmerising in their finesse that you can't help but admire them. A very well deserved entry on TIME magazine's list of the world's best 100 movies.

  2. @Sharmi: This film grows on you, surely and steadily. The socialist in Guru Dutt, who had spent his struggling years in the post-Independence Calcutta buzzing with trade union movements, comes of age with Pyaasa. And who doesn't know socialism breeds romance in you?
    Nice write-up on a watershed movie.

  3. @Dustedoff: This film, Madhulika, is one of the finest films I've ever seen. I thought Waheeda was too good. And, Guru Dutt, just leaves such a lasting impression on you! A beautiful film with a superb message!!

  4. @Netdhaba: Yes, this is definitely a watershed film that changes the thought-process of many filmmakers those times. But, not many could bring out such a masterpiece. I'm yet to see Kaagaz ke Phool. That one should be fine, too, I guess. :)

  5. দারুন লিখে ছ

  6. @Ships: Thank you Shilpi. Tumio darun comment korecho! :)

  7. Sharmi, don't get your hopes up for Kaagaz ke Phool. It is nowhere as brilliant as Pyaasa - the music is awesome and there are some moments of Guru Dutt's fine direction, but on the whole, it's a melodramatic and depressing film that leaves you with a feeling of sheer melancholy. But do watch it, at least once.

  8. @Dustedoff: Really?? People have told me that It is another masterpiece. Thank you Madhulika for ticking me off. I'll keep my fingers crossed now. Maybe then, when I write about it I'll point out why I didn't and why I did like the film :)

  9. @Sharmi thanks for reviewing Pyasa. This is one of my eternal favourites. I loved your phrase "Vijay's dejection is too heavy to be removed by sattar's tel malish":) Yes Vijay an ironical name for a man who is a loser in the eyes of the world and who loses everything he holds dear. And like most geniuses his talent is recognised only after he was thought to be dead by the very people who destroyed him.
    His never say die spirit and optimism when they die, out come the scorching words jala do jala do issey phoonk dalo ye duniya...the angst in this poetry of a failed genius failed by the world is yet to be surpassed in Hindi cinema. Such molten words have never been written again for a song in Hindi cinema.
    I think there's a bit of Sahir in Vijay the poet and I have a feeling Sahir must have identified with Vijay's character to have come up with such gems as "hum ghum-zada hain layein kahan se khushi ke geet, denge wahi jo payenge is zindagi se hum". This sher he says at Mr Ghosh's party just before the song jaane wo kaise...sums up Vijay's turbulent life and poetry.
    Much as he wants to be recognised and the world to move beyond Ghalib and Momin, there's a streak of haughtiness and arrogance in him too which makes him choose hunger and death over selling his poetry to those who don't understand them. He refuses to write what the publishers said people wanted to read -- about love and longing. His poetry is about despair, poverty and angst against the world that has no place for the havenots -- a throwback to the socialist/communist influences of that era when most of our poet/lyricists, scriptwriters and filmmakers were left-leaning intellectuals including sahir.
    I think I have rambled long enough and should stop right here! But before that a word about Kagaz ke phool. Granted it was not as perfect as pyasa and has its lows but the highs in terms of cinematic brilliance far outweigh the lows. It is a sad and melancholic movie but sometimes sadness is also beautiful:)

  10. @Abhi: Yes, true. Melancholy can be definitely mesmerising sometimes.
    You know, regarding Vijay's name, I also noticed that he never used his surname (or rather we never get to know his surname). Signifying that he never got the support of his family. He has to fight his battle for recognition alone.
    Yesterday, I started watching Mr and Mrs 55 on youtube and quite liked it. Have to see the full movie still. But, one thing that caught my attention was how this master balanced his light and serious personality. Thank you Abhi for the comment! It showed how poetic you also are. Just like the masters who lived then and gave us such wonderful poetry. Sadly, none of this can be enjoyed now. Bad are the times and tastes. What say?

  11. Thanks Sharmi for celebrating the triumph over trials and tribulations so beautifully. For me, this film somehow inspires to "carry on jaani" and that we shall overcome someday. And must say, I agree with what Abhi very rightly pointed out that Sahir must have in some way identified with Vijay's character to have penned such beautiful lines about despair and dejection. Sharmi, now it is Kagaaz Ke Phool next on our list.

  12. Got something interesting....Tang aah chuke hain .... has been sung by Mohd Rafi for Guru Dutt in Pyaasa and by Asha Bhosle for Nutan in Light House.
    Beautiful lines!!!

  13. Ya those of us who swear by the old do so because the new have little to offer! But I do hear some good lines in the songs being written now but they get drowned in the cacophony of the drums and electric guitars! Very few songs have melody. In recent times I liked the songs and music of Ishqiya but again that is Gulzar!
    @thanks shilps for that interesting nugget on that song...and yes next is Kagaz ke phool but of course Sharmi could lighten up her mood with a shammi flick before delving into the dark again!

  14. @Shilps: Two songs sung differently by two different greats! Oh, the music of yesteryear. where has it all gone??? It's sad, the kind of rubbish the youngsters are growing up on now!
    You know Shilpi, today afternoon I finished watching Mr & Mrs 55. What I realised was that Guru Dutt's thought process in this film is the same as in his serious films. Only, the expression is different. This film has caught my fancy more because I like his way of taming the naughty and sometimes haughty Madhubala. So, before Kaagaz ke phool happens, maybe this light-hearted romantic flick of the master. Not that he is swashbuckling like Shammi, but he has a point to make also :)

  15. @Abhi: Where is your take on my Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam Coalemus? I'm waiting for that :) And yes, you're right. Before KkP happens, maybe a piece on Mr & Mrs 55 or Professor :)

  16. Hello Sharmi,
    Mmm... Pyaasa! Well, that was nice! I had a discussion some time ago on Bollywhat about it, and we were wondering about the ending of the movie: I was suggesting that the "resurrection" of Vijay (victorious over death) was a sort of Jesus-symbol, and that Guru Dutt was purposefully using this symbol. So, what's your take on that?

  17. @Yves: Hello Yves. This ending was not initially conceived by Guru Dutt, who believed in too much realism. Scathed that Vijay was by the cruel world, it is quite obvious that he would walk away alone. But, to make it commercially more viable to the audience those days who were more used to enjoying frothy romances (where the leads always ended up together), Dutt rethought the ending (after the proding of his fellow makers in the Pyaasa team). Hence, we see him uniting with Gulabo, the only person who believed in him.
    Yes, you are right. Vijay does appear to resurrect himself after all the odds. Maybe, because he wanted to show that the person with a more strong character and mind will prevail against all odds. It's the victory of hope but only after Vijay puts the storm in his heart to rest. The storm that rose due to the hypocrisy in society. Thank you for the comment :)

  18. We have just had a long discussion and analysis on Pyaasa on harvey's blog. In fact, he was doing a series on all Guru Dutt films -
    So we had a detailed discussion on lots of things there. Pyaasa is a masterpiece!
    Everything about this movie is classic - direction, performance, lyrics, dialogues, music, cinematography, light, angle..... It's an institution in itself. One could actually do a research on this movie.

  19. @Sunheriyaadein: Really Archana, you are very right. Actually Pyaasa is such a watershed film that it sets a precedence for many filmmakers who wanted to dabble with real life topics (removed from just romance, love, fun, basically the rosey things of life). Guru Dutt was a man much ahead of his times and it's good that he earned enough from hits such as Aar Paar and Mr & Mrs 55 to finally make films that were more close to his heart. Now off to read Harvey's commentary :)

  20. The BEST review of Pyaasa, I have read so far. Congrats!

  21. @Punya: Thank you Punya. I'm glad you liked it. Well, I visited your blog, too. Quite interesting it was. Great job :)


  23. @Gaurav: What can I say! All the very best!!

  24. all ur posts on vintage hindi films are fab.

    however, i found some problems with the story of pyaasa. early in the movie, it is shown that vijay's work is criticized by an urdu poetry(shayari) publisher as waste. he tells that he(vijay) writes on strange and offbeat topics like unemployment and is depressing, and not on the popular appeal of the audience(like that of the beauties of nature). so the pulisher, considering vijay's work as crap sold it off. later, at athe college get-together, when vijay sings one of his depressing[here i don't mean that i don't appreciate his poems(great poety by sahir)]poems, where a person from the audience interrupts and mockingly requested him to recite something more happier. also, the paper editor mr.ghosh(played brilliantly ny rehman) refuses to vijay's poetry.

    at this point one thing is clear that vijay's poetry, be it beautiful in its complexity and intellectual content-wise, is not approved by people(barring the massage man sattar(walker) & gulabo(prostitute), who more than use his poetry for their respective profession than intrigue).

    but later in the film when vijay's work did get published, it becomes an instant hit. people fock to purchase his work and become vijay' crazy fans. his works receive such stardom. both i(perhaps the urdu publiser and mr.ghosh too) were shocked at this magical reception of vijay's work. now the question arises, that why did it take lots of jewellery of gulabo and the account of vijay's death(he didn't die actually) to convice mr.ghosh to publish vijay's work in his newspaper. why didnt he publish them in the very beginning when vijay came to him. didn't he know that it would be a great opportiunity of earning fast bucks by using vijay? the same question arises with the publiser at the startin gof the movie. was he so stupid to reject vijay's work knowing the overwhelming response it was to get on its publish. could the world so aptly depicted as cynical by the director (guru dutt) be so foolish. here, i want to make it clear that the the publisher and mr. ghost didn't reject vijay's poems because he is poor, but because his work doen't belong to the popular appeal and publishing it won't fetch them a penny.

    i don't understand, is guru dutt want's to say that people both approve and disapprove complex works on poetry. if it is the case, i cant't accept it, as the film shows two absolutely different kinds of society.

    what do you think? KINDLY ANSWER

  25. @Bablu: Thanks for the appreciation. Woah!! That was one big comment!!
    I think it all has to do with talent not being recognised up front. It's true even today that without publicity and cheap stunts any worthy creation is lauded. Similarly in the case of Vijay, he was not supported by the powerful lot in society who could bolster his cause. BUt after his 'death' they see a money minting tactic in his poems. No wonder Sahir (who also had a bit of disillusionment in his mind) put forward such a scathing comment through his lyrics!!

  26. @Sharmi: I just watched Pyasa again. I found Bablu's remark interesting so I wanted to give my take on it :) BTW, great review of a great movie.

    @Bablu: As depicted in movie, the file that Gulabo brings to the publisher contains poems that Vijay wrote about Meena in college days. It is safe to assume that they are love poems, even if not all of them. In college days he was shown as a care free guy and it's only after he gets dejected in love and life that he develops Socialism tendencies. Initially I was a bit cynical about people flocking to buy Vijay's shayari books but then I remembered how people camped overnight to buy a new Harry Potter book whenever a new book was released. Even if we assume Vijay's poetry was socialistic and not fad of the day, there is always something called new wave that can catch attention of people, especially when promoted as a dead man's poetry as in the movie.

  27. @Sreenath: Thanks and keep reading!
    @Bablu: I hope you got Sreenath's point :)