Wednesday, August 19, 2009

On Guru Dutt's "Pyaasa"

We had bought DVDs of Pyaasa and a couple of other Guru Dutt movies when we were embarking on a course of cultural edification some months ago. We started on it, but found the first half hour less than overwhelming, and stopped. Lately I suggested we go back to it and finish it before we forget the beginning and have to watch it again: we suspected it would be a boring two hours and didn't want to prolong it.

It is with great satisfaction that I inform you that we were
very wrong. It truly is a great, amazing, interesting movie.

And for a movie made half a century ago, it still seems revolutionary. It starts off a little slow, but as the movie progresses you realise those slow first bits helped build up the characters. The acting is superb, and Waheeda Rehman is at her most luminiscent. The story is a bit melodramatic, especially towards the climax: but you could take much of it as metaphor. It reminded me of Main Azaad Hoon (which of course came much later).

The songs are beautiful. I have always loved "Jane woh kaise log", but "Jinhen naaz hai Hind par woh kahaan hai" gave me goosebumps. The poet-protagonist "sings" it (of course, this being Indian cinema, the great Rafi does the singing) when he finds himself in a red-light area and is shocked the fate of the women there. The lyrics are so hard-hitting I wonder nationalistic types hadn't tried to get the song banned. This song should be made mandatory hearing on Independence Day.

Pyaasa had the most sympathetic treatment of sex workers I have ever yet seen in a film. Gulabo (Waheeda Rehman) is easily the most sympathetic, heroic character in the film. And the song I just mentioned points out the hypocrisy of a society that allows sex workers to be treated the way they are.

Vijay, the protagonist, seemed a little too loser-like for my liking at first. But as the movie progressed, I realised he was not meant to be perfect: just an artist. His love deserted him, so his work was all that drove him - and that being unappreciated became the tragedy of his life.

As we watched, the Guy pointed out the similarities with Devdas: a protagoinist who is jilted by his love and finds solace in a prostitute. Yet there the similarity ends: Vijay is a poet, he observes and remarks on society, and has none of the self-absorbed indulgence that marks Devdas's character. Vijay does not sleep with Gulabo to feel better about his manhood, and he does not ill-treat the women in his life: in fact, throughout the movie he is unfailingly courteous and not just to women (except for one unfortunate scene in college where he serenades a fellow-student with a poem - and of course the other student proceeds to fall in love with him: women can never resist their molesters in Indian movies, as long as the molester is the hero).

While Gulabo sacrifices her wealth - and seems ready to sacrifice her life, though thankfully the movie does not call for it - for Vijay, Vijay does not treat her badly. After the initial meet-cute sparring, he always treats her with respect, and even when every other person in his life betrays him, he trusts her and comes to her at the end. Meena had been his muse, but Gulabo is his confidante, his partner.


Pramathesh said...

I really like Pyaasa. Nice post.

Anonymous said...

Haven't seen it.But you do book/movie reviews really well..You should do it regularly and maybe even freelance for some magazine.??

Maitreyee said...

I had to watch as well as listen. And I agree with lostonthestreet.

Unmana said...

Mr. Pramathesh Borkotoky: Thanks, and welcome here.

lostonthestreet/Maitreyee: I would love to, but how does one start?

You do have to watch rather than just listen. Heck, watch the whole movie. It's amazing.

Suchismita said...

Interesting blog. read some of the earlier posts too. the one on the books was fun. reminded me that i used to read more...books I mean.

Suchismita said...

Interesting blog. read some of the earlier posts too. the one on the books was fun. reminded me that i used to read more...books I mean.

dipali said...

I need to see this!

Unmana said...

Suchismita: Thank you. Hope you visit often.

Dipali: Let me know how you like it!

Pramathesh said...

Unmana: Thanks for your reply.