There are those who make films, and then there are those who live their life through their films. Guru Dutt was cinema's ultimate narcissist. His cinema was his own story, as he liked to tell it to the whole world. Inspite of his successes, Dutt was a misunderstood genius, a man who felt Bollywood never recognized him for what he was as an artist.
"Pyaasa" was Guru Dutt's masterpiece. Again, against his own wishes. It was "Kagaaz ke Phool" which he thought was his most heart wrenching work, one which should have got the highest accolades. But the in the confusing world of cinema, it is Pyaasa for which millions of film goers have remembered Guru Dutt. For the record, it is the only Hindi movie,to have featured in the Times All time 100 list of movies, and quite rightly so.
"Pyaasa", like "Kagaaz ke Phool" is Guru Dutt's story, in more ways than one, enacted by Guru Dutt himself. Vijay, the protagonist is a misunderstood poet. Shunned by his greedy brothers and a college sweetheart who marries into wealth, Vijay roams across the streets of the city, looking for food, shelter and writing verses that he hopes to publish one day. The only admirer of his verses is the prostitute Gulabo, played by the exquisitely beautiful Waheeda Rehman. Gulabo is his only solace, the only one in the whole wide world who recognizes the poet for what he is.
Perhaps here too, Guru Dutt wants to tell his own story to the whole world. Stuck in an unhappy marriage with the eminent singer Geeta Dutt, Guru spent her whole life wooing Waheeda, in one of Bollywood's greatest real life romances. In an industry which paid little attention to his style of cinema, it was probably his fantasy to be admired by that one woman, Waheeda. As I said, Guru lived through his cinema, he dreamt his fantasies through his cinema. Waheeda was Guru Dutt's discovery, his own Anna Karina. This was also the first movie in which she played a leading role, and what a performance she delivers! ( "Kagaaz ke phool" is a more intimate portrait of the Guru Dutt-Waheeda romance, and how the protege leads to the ruin of the great director).
The first part of the movie seems a little slow to me, peppered with comic reliefs and song-dance sequences, a signature of the 50's Indian movie.After facing numerous trials and tribulations, Vijay finally reaches his breaking point with the death of his mother, the only one who cared for her, except Gulabo, in this big wide world. Tired with a world which did not give him recognition, Vijay attempts to commit suicide, but instead of him, it is the beggar to whom he lends his coat, that falls infront of an approachig train. The body is identified to be Vijay's while the officially dead Vijay recovers in a hospital. A young, brilliant, vagabond poet, who dies without any appreciation, suddenly becomes an important story, and a very profitable one. An indifferent world wakes up to this tear jerker, and to his poetry. Publishers who used to throw his poems in waste paper baskets begin to offer hefty sums for royalties to his poems.
Vijay, meanwhile, by a trick of fate, anguishes in an asylum. He manages to escape from there exactly on the first anniversary of his "death". The whole city is abuzz with news of programs in remembrance of the great poet. In a sombre program, publishers shed crocodile tears and men who never ever cared for a good-for-nothing had heart wrenching tales to tell. Amidst this farce, Vijay makes the most spectacular entry. He expresses his indifference as a poet can do best. He sings what is to become some of the most famous lines in Indian cinema.
"Yeh duniya agar mil bhi jaaye, to kya haaye" ("Even if I win the world, how does it matter?"), he asks. The recognition that he had so yearned for, had finally arrived. But what did it mean? The deeply personal heart wrenching work of a poet had been converted into a grotesque public spectacle.
Any other hindi movie would probably have ended there, with the hero's success and glittering smile. But not this one. As he confronts the world, the poet sees the dark face of success. Greedy publishers and relatives and friends queue up for a piece of the pie. The next day, Vijay declares to a stunned audience, that he is not really the poet that they have been thinking he is, and turns his back to success and recognition. Guru Dutt walks away into darkness with Gulabo, the only one who ever understood him. Inspite of his many successes in commercial Bollywood cinema, Guru Dutt had walked away into darkness as a lonely soul.Seven years after he made Pyaasa, a morbid and distressed Guru Dutt committed suicide in a rented apartment in Mumbai. Perhaps it is the exit he had always craved, but reality is a harsh mistress. His real life Gulabo, the very same Waheeda Rehman remained the La Belle Dame Sans Merci.
As Woody Allen said in "Annie Hall", "You know how you're always trying to get things to come out perfect in art, because it's real difficult in life."
I would like to change this review later. This is a very favorite movie of mine, and I don't think the review presently does justice to that. But being burdened with work as I am, I am putting off the "modify the draft" for a future time.