For some reason, I was reminded of a movie I saw not long ago; it’s a classic for all ages, a film by Gurudutt, his best in my opinion: Pyaasa (The Thirsty).
The entire movie is set against a backdrop of disillusionment, pathos, existential meaninglessness and worldly treachery. Gurudutt uses the life of a poet as the center of his canvas, to tell the story. Packaged with the story are several messages: longing (maybe thirst is a more appropriate word) for love, the wasteland of post-independent Indian society, and the insignificance of relationships. And I believe Gurudutt has achieved what he (probably) intended: the viewer is drawn back to the movie again and again. I was about 8-10 years when I first saw this film, and something wanted me to watch it again, when I was mature enough to understand it.
There is a poetic quality about the film, be it in its dialogues or songs. The opening scene, when Gurudutt is lazing in a garden/park and sings the lyric ending with:
Mein doon bhi to kya doon tumhe, aey shokh nazaaron
De de ke mere paas kuch aansoo hai kuch aahen
(Perchance I could give, what shall I give you, O Beauty? Bereft as I am but for a few tears)
The protagonist, played by Gurudutt is Vijay, a talented but unrecognized poet who is shunned by everybody including his brothers. He is seen as lazy, incompetent (worldly wise), and generally, good for nothing. A chance meeting with Waheeda Rehman, a prostitute, turns his life. She falls in love with him after reading his poems and seeks to get it published. Equally is the coincidental meeting with his college sweetheart, Mala Sinha who has now married Rehman, a rich publisher. He employs Gurudutt as a ploy to get to know his wife’s past, and in the process insults Vijay at every turn. What is poignant about the sequences is that Gurudutt does not employ elaborate shouting matches to show the insults. The moving picturisation of the song–and the haunting lyrics therein:
Jaane woh kaise log the jinke pyar ko pyar mila
Humne to jab kaliyaan maangi kaaton ka haar mila
(I wonder at those people whose love was requited with love; But when I did seek flowers, I was rewarded with a garland of thorns)
Bichad gaya har saathi dekar pal do pal ka saath
Kisko phursat hai jo thaame diwanon ka haath
(Fellow-travellers stayed but for a second or two, then separated; who after all, has the leisure to hold hands with a mad man?)
Gurudutt also intersperses his story with a subtle comment on the disillusionment of post-independent India. The movie was released in 1957, exactly a decade after India achieved her independence. The country riding high on a crest of Socialism wasn’t really the paradise that Nehru dreamt of creating. The scene/song sequence where a drunk Gurudutt walks about in the ramparts of a whorehouse still stalks me:
Yeh kooche neelaam ghar dilkashi ke
ye lut te hue kaaravaan zindagi ke
kahaan hain, kahaan hain muhafiz khudi ke
jinhen naaz hai hind par woh kahaan hain
(This wasted house of love, this looting of the carvan of life; where are they, the proud travellers? where are they, those who are so proud of India?)
Woh ujale darichon mein paayal kii chhan chhan
Thakii haarii saanson pe tabale ki dhan dhan
Yeh berooh kamaron me khaansi ki Than Than
jinhen naaz hai hind par woh kahaan hain
(There in the lighted compound, rings the sound of ankle-bells; on the defeated breath beats the sound of the tabla; here, from inside the room bereft of life echoes the music of cough; where are they, those who are so proud of India?)
zaraa is mulk ke rahabaron ko bulaao
ye kuuche ye galiyaan ye manzar dikhaao
jinhen naaz hai hind par unko laao
jinhe naaz hai hind par woh kahaan hai
(Call then, call them, the Rulers of this Land; show them these alleys, these sights; call them, those who are so proud of India; where are they, those who are so proud of India?)
The refrain of this lyric is at once mocking, at once sarcastic and at once, pitiful.
Throughout, Gurudutt has painstakingly devoted time and effort in characterisations. He drives home the point time and again, that Vijay is a sensitive soul, compassionate towards others and generally assigns a higher place for values than money. It is this characterisation that leads the viewer to the turn in the story when Vijay offers his coat to a shivering beggar (don’t remember if the beggar steals his coat). The beggar subsequently dies, and when his body is found, it is mistaken to be Vijay’s. Meanwhile, Vijay himself meets with an accident and disappears, coincidentally.
Waheeda Rehman takes his collection of poems to Rehman, Mala Sinha’s husband to get them published. Gurudutt’s collection of poems become an instant bestseller. When Gurudutt who has now recovered comes of hear of this, his brothers, who have already made a deal with Rehman, label him as a lunatic and have him locked up in an asylum. Subsequently, they announce a memorial ceremony to honour the dead poet, where thousands of people gather.
Now, Gurudutt escapes from the asylum and reaches the function. This forms the climax of the movie, one of the best climaxes I’ve ever seen: executed to perfection, and consistent with the plot. The words still thrill me, when he announces:
Sahibaan, mein Vijay nahi hoon
(Ladies and gentlemen, I’m not Vijay)
And the consequent violence, and the furiously passionate masterpiece of a song:
ye mahalon, ye takton, ye taajon ki duniyaa
ye inasaan ke dushman samaajon kii duniyaa
ye daulat ke bhuukhe rivaazon ki duniyaa
ye duniyaa agar mil bhi jaaye to kya hai
(This world, the world of palaces and monuments; this world, the world that is an Enemy of Man; this world, the world that hungers for wealth; what use is for me if the whole world was mine?)
jahaan ek khilaunaa hai inasaan ki hasti
ye basti hai murdaa-paraston ki basti
yahan par to jeevan se hai maut sasti
yeh duniya agar mil bhi jaaye to kya hai
(A toy here, is a man’s nobility; this world is but a cemetery of the dead; death here is cheaper than life; what use is for me if the whole world was mine?)
And finally, the climactic outburst that occurs at the end of this superb piece of lyric:
jalaa do, jalaa do ise phuunk Daalo ye duniyaa
mere samne se hataa lo ye duniyaa
tumhaari hai tum hi sambhalo ye duniyaa, ye duniyaa …
(Burn away, blow away this world; take away from my sight, this world; it is your world, you save it)
While some people might argue that this movie is too negative, I would beg to differ from them. It has traces of extreme melancholy, but that is purposeful: it makes people sit up and think, look around the world and introspect. It is like a book which makes you want to read it again and again. Unlike the brainless stream of crap masquerading as movies we get to watch today: neither do they educate, nor entertain. In the name of entertainment, they mask out reality, preach mediocrity, and are content to feed the audience the message that everything is hunky dory.
That’s the reason we have so few classics like Pyaasa.