Guru Dutt and his Pyaasa...

Guru Dutt and his Pyaasa...

Urmi Sahni28 Aug 2008

Are you a Guru Dutt fan too? Before that, do you know who Guru Dutt was? I am sure anyone who has ever indulged into Indian cinema would know him, but this question is for those who have missed him while reading the glorified pages of Indian film history. So let me introduce you to one of the most celebrated filmmakers of Indian cinema “Guru Dutt’. I call him a filmmaker and not just a director. He was an actor, a producer and a director, that too a brilliant one. He belonged to the era when people didn’t refer to films with the actor’s name, but it was the director’s name that sold the film.

Urmi goes ga-ga over Guru Dutts must-watch film, Pyaasa. Guru Dutt stars alongside Waheeda, Mala Sinha with some great music by S.D.Burman and overwhelming lyrics by Sahir Ludhianvi.

Are you a Guru Dutt fan too? Before that, do you know who Guru Dutt was?

I am sure anyone who has ever indulged into Indian cinema would know him, but this question is for those who have missed him while reading the glorified pages of Indian film history.

So let me introduce you to one of the most celebrated filmmakers of Indian cinema “Guru Dutt’. I call him a filmmaker and not just a director. He was an actor, a producer and a director, that too a brilliant one. He belonged to the era when people didn’t refer to films with the actor’s name, but it was the director’s name that sold the film.

ChamkuScenes from Pyaasa

Tell us a bit about the film.

Yes, such great times did exist in our very own Indian film industry.

He was born on 9th July 1925 in Bangalore… Just in case you plan to celebrate his 83rd birthday this year.

Well… like his name suggests, most of you might think that he was a Bengali, but let me break the myth. He was born in a village called Panambur in South Kanara, a district in Karnataka. Yes, he was from Karnataka and his birth name was, Vasanth Kumar Sivashankar Padukone. His name wasn’t really changed for the film industry. He was named Guru Dutt after a childhood accident. It was considered to be a more auspicious name. But, he did have a strong Bengali connection beyond his name.

His father switched jobs and shifted to Bhawanipore in Kolkata. That’s where Guru Dutt completed his schooling. No wonder he could not only speak fluent Bengali, but was also highly influenced by the Bengali culture, something that you can easily spot in his films.

If you are new to his films, then one Guru Dutt film that you could begin with is ‘Pyaasa’. Before I go ga… ga about the film here is a bit about the characters and the story of the film.

Vijay (Guru Dutt) is a poet who sleeps on a park bench with his notebook or when he is lucky, manages to get shelter at a friend’s place. The day begins with knocking on the doors of publishing houses or newspapers circulating his poems or ‘nazams’, in a hope that some day the world would want to read what he has to say. But he often finds his poetry in the trash cans of these publishing houses.

Vijay has left his home because of the ill treatment of his 2 elder brothers who refuse to support an useless poet. But mother’s heart lies with Vijay, an honest soul who cares for one and all. These brothers sell off Vijay’s poetry notebooks to a rag seller, which then gets into the hands of a street walker names Gulab (Waheeda Rehman), who uses these lyrics and songs to lure her customers. Vijay happens to listen to her and that’s how begins an unnamed relationship between the two. But Vijay was in love with Meena (Mala Sinha) during his college days who is now married to a rich owner of a publishing house called Mr. Ghosh (Rehman).

Ok! I’ll leave the rest for you to find out. Don’t worry, I haven’t revealed much.

For those who have seen it, will agree with me when I say that it is one of the most lyrical films I have ever seen. It is poetic and idealistic, but breaks those ideals through various binaries that give this film layers and can surprise you even when you watch it the 10th time. If you go a little away from the content, the use of light and the camerawork could also leave you mesmerized. Something you will not just notice, but also gasp at.

The shot of the Christ like figure of Guru Dutt standing at the door of the auditorium and the light behind him, says so more than the words could express. We often talk about how ‘melodramatic’ this film is or how it is so over the top.  Guru Dutt too uses melodrama as a mode, but just the right amount of it to heighten the emotions and bring that tear rolling down your eye or get you choked. There is no good or evil in this film. It is truly the world as it is. Each character is entangled in its own emotional turmoil and yet a part of each other’s grief. This was probably one of the first few films where the concept of a street walker was introduced into cinema. Before this all we saw was a ‘kotha’ not a ‘brothel’. As I said, it is world as it is.

How can I not talk about the music of ‘Pyaasa’! It has all the songs that you must have heard your mother humming around the house or just a passer by singing to himself. The lyrics can leave you thinking, what could better this?

S.D. Burman’s music takes you some place else. But you cannot ignore the overwhelming lyrics by Sahir Ludhianvi.  After all it is a poet’s story.

Sar jo tera chakraye, ya dil dooba jaye… aaja pyaare paas humare’…. Does that ring a bell? Yes. It is the Johnny Walker song all of us hum when we sit down to get a good head massage. It is from this film. The one I like the most is a song that is picturized on still very young and beautiful Waheeda Rehman in this film. It is when she tries to lure Guru Dutt who starts following her not for her, but for his own written words that she is singing to him… Jane kya tune kahi… There is no heavy music that backs these lyrics, yet it is the music that one would need real talent even to plagiarize it effectively. I call it ‘just right’.

The songs in this film are not just some music that you listen to, but also watch. They come and go seamlessly as a part of the film. The film would not be the same if you remove any one of these songs. They are needed and so they are there.

Now here is one thing you must notice while watching the film. Can to relate the beginning sequence of the film to the end sequence? Bet you can. Just like most of the effective films, Guru Dutt tells us what the film is all about in the very first scene, but you’ll know it only at the end.

Have I said enough? For now, I think I have. But trust me when it comes to films like these, it is never enough.

I’d end this note with a few lines of a song from ‘Pyaasa’…that are, just like the film, relevant even today.

‘Yeh mahalon, yeh takhton yeh taajon ki duniya… yeh duniya agar mil bhi jaye to kya hai… yeh duniya agar mil bhi jaye to kya hai…’

Whoever said, ‘The world is all I want’… might want to give it a second thought after watching this film.

About the Author

Urmi is a compulsive movie lover of the highest order. There is something magical about movies, which makes her heart skip a beat, everytime the lights go dark in the theatre. She is also a dreamer who gets inspired from movies as she tries to unravel the multiple stories behind each story that goes into making our movies.

About Urmi Sahni

Urmi SahniUrmi is a compulsive movie lover of the highest order. There is something magical about movies, which makes her heart skip a beat, everytime the lights go dark in the theatre. She is also a dreamer who gets inspired from movies as she tries to unravel the multiple stories behind each story that goes into making our movies.

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A treat to read. excellent!
Posted by Making things happen :) on  Aug 28 2008 8:59PM
Very well written. Well, Pyaasa was a well-made film. The Rafi-Sahir-SDB was a treat. However, this is my personal opinion, I would have liked to see Vijay, the protagonist, be more practical about life. But I guess those days people lived for their ideals.
Posted by Atanu on  Aug 29 2008 4:14PM
Well Atanu, I am a big fan of Melo drama... a well done melo drama. I see Vijay as a passionate guy and what is the passion worth if you can judge it or measure it?!? So I wouldn't want to change anything:)
Posted by Urmi on  Aug 29 2008 11:37PM
Lovely read Urmi...my father was a big admirer of Guru Dutt and as a consequence we were exposed to all his films right from very early days in my life. I still remember that Doordarshan was running a festival on Guru Dutt's films once, and all his films were consecutively, each night.
Posted by Paromeeta on  Sep 2 2008 1:28PM
He made us stay up late and watch them. At that point of time I couldn't appreciate as much but I thank him now. Please do a write up on Kaagaz Ke Phool as well, I love that film.
Posted by Paromeeta on  Sep 2 2008 1:28PM
I will surely try to write on that. But I think these films are so great that whatever said or written will always be less... :)
Posted by Urmi on  Sep 6 2008 4:04PM
I understand your point, Urmi. I would definitely want to believe in Vijay's passion. I thought Kaagaz Ke Phool was a more mature film. The tragedy is more subtle and the silences say a thousand words. I would also like to read your views on KKP and also Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam.
Posted by Atanu on  Sep 19 2008 11:37AM
i'm not a Guru Dutt fan, but this article gives me a lot of insight about such a man of excellence. loved reading it.
Posted by Sangita on  Dec 11 2008 10:38PM

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