Guru Dutt as Vijay toward the end of Pyaasa

Fellowship of the Soul

Love for all things Cal and Bengal.

Love for animals.

Rooted in the middle class.

Deep-rooted.

Introverted.

Complex.

Artistic.

Humanistic.

Holding honesty in great regard.

Not holding money in much.

Creative soul.

Creative soul with an unending thirst for perfection.

And because of all the above, an anguished creative soul.

A feeling of being ahead of one’s time.

Experiences of constantly being misunderstood.

Impassioned personal life.

Imperfect love life.

A yearning to get away from it all.

A wish to give it up all.

Is it any wonder that I feel a fellowship of the soul with… Guru Dutt?

Guru Dutt with a monkey atop his shoulderI have been on a deep discovery of Guru Dutt, both his movies and himself, for some months now. (That’s how I’ve picked up many of the above details.) And find somewhere that we are / were similar souls. From more visible aspects (like our great fondness for Calcutta and Bengal because we spent our early years there) to less tangible ones like humanism. This is the best explanation I have been able to offer to what has drawn me to GD (apart from his movies, of course). And no, this is obviously not meant to put me on the same creative plane as GD. I don’t think I could achieve in several lifetimes what GD achieved in one, that too, a relatively short one. With that feeling of fellowship though, I would have loved to see / meet GD just once in my lifetime. But that, alas, won’t happen in this lifetime either. Until then, there are his movies – filled with his beliefs, ideals, values… and soul.

 

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A composite image of the poster images from Pyaasa and Kaagaz ke Phool

Seeking and Finding

In a movie that is about thirsting and seeking (Pyaasa), he looks for shanti (peace) and finally finds it in the company of a woman named after a flower, Gulaab (rose).

In a movie named after flowers (Kaagaz ke Phool), he finds a woman named Shanti but doesn’t eventually find peace with her as the world won’t let them be in peaceful company.

Such is Guru Dutt’s on-screen life and fate in his two best movies. The viewer though finds lots of peace, and soul, in both.

Still from the Pyaasa song, Aaj sajan mohe ang laga lo

Love like No Other

Love is about understanding the other.

Love is about understanding the other’s thinking and emotions.

Love is about getting right to the heart of the other.

Love is about liking a beautiful soul.

Love is not about forcing yourself, or your love, on the other.

Love is not about wanting to make the other your own.

Or so I have understood from Pyaasa’s Gulaab.

Guru Dutt as Vijay in the opening sequence of Pyaasa

Poet Courageous

Some cinema critics and academics sometimes levy this criticism against the denouement of Pyaasa: Vijay choosing to reject fake fame and recognition to turn to a place of solace. Just like Meena, his college sweetheart who chooses to marry rich rather than the struggling poet, who is horrified at his decision to spurn a two-faced society and urges him to stay, they opine that Vijay is not a fighter, he is not pragmatic.

Of course, Vijay is not world-practical. This is established in the opening sequence of the movie itself, when he is lying in a field, looking at the heart shape of the sky formed by the leaves of the surrounding trees, teasing out a poem from his spirit, looking somnolently blithe. His easy spirit is brought down to earth and crushed, when an equally happy and lazy bumblebee is squashed under a passerby’s feet no sooner than it lands on the ground.

Guru Dutt as Vijay toward the end of PyaasaVijay is a humanist, an idealist, a purist, and most crucially, a truist. This is brought out time and time again, whether in the song where he laments the state of the nation 10 years after independence, in the song where he indicts a vacuous society’s emptier people, in his end counter-argument to Meena, where he expresses disappointment that those who commiserate with the sorrow of others are considered weak and inept themselves.

At the height of fame, something he seemingly desired through the course of the movie, Vijay chooses to leave it all go. Doesn’t that take greater courage? The courage to remain true to your core.

A B&W photo of Sahir Ludhianvi

Passion and Perception

I came to Sahir Ludhianvi in the way I’m coming to most artists and Hindi films of the 50s and 60s presently: through Guru Dutt. Sahir had penned the lyrics for four of GD’s films: three directed by him (Baazi, 1951; Jaal, 1952; Pyaasa, 1957) and one by T Prakash Rao (Bahurani, 1963), which had GD opposite Mala Sinha again after Pyaasa. The first three all had music by S D Burman and the last by C Ramachandra. Sahir and SD never worked together after Pyaasa, and that also forms a part of this piece.

I learnt a bit about Sahir (real name, Abdul Hayee) through all the amounts I’ve read on GD, and then started reading a bit about him through other sources. I don’t think I’ll end up wanting to discover anyone from those times (or before or after) the way I have done with GD. So, I thought the best way to find out more about Sahir at one go would be through his biography by Akshay Manwani.

While waiting for the book to arrive and while reading a few other pieces on him, the first and constant remark I would encounter about him would be: ‘He was arrogant.’ Couple that with, so to speak, his rough visage, with pock marks and all (although he was a strapping six-footer), and you begin nodding in assent.

The cover of the book on Sahir Ludhianvi by Akshay ManwaniBut Manwani’s book does a lovely and necessary flip of that statement. Manwani is empathetic to Sahir (the way perhaps Meghna Gulzar’s Talvar was to the Talwars), beginning with how he zeroed in on which lyricist of the golden age of Hindi cinema he wanted to write a book on. Apart from the body and quality of work, Manwani decided to write on a singleton, as he would possibly have no kin in the years to come to hold forth on him (unlike the way GD’s younger son, Arun Dutt, took his legacy forward while he was alive).

Manwani spends some time – just the right amount – decoding Sahir’s “arrogance”, discussing it only in the latter parts of the book. This perception about Sahir comes from various notions and actions of his. He would ask to be paid Re 1 more than the music director, with the firm belief that the lyricist was more important to a film’s music than the latter. For most of Sahir’s movies, the music director would weave a melody around Sahir’s words rather than the usual practice of writing to a tune. And finally, Sahir’s words weren’t lyrics, they were poetry. In both a descriptive way of speaking as well as, erm, a poetic way of doing so.

Pyaasa itself owes a lot to Sahir’s association with the movie. Apart from Vijay, Guru Dutt’s despairing poet in the film being modelled around Sahir (only the profile, the philosophy was all GD’s), the lyrics Sahir penned for the movie are considered among the best in world cinema of any time. A few weeks after it released, after it became a hit, new posters were put out carrying lyrics of some songs and with Sahir’s name either prominent or ahead of SDB in the credits. This may have led to the clash between Sahir and SDB, which eventually had them parting ways.

Sahir just wanted to bring focus to the art of poetry and its significance in the movies. If that is considered arrogant, never mind how oversimplified, reductionist or binary that reading is, so be it. In keeping with the soul of Pyaasa, when is the true artist ever rightly understood?

The still, featuring Guru Dutt and Waheeda Rehman, that formed the basis of Pyaasa's movie poster

Design Poetry Too

An illustrated version of the Pyaasa posterEver since Pyaasa became my number one Hindi film of all time (during my ongoing deep discovery of Guru Dutt), I have been fascinated by its poster, perhaps because I am fascinated by GD (the filmmaker and the person), the movie, and visual / poster design. What does Vijay’s (GD’s poet character in the movie) face leaning on Gulab’s (Waheeda Rehman’s streetwalker character) head say about the movie? How does it symbolize the movie, for isn’t that what movie posters are meant to do?

The movie isn’t about love, at least not from Vijay’s side. Vijay is too drowned in his own sorrows and despair of the world (he laments that the world doesn’t recognize true poetry and creativity, and rarely and cruelly during the artist’s time) to notice anything outside his coat of gloom. Gulab does love Vijay, but she is not the one leaning toward him in the poster. Gulab pines for Vijay throughout the movie, but never reveals her feelings for him, not even at the end, at least not directly. However, Vijay finally comes for her in the last scene, and they walk away into the sunset together, holding hands, but looking more like companions, who have been tortured enough by the world and are now seeking a place “yahaan se duur, jahaan se phir duur na jaane pade” (far from here, from where we never need to go far away again).

And there you have it. Vijay rests on her head like one would rest their head on someone’s shoulders, seeking solace and comfort; you know, a shoulder to lean on? But it isn’t a shoulder that Gulab offers; she offers more. She offers her intellect, her understanding, her sensitivity, her sensibility. For didn’t she fall in love with him only through his poetry? As she heart-warmingly tells him in their first real conversational scene together, “When I have understand your thoughts and emotions, what else do I need to understand about you?” And perhaps, that is all that Vijay is pyaasa for.

Well, what do you know, Pyaasa’s poster has also become my number one Hindi film poster of all time.