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.

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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 collage of scenes from Pyaasa

Personal. Victory.

Vijay. It’s such an apt name for Guru Dutt’s poet character in Pyaasa. The poet who is despondent with the way society treats artists and the way the world treats women. Who, frustrated with his lack of success, rushes off to fling himself before a train mid-way through the movie. Who leaves it all – fame and fans – behind to walk away into the sunset to a far-off place with a streetwalker. ‘Victory’ is an apt name for this character? Absolutely.

Vijay, or Bijoy (as the Bengali pronunciation goes), is victorious from beginning to end. He refuses to sell out as a poet, not interested in catering to easy, romantically inclined readers. He refuses to have anything to do with people who spurn him when he was struggling and are quick to establish a relation with him once he gains fame. He refuses the recognition that comes from vanquishing an artist’s soul.

As he walks away into the sunset, hand-in-hand with Gulaab, “to a place far from here, from where he doesn’t have to go far anymore”, you get the feeling of Vijay setting off on his own, small, personal victory march. You celebrate a little bit with him, and if similarly inclined, feel like following him on that march. Happy. Ending.

Some other time, await a post on the symbolism of the names of the characters GD has played in his movies, at least the well-known ones.

 

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?

Guru Dutt drunk in a song sequence from the movie Pyaasa

The Thirsty and the…

Pyaasa. It literally means ‘thirsty’, but in the context of the movie, referring to Vijay, Guru Dutt’s poet character who despairs at the world and its disregard of the creative soul, it means ‘the thirsty one’. At least, that’s the way it’s been translated in the various books on GD and his movies that I’ve read. In a couple, it even has the slightly “enhanced” translation of “the seeker”. Which works very fine too, especially to peg the movie at a metaphysical level, which it actually is.

But, but what could its opposite be? In Hindi, ‘filled’ or ‘filled up’ sounds very crude: ‘bharaa’. If you push it to mean ‘fulfilled’ or ‘satisfied’, it means better, but sounds a bit hard: ‘santusht’. And Pyaasa, or at least Vijay, or at least the way GD plays him, is a very soft movie and person. And then, as it happens while writing, thinking, or exploring an idea, it shines. The alliterative and apt, and what sounds like completing the two ideas when you put them together: ‘poorna’. ‘Complete’.

Pyaasa aur Poorna. Unfulfilled and Complete. Or, Vijay during the entire movie vis-a-vis the end. Or Gulaab, the touching streetwalker character (played to perfection by Waheeda Rehman), who loves Vijay throughout but never tells him, but who finally gets to walk away into the sunset with him at the end. Or as satisfyingly, the cinema lover throughout the movie and by the time ‘The End’ comes on. Come to think of it, instead of that, GD should have signed off with ‘The Completion’.

The ending of Pyaasa, where Guru Dutt and Waheeda Rehman's characters walk away into the distance