Saturday, October 14, 2006

guru dutt week - pyaasa


certainly guru dutt's 1957 film pyaasa is his masterpiece. it was the first film of dutt's that i saw and it completely blew me away. pyaasa has one of most beautiful tear your heart out tragic songs of any dutt film, and it also has one of the funniest (johnny walker massaging a customer's scalp and playing bongos on his head). it is easy to see the main character of the film (the genius poet vijay, who is ignored by the public until after his death); as a metaphor, if not a direct reflection, of dutt's own life and career as an artist with a tenuous relationship to critics and the public.

pyaasa tell's vijay's story, which begins with his poems being sold as waste paper by his brothers; to his enormous fame as both a genius and a martyr, after he is mistakenly thought to have been killed by a train. there are scathing portrayals of greedy family, wealthy publishers, pompous poets, and "the public". there is condemnation of a culture that, presumbably influenced by the west, compromises on all fronts for want of money. the title roughly translates as "the thirsty one" and dutt's poet vijay is obviously thirsting for artistic and spiritual fulfillment in a world that, vijay (and dutt perhaps) believes, is no longer looking for such things. it's a stark film, but also a beautiful film. the one character of genuine goodness is gulabo, a prostitute played by waheeda rehman, who falls in love with vijay, and rescues his work. her relationship to vijay through his poems is dutt at his most passionate.

one interesting side note on film, is that it uses a plot device inspired, if not blatantly stolen, from the hollywood film sullivan's travels. in dutt's film vijay gives his jacket to a beggar who is then hit by a train and mistakenly identified as vijay because of the coat. in the 1941 preston sturges film, the same thing happens to joel mccrea's character. after vijay is presumed dead, dutt really begins to dissect what he must've felt was the hypocracy of the culture he was surrounded by. in the film, just as vijay (now thought to be dead) is being celebrated and memorialized as a genius; he appears at his own memorial to condemn the "worship" and adulation. his brothers, as well as the publisher who is making so much money on his "posthomus" poems, denounce vijay as a fraud and a riot ensues - as the adoring crowd would rather worship the martyr vijay than be confronted with him as a real human being. the poet escapes, finds gulabo, and they wander off into the sunset to find a new life. it is a difficult film, that somehow still contains hope.

the music is by s.d. burman, who also did the music for dutt's baazi, jaal, and kaagaz ke phool (one of the LP's i'm still looking for!). burman's soundtrack is one of his best.

here are the two songs mentioned in the first part of the post - both sung by the great mohammed rafi. click on the titles to hear:

first is the gorgeously sad jinhen naaz hai hind par (note the beautiful lap steel guitar)

and last, the hilarious sarjo tera chakraye.

after seeing this film in the early part of 2004, i ended up creating a sound/text installation called stills for guru dutt for the tang museum. it was the 40th anniversary of his death, and the 40th of my birth... and so ends guru dutt week....


Blogger woolgathersome said...

Such thanks for linking to these posts! Sadly, it seems, I have never seen a Guru Dutt film – but I will have to find them soon!!

And I cannot express how beautiful I think the text is that you created for stills (for guru dutt)... really, really, breath-taking* and affecting*


8:54 AM  

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