30 September 2011 | Peter_Young
'Life's real joy lies in making others happy'
Guru Dutt was indeed a visionary, so many of his ideas are much ahead of not only those times but our times as well. Pyaasa is one of his most acclaimed movies. One can see why. This is the story of Vijay, an unemployed poet who struggles through his loneliness, lack of job, and 'good-for-nothing' image. Having left his house where his brothers maltreated him for the same, he wanders in the streets. He puts his heart and soul into writing poems but then no one takes notice of them and they remain unpublished. The story follows his acquaintance with a young prostitute named Gulabo and his renewed meeting with his college sweetheart Meena who left him to marry a wealthy man. What happens when an aimless and embittered Vijay generously gives his coat to a beggar is what takes the whole thing much further.
Being a poet's story, the film is appropriately and incredibly poetic in tone, with amazing dialogues bringing so much depth and finesse to it. Today, some of them have become unforgettable sayings. Dutt's direction is excellent. He pays attention to the smallest of details, keeps the film consistently realistic, ultimately managing to build a wonderfully captivating and engaging picture. True to its musical style, the narrative is full of songs, and never do they take away from the efficiency of the script. They actually contribute to it as they either enhance the emotional impact or relieve the intensity. It is this rare mix of melodious numbers and serious, atmospheric proceedings that marks this film's success. The cinematography is very effective, and, just like the songs, it often manages to capture the characters' state of mind.
One of the most impressive aspects about this film, among others, is the matter-of-fact style of story-telling, which is still missing in Hindi films today, as well as Dutt's portrayal of relationships. The character of Gulabo, a golden-hearted prostitute is very impressively atypical. She is neither exaggerated and vulgar nor over-generous. She is pretty much a real good-hearted person, who does have her share of toughness, but she is never presented as a poor victim. The interaction between Vijay and Gulabo is very credible as it is never saccharine or sentimental and it lacks any sort of 'love against all odds' clichés. We actually never see if he really loves her. She, however, loves him unconditionally which has got to do a lot with the fact that she's a fan of his poems and that he's one person who shows respect to her.
Mala Sinha's Meena, however, is the complete opposite. As Vijay says, "for her, love is a hobby and she can barter it for material comfort." But I love this character, because she looks at life from a sane and practical perspective. She is greedy, but she is honest enough to admit it, something that suits her persona brilliantly. In the conversation scene, which is one of the very best in the film, she directly tells Vijay she did not want to marry an unemployed man without any future. She says the memorable line, "in life, besides poetry and love there's hunger". Whether you agree or disagree, that's true. Another highly precious and probably the most haunting aspect in the entire film is the portrayal of Vijay's relationship with his loving and caring mother. It is given very little screen time, and yet it's so strongly impactive and touching.
Acting-wise, Guru Dutt is excellent in an author-backed role which only he could play given he had the idea of how it should have been done. He gets into the skin of the character, and remains thoroughly in-sync with it. Mala Sinha is brilliant as she is in probably every film and she displays the negative shades of her role as well as her inner compassion very well. It is Waheeda Rehman, however, who shines the most with a role that allows her to grow through the film and draw the audience's sympathy with her heartfelt and authentic portrayal. Rehman, Johnny Walker and particularly Leela Mishra as Vijay's mother, provide excellent support. "Life's real joy lies in making others happy", a memorable line by Dutt, and that's what this film is all about. Pyaasa is overall a poignant and moving classic, highly recommended.