27 October 2002 | BrianDanaCamp
Classic Indian drama of love, sacrifice, downfall, redemption
GUIDE (1965) is an unsung classic of Hindi cinema, starring major Bollywood star Dev Anand. It's a beautifully-produced modern love story and focuses on what happens when a tourist guide takes up with an ex-dancer who has been abandoned by her archaeologist husband and then guides her career as she becomes a musical star. It has much in common with classic Hollywood romantic musicals in the way it seamlessly incorporates songs and musical numbers into the action and charts the success of its female star. It adds to this rags-to-riches show biz story some characteristic Indian twists which give it greater scope and deeper meaning.
Based on a novel by R.K. Narayan, GUIDE stars Anand as Raju, a glib, well-liked freelance tour guide who takes visitors, Indian and foreign, to historic sites around Delhi and tells them stories--some true, some embellished--about these magnificent places. When Raju takes Rosy (Waheeda Rehman), the ex-dancer, under his wing it causes a rift between him and his mother, friends and co-workers, so he leaves with Rosy and helps her to embark on a career as a singing and dancing performer.
However, as Rosy achieves stardom, Raju falls into bad habits, palling around with the money men, drinking and gambling heavily. Eventually, he is arrested for forging a check and is sent to jail. When he gets out he starts life anew and wanders alone far and wide before winding up in a remote desert village where, thanks to the endless stream of pearls of wisdom he dispenses, he is taken as a holy man. In the midst of a terrible drought, he is compelled to embark on a fast so as not to disappoint the villagers who believe his fast will bring rain. All the while, Rosy and his mother are searching for him.
The story is not told in quite this order. We first see Raju as he is getting out of jail and we first see Rosy as she begins her search for him. The story then unfolds in flashbacks from both his and Rosy's perspectives. If there is any flaw in the narrative structure, it is that the exploits of Raju in his reign as holy man, or "swami," are given short shrift while the love story tends to bog down during the lovers' disillusion and drift apart. We needed to see more of Raju's life in the remote village. Given that the film is only 170 minutes (rather short for a Bollywood film), another half-hour of storytelling would not have hurt.
Still, it is an accomplished work, boasting all the class, elegance and artistry of a classic Hollywood or European drama and few of the notable excesses of Bollywood films. It maintains a discreet cinematic distance that keeps the emotions in check while adding richer layers. There are songs and dances, but not too many, and they are all beautifully shot and staged, particularly the lavish, lengthy sequence showing Rosy's rise to stardom as a stage performer. The two leads, Dev Anand and Waheeda Rehman, are both genuine movie stars in the classic sense and carry the film as well as any of their counterparts in other cinemas. Rehman, for one, has a presence which clearly recalls such Italian actresses as Sophia Loren and Gina Lollobrigida. For those who are new to Bollywood, this film is a useful way to explore the roots of the Bollywood musicals that are finally attracting serious attention among film fans in the U.S.