Bollywood Rewind | Pyaasa: Guru Dutt challenges the meaning of life in this timeless classic
“Yeh duniya jahaan aadmi kuch nahi hai, wafa kuch nahi, dosti kuch nahi hai. Yahaan pyaar ki qadr hi kuch nahi hai, yeh duniya agar mil bhi jaye in kya hai.
These words by Sahir Ludhianvi contain the essence of Guru Dutt’s 1957 film Pyaasa. The journey of a poet who once believed his art could make the world a better place is successful, albeit “posthumously,” and realizes how empty the applause is. He understands that it is not worth living in a materialistic world where relationships are hollow and grief is constant.
Directed and produced by Dutt, Pyaasa puts him in the role of Vijay, a poet who is on a downward spiral as he attempts to decipher the meaning of life. The tragedy of life surrounds him, but once it begins to affect him on a deeper level, he can’t help but be sucked into the whirlwind of these emotions. On a journey to try and find the meaning of life, Vijay discovers that most of the frills associated with living in society mean nothing and that awareness makes his journey even more lonely.
A chance encounter with his lost love Meena, played by Mala Sinha, brings back the pain he has since translated into his work. When Gulabo, played by Waheeda Rehman, accidentally discovers her poetry, she is disarmed by her deep understanding of life. Dutt’s striking eyes hold your gaze in every frame he occupies. His heart-wrenching pain and dissatisfaction with structured society forces you to look within and question your actions in life.
Vijay seeks spiritual salvation and as he seeks this great epiphany, he has lost the will to enjoy materialistic pleasures. The short flashback to his college days not only establishes his love affair with Meena, but also highlights that the man who seems to be perpetually sad now, once had a zest for life, when he didn’t. may not have known better.
While the movie doesn’t say so explicitly, it’s hinted that Vijay’s downward spiral was triggered by Meena’s ending their relationship. Vijay hasn’t really budged from this heartbreak and everything that has happened since – his brothers berate him, publishers disrespect his art. He’s a weak man a decade later who believes fighting for himself is probably a losing battle. He sings, “Isko hi jeena kehte hain toh yun hi jee lenge. Uff na karenge, labb see lenge, aansoo pee lenge, “ announcing his surrender to the tragedy that is his life.
Pyaasa places his two prominent female figures at opposite ends of the social hierarchy. Meena, who was once a romantic, has now become a realist. She fell in love with Vijay when they were both naive, but as she learned about the challenges of the real world, she knew that love couldn’t be the ultimate goal in her world. Then there is Gulabo, the woman who sells her body but has a heart of gold, whose understanding of love is more spiritual. She is enchanted by Vijay’s poetry and believes she has peeked into his soul through his poems. His devotion to Vijay surpasses any materialistic pleasures the world has to offer. In a scene where Vijay calls him his wife, his eyes light up. The views of these two women are radically opposed but cannot be called fake or true, and the film acknowledges this. But in the years that followed, Meena’s character got the end of the stick.
As soon as the film opens, Vijay wants his poetry to be published so that the world can hear his thoughts. Like any other artist, he longs for validation but the general public understands those who can only appreciate art if it is already validated by someone else, or if it comes with a story that makes it. exciting. This explains why Vijay’s art is celebrated after his supposed death. When Vijay rises from his supposed death, Christlike imagery is evident and as Vijay sings “Yeh duniya agar mil bhi jaaye toh kya hai,” he realizes that the one thing he always wanted – validation of his art – wasn’t worth it.
In the years since its release, many have called Pyaasa the crown jewel of Hindi cinema. While Guru Dutt is often credited with creating the film, it cannot be forgotten that the film comes to life thanks to the poetry and lyrics of Sahir Ludhianvi. “Jinhe naaz hai Hind by woh kahan hain” examines the debilitating condition of a newly built nation that mistreats its women and does not see the error in its manners. “Aaj sajan mohe ang lagalo” speaks of the devotion to the Meera that Gulabo develops for Vijay. “Tang aa chuke hain kashm-e-kash zindagi” is about Vijay’s struggle to live in this world. And “Sar jo tera chakraye” adds a touch of lightness to this otherwise intense film. SD Burman’s music, along with Ludhianvi’s lyrics that could be read as poetry, make Pyaasa an album that is still cherished.
Not only with his songs, Pyaasa is also poetry on the screen. VK Murthy’s cinematography leaves images in your mind that haunt the dark corners of your soul. The use of shadow in scenes where Vijay has separated himself from his reality is brilliantly executed and demands the kind of appreciation that makes it a classic.
The themes covered in Pyaasa are timeless in nature and the execution of these thoughts is so flawless that the film hasn’t really aged much in 64 years. Of course, things like portraying an asylum or a woman’s dependence on her husband for finances don’t translate well in 2021, but that’s not really the central message of the film. The timeless nature of Pyaasa comes from the eternal question that humans have always asked – “What is the meaning of life?” And as long as we keep asking this question, Pyaasa will continue to remain relevant.
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Pyaasa streams on Prime Video and YouTube.
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