An eternal thirst for love and fame. This is the subtext of one of the greatest films to come out of Hindi cinema. Produced in 1957 and directed by Guru Dutt, it remains a work that he is associated with. Incredible photography, capitalising on light and shade, Guru Dutt created a visual language instantly recognisable as his own.
Shot by V.K Murthy, his long time collaborator, Guru Dutt turned the elements of light and shade into a character – ever present, constantly signalling the impending doom of the characters.
Waheeda Rehman plays Gulabo, a prostitute that the estranged homeless poet Vijay befriends. They meet on a cool evening as the poet sits in a park, ‘passing’ his time. She sees him as a potential customer and lures him with a lyrical rendition ‘janey kay tuney kahi’ (perhaps it’s something you said, perhaps its something I said). These lyrics are what bind the two together, as Vijay confronts her and accuses her stealing his writing.
Sahir’s ‘janey woh kaisey log they jinkey’, ‘yeh mehlo, yeh takhton, ye tajon ki duyna’ and ‘jinhey naaz hai hind per woh kahan hain’ strike at the core of the Indian psyche.
Emotional, political, love-lorn, betrayed, ambition all plays a role in the extraordinary work. Guru Dutt uses the motif of the messiah here with acute vision – as Vijay walks away from the camera, a series of crucifixes appear; as Vijay sings in the company of poets, he stands draped in white with arms extended emulating the cross; Mala Sinha reads ‘Life’ magazine as her suspecting husband, Rehman, questions her about Vijay – the magazine cover has a crucifix on it – she holds it upside down, not reading but dreaming of Vijay, perplexed with her predicament. Finally Vijay is resurrected in a dramatic scene at the end as he comes back from the dead into a large hall commemorating his death, light streams through the back showing his body as a crucifix and of course, Gulabo is Mary Madeleine.
Ahead of its time, Pyaasa continues to intrigue and strike at the heart of films makers and viewers of Hindi cinema.