Just like Hollywood, India also had a golden age of cinema in the 1950s. The country's independence from Britain sparked a blossoming of amazing creativity. Pyaasa is arguably the most romantic film in this proliferation of filmmaking. It has it all - poetry, love, music, tragedy, betrayal, greed, avarice, hypocrisy, pain - but most of all, it has hope.
Pyaasa, or प्यासा, means "Eternal Thirst" in English. It's considered a classic Bollywood film and is one of TIME magazine's top 100 movies of all time - up there with Casablanca, The Godfather and King Kong.
Actors: Guru Dutt, Waheeda Rehman
This movie has characters similar to the film Moulin Rouge - the idealistic poet, the beautiful courtesan, and the rich evil man who gets in the way. Vijay is a struggling poet whose works aren't taken seriously by publishers or even by his family. His brothers even sell his poems (nazms) to a newspaper and waste dealer (raddiwala). He eventually meets and falls in love with a prostitute with a heart of gold named Gulabo.
But it's not one big happy ending - he also runs into an ex-girlfriend named Meena and her hot-shot publisher husband, Mr. Ghosh. Her suspicious husband hires Vijay and subsequently fires him. Mr. Ghosh ends up publishing a book of his poems, however, when he mistakes a beggar who is killed by a train, whom Vijay gave his coat to, as Vijay himself.
When Vijay tries to prove that he's the "dead poet" and in fact alive, no one is on his side, not even his cruel brothers. They send him to a mental asylumn. He escapes and ironically, attends his own death anniversary gathering. Now disillusioned, he sets off with his love Gulabo in order to find happiness, love and inner peace.
Quest for Happiness and Goodness
We see that many characters aren't as they seem. The prostitute, Gulabo, is in fact a more moral person than other characters in the film, despite her occupation. Vijay simply wants to be happy. This is in stark contrast to Mr. Ghosh, who hires Vijay.
Vijay, as a servant at Mr. Ghosh's party, recites the matla, the first sentence of the poem. He is ridiculed a bit for being a poet as well as a servant. One man says "shaairi sirf daulatmandon ki jaageer nahin", meaning poetry is not merely the territory of the wealthy. Vijay begins to sing the beautiful poem as a song:
The song conveys his loneliness and the search for happiness and love after heartbreak. At the end of the movie, after the rest of society casts him aside as a nobody and as a phony pretending to be a dead poet, he leaves with Gulabo in order to start a new life - hopefully the kind of life he was singing about in his poems.
quest for power and the need for materialism
"Apne shauk ke liye pyaar karti hai aur apne aaram ke liye pyar bechti hai."
"For the sake of her hobby she gives her love, and for the sake of her comfort she sells her love."
- Vijay referring to his ex-girlfriend Meena's marriage to the rich Mr. Ghosh
This movie is quite similar to Citizen Kane. It shows the madness that can conspire from greed and materialism. Like Citizen Kane, it also uses dramatic lighting to create contrast and shadows, evoking a dramatic atmosphere. There is one scene where the mean, rich publisher Mr. Ghosh and his wife Meena are at the breakfast table, with Meena holding an issue of Life magazine with a crucified Christ on the cover. This is definitely a tribute to a famous scene in Citizen Kane where Mr. and Mrs. Kane are at the breakfast table, and Mrs. Kane is shown reading a copy of her husband's rival newspaper.
The Image of Christ
As mentioned, Meena is seen holding a magazine with the crucified Christ on the cover. It's interesting that this movie would contain references to the Bible, showing the influence of world cinema on director Guru Dutt. When Vijay is "resurrected" and wants to prove that he wasn't really killed, he enters the scene in a Christ crucifixion-like stance as seen below:
Notice the white lighting from the back creating a silhouette for Vijay. This is a great cinematic technique!
Ranks in Society
Interestingly, this movie depicts the prostitutes in a more favourable light than the high society girls. The downtrodden women represent those in society simply trying to make a living for themselves and to care for the children. These women, in turn, are abused and demeaned by their husbands. The society woman, Meena, is a juxtaposition or foil character to prostitutes like Gulabo - manipulative, selfish and materialistic.
There are many beautiful and tragic songs in this movie. The lyrics for the song in the video above, Jaane Woh Kaise Log, are provided below in Hindi and English:
Pyaansa is a beautiful film - I would highly recommend it if you enjoy watching old films, foreign films, or just enjoy film studies in general. Director Guru Dutt's brilliant "picturization" seamlessy combined music, lyrics, rhythmic editing, lighting and camera movement to create a magical narrative. The universal themes of love, pain, greed and hope will surely inspire you!
References/Images: UIowa, The Bollwood Fan, Time, Wikipedia