Indian Cinema received a gift in the form of Pyaasa in 1957, thanks to the mind and soul behind the movie, Guru Dutt. Produced and directed by him, the movie sees him as its lead struggling poet, Vijay. Mala Singh (Meena) and Waheeda Rehman (Gulaabo) were the two leading ladies of the film, lying in stark contrast with each other’s characters. The movie did not do well at the time of its release, but is now considered a classic. Its songs, social commentary, and not-so-happy ending have come to be appreciated by critics over the decades.
The movie deals with a variety of issues, including the acceptance of artists such as poets by society. Vijay meets rejection and misery in all phases of his life, be it his family, college lover, or the world at large. His ‘nazmas’ are disrespected and undervalued, and his talent and genius comes close to going to waste. Only in his supposed death does he achieve fame and respect, and even that is an illusion caused by those who wanted to take advantage of his vulnerable situation. His own family and loved ones refuse to recognize him, declaring him mad for claiming to be a dead person. Only when they seek to gain from his living, they support him and choose to identify him as Vijay. But Vijay is Vijay no more. He denounces his identity and the world he lives in, and decides to walk away from it all.
Seems dark? Well, that’s life for you. The only solace that we have is that he is not alone. With him in all of this, is Gulabo.
He first meets Gulabo way early in the movie, when he hears her recite some of his poetry. She is the first one to read, appreciate and perform his poetry. Being a prostitute, she is not used to the respect that Vijay treats her with. They get on well, and she comes to his rescue at multiple points in the movie, and he reciprocates with help whenever she needs it. She begins to fall for him, but he is too down and out to notice. His college lover, Meena, resurfaces in his life and we learn how she had left him for money. She is a complicated character who wishes to assuage her guilt through validation for her choices. Vijay has nothing to offer, so he leaves.
At an epic point in the movie, the two women and their ideologies collide. Meena, eager to ‘possess’ Vijay’s poetry, offers to buy his nazmas from Gulaabo. Gulaabo, on the other hand, spends her life savings in order to get his poetry published. The confrontation between the two women leaves us with no doubt as to who comes out on top.
In the end, we have Vijay returning to the ‘civilized’ world from the mental asylum, only to leave it forever for inner peace. Its questionable whether his decision was for the better, as he finally had a voice to change the world he so despised. Regardless, the ending makes for an artsy take on what society does to the human spirit of an artist.
Before leaving for good, he stops by at Gulaabo’s house to acknowledge her love for the first time. He tells her of his plans, and there is a painful silence which follows soon after.
“Saath chalogi?” he asks, and the two of them walk away into the unknown, two figures disappearing into the night.
My rating- 4/5