Tuesday, August 14, 2012

That's How You Do Tragedy

Pyaasa - प्यासा

Directed by Guru Dutt
Written by Abrar Alvi
★ Guru Dutt, Waheeda Rehman, Mala Sinha


Sight & Sound, Time Magazine, Indiatimes and the critics and audience of yesterday and today - Pyaasa enchants everyone. It has been one of my top must-see-films, ranking as high as The Godfather, Fight Club and Kill Bill did in their respective times. So I put myself together and figured that my goal of seeing more (especially Indian) classics fit the fact that youtube has become a great source to watch these for free. (Link for this movie).

What can I say; of course Pyaasa is as fantastic as everyone says. It's the tragic story of the poet Vijay who is first neglected by his family, love and the publishers, and finds his only friends in the prostitute Gulab who adores his poems, and a poor massager. But the tragedy doesn't end here, for of course Vijay and his first love who is now married, meet again, and Vijay detects that there is more cruelty in the world than he would have ever imagined.

It's easy to say that Pyaasa is basically carried by the quintessential star of the 50s and 60s, Guru Dutt (this was my first of his surprisingly few films), as he delivers an unchallengeably outstanding performance as an actor and as a director. His character Vijay actually was the movie - poetic, beautiful and morally pure. It was him who brought me close to tears in every single scene of this film. And I must thank Guru Dutt, I thank him with all my heart, for the wonderful ending of the film (this wasn't a spoiler I hope).

But there is more to Pyaasa than the work of one person. The name that must be named right after Guru Dutt's is... not yet Waheeda Rehman, I'll get to her in one second - no, it's S. D. Burman. The Rahman of the 20th century it seems. As far as I know, this was the first time I heard some of his songs, and my inner music lover almost fainted at times. Out of joy, that is. In fact I'm listening to the songs right now, as I like to when I write a review, and I think she's about to faint again. And the lyrics by Sahir Ludhianvi, which I only understand part of (old Hindi is really hard for me)... so beautiful... there are no words. No words. Listen yourself

The other name I have to mention is Waheeda Rehman, who is still alive and had her big breakthrough with Pyaasa. Her role is that of the "hooker with a heart of gold" (there's even a wikipedia article on this expression), though prostitute is a better word for the era we're talking about. I knew her from Kabhi Kabhie, in which I wasn't overwhelmed by her as expected, and of course I've seen her playing the Dadi (grandmother) in several newer films. To make it short: I was more convinced this time. Her Gulabo is sweet and lovable, and not promiscuous in any way (for the 21st century). There wasn't really anything new about her acting style, it's quite typical for the time from what I know, but I liked how she added that special "glow" to the character. She was just sympathetic and spirited, a good opposite of Vijay.

One thing I don't agree with about Pyaasa, which was named one of the 10 most romantic films of all time by the Time Magazine - it's not romantic. There are romantic elements to it, certainly, but the main story and message is anything but romantic, in my opinion. Or is there? It's a tough question. Anyone who has seen the movie and is up for a discussion?

At any rate, you know I'm no the biggest romantic in the world (ahem) and I really, really don't have anything against a tragic movie that shows us how bad and cruel the world is. Or I mean, can be. Because the beautiful and poetic... perhaps romantic... side of life is also shown in the movie. 
It might not be as easy to find as the dark side, but it's there, and it's everywhere. Isn't that romantic!



  1. I don't normally watch old movies, but this movie, Kaagaz ke phool and old Khamoshi are on my to watch list.Thanks for reviewing it..ill definitely watch it now!

  2. I'm glad I convinced you. I still have to see Kaagaz ke Phool and Khamoshi too.

  3. Pyaasa is possibly the most perfect Bollywood movie I´ve ever seen. SO powerful, so sensitive and oh so beautiful. The songs, the performances... Ah.... Indeed, as perfect as a film could be. I think Waheeda´s magic was in her aura, which is completely overwhelming. I love that woman so dearly. And her voice and dialogue delivery are stunning.

    1. Hah, we finally agree about a movie!
      I really like Waheeda, as I said, just in Kabhi Kabhie her aura didn't really you know... glow that much.

    2. Kabhi Kabhie was a rather average movie overal IMO. It had too many characters and Yash Chopra apparently had no idea whose story he actually wanted to tell.

    3. I liked it because it was so poetic and I think it was my first Indian movie from the 70s. Of course, Amitabh was fantastic - but I agree that there were too many characters.

  4. I found this review from your Top 100 list, and since I am completely paagal for the film that would always top my 100 list, I couldn't resist the explicit invitation you made: "the main story and message is anything but romantic, in my opinion. Or is there? It's a tough question. Anyone who has seen the movie and is up for a discussion?"

    First off, I agree that Pyaasa does not belong on a list of the most romantic movies ever. It is a largely tragic film. I very deliberately say largely, because I also disagree with your summary on the Top 100 list "Because of the tragedy that is expressed through every single detail of the film". There are many details of the film that are not tragic. Vijay's rage is against society, not individuals, and while one man against society is inevitably gonig to have tragic consequences, one man interacting with individuals can find both friendship and love, as Vijay did. The brilliant Johnny Walker was not just there for comic relief, but ended up proving to be one Vijay's two true friends. The other, of course, was Gulabo, and that story was very romantic. Not romcom romantic, but the closing scene is pure romance, and devoid of any tragedy. At the very end, where society used and betrayed them both, their love saved them both. That's pretty romantic, hai na? jaane vo kaise log the jinake
    pyaar ko pyaar milaa

    1. An interesting demarkier that makes me consider changing what I wrote in the 100 list... I mean youre perfectly right - there are a lot of positive things about the Film too! Thanks for reminding me of that.

    2. I meant "remark" - iPod spelling.
      Anyway, I changed the reason for having Pyaasa in my favourites list, in case you want to check it out.

  5. I just watched this (mega thanks for the link!). And I have to agree with you, Pyaasa is definitely not a romantic movie. I think its lyricism is the reason for this type casting. I totally wasn't prepared for the darker tone of the film as a result. It caught me by surprise, which may put off some and make others cherish it more. I guess I'd call it a philosophical musical drama?...

    And I fell in love with the songs. My faves being Waheeda's and the oil masseur's. Gorgeous movie and you more than did it justice with this review. It's definitely how it should be described/analyzed. Pyaasa is not just a sappy melodrama, folks! There's more there for reflection. Thank you, Mette.

    1. Wow, awesome Teddy and thanks for your comment! I didn't know you watch Indian movies!
      Philosophical musical drama is a good description I think... As for the darker tone, I knew about it since it's known for that but I was very surprised by its modernity.

      I also love the songs, though I can't listen to them all the time. Jaane Kya Tune Kahi, Waheeda's song, is my favorite. So glad my promotion of free youtube movies is working, finally :)

    2. I just started watching Indian movies because there are quite a few in your top 100 and your #1 is one. So thank you again! I watched Kahaani before Pyaasa and Kahaani is officially in my top 100.

    3. Oh my God, I don't know what to say. I always try to convince people to watch Indian movies but it almost never works. Awesome!


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