Directed by Guru Dutt. 1957.

Talking Pictures alias







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"What shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" Mark 8:36[/I] 

Vijay (Guru Dutt) is a writer whose poems are not taken seriously, presumably because they are about hunger and unemployment rather than romantic love. Distraught by lack of recognition from publishers interested only in profits and by his brothers as a good for nothing, Vijay is a forlorn figure, his only friends being his mother and the prostitute Gulabo (Waheeda Rehman). Inspired by Srikanta, a novel by Sarat Chandra, Pyaasa dramatizes Vijay's rejection by society and his resulting bitterness toward a world he sees as corrupt and materialistic. The film captures the universal longing for love and recognition and rejects the values that see art only as a commodity. Original music by S.D. Behrman denouncing the hypocrisy of society are interspersed throughout the film and forward the narrative rather than being a distraction.

As the film opens, Vijay encounters Gulabo and discovers that she bought his poems after they were sold as waste paper and has fallen in love with him. Many poems are dedicated to Meena (Mala Sinha), an ex-girlfriend that he met in college. When her husband Mr. Ghosh (Rehman) discovers this, he hires Vijay as a helper to find out more about the connection with his wife. When Vijay, seemingly on his way to commit suicide, offers his coat to a beggar who is hit by an oncoming train, the coat he is wearing leads to the assumption that Vijay has been killed and the story about the dead poet is printed in the papers. [This defies all logic because the beggar's body is torn to smithereens and is not identifiable, yet, miraculously the coat escapes shredding and is recognized as belonging to an obscure poet whose work has never been published.] When the poems are finally published on Gulabo's pleading, they turn out to be very profitable, and Vijay's posthumous status is raised to legendary proportions. 

While Pyaasa is a film of utmost sensitivity with moments that are deeply moving, Dutt's character comes off as self-righteous and self-destructive. While he has perfected the hangdog expression, displaying endless variations of the put upon, world-weary artist, he would rather be right than achieve satisfaction. When he is down and out and invited to recite a poem on the stage of a happy reunion party, he puts a damper on the proceedings by delivering a maudlin verse. When Meena pledges her love and wants to run away with him, he righteously refuses to forgive her for her original decision to marry someone else. Again, when he finally gets the recognition he seeks, he rejects it because his friends did not appreciate him when they knew he was alive, singing "Why revel in a shallow world that ignores human beings and idolizes the dead?" Vijay is a perfectionist and wants the world only on his terms. Perhaps this may have also been true of the director Guru Dutt who it was claimed was never satisfied with any of his works and committed suicide at the age of only 41, only seven years after his most acclaimed film.

Howard Schumann
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