Pyaasa (1957), created by master filmmaker Guru Dutt, is one of the all-time great Indian movies. Guru Dutt’s black-and-white films were like poetry on celluloid. For a man who believed that Indian movies were hampered by their obsessive need to have songs, his movies boasted of some of the most beautiful songs ever composed for Indian cinema.
Pyaasa is the quintessential Indian musical. A movie which would not have the same grace, passion or appeal if it were to be deprived of its songs. The songs are the soul of this film. Sahir Ludhianvi’s lyrics for Pyaasa are undoubtedly the crown jewels in his most spectacular body of work.
Time Magazine recently listed Pyaasa as the ‘fifth’ most romantic movie of all time. Dutt’s masterpiece, Pyaasa (‘Thirsty’) tells the story of a poet’s quest for love, recognition, and spiritual fulfilment. His starry-eyed notions about love, fame and loyalty are dashed to the ground. The protagonist is dealt one blow after another as he strives to get his poems published. His girl friend spurns him for a wealthy publisher; his brothers throw him out because he is unsuccessful. His mother dies and he is not allowed to attend the last rites. These searing experiences are expressed through his poems that nobody wants to publish or listen to. The only person who loves him unconditionally is a prostitute. (The prostitute’s passion for the poet transcends into a spiritual awakening – and this transformation is explored through the rendition of a spiritual song in the film.) One day, he gives away his coat to a beggar who is killed while crossing the railway tracks. His notebook of verses is found in the pocket. Presumed to be dead, the poet’s verses are published and a whole nation is spellbound by the poems. When the poet tries to establish his identity, he is labelled an imposter. The world is in love with his poems and the publisher (his ex-girlfriend’s husband) would rather have him dead. In a climactic scene, the poet denounces the world and its materialistic norms by reciting the lines of his most famous poem. “Yeh duniya agar mil bhi jaaye to kya hai!”
“Yeh mehlon yeh takhton yeh taajon ki duniya/ This world of palaces, riches and crowns
Yeh insaan ke dushman, samaajon ki duniya/ A world that degrades humanity and glorifies rituals
Yeh daulat ke bhooke, riwaajon ki duniya/ A world that hungers for riches and craves fake titles
Yeh duniya agar mil bhi jaaye toh kya hai!/ Who cares even if this world were to belong to me!”
But even as he walks away into the sunset, this realization is at the heart of this hero’s journey, which is both tragic and uplifting. A truly memorable film that continues to resonate with audiences more than half a century after it was made.