Pyaasa (1957)

28 May

When I first saw Pyaasa, I must have been eleven or twelve years old. Well, in fact, I didn’t get to watch it because 1. I had a exam the next day, 2. I had a splitting headache. The end result was I couldn’t watch the film, except for a few glimpses from behind the curtain, I didn’t learn, my headache didn’t get cured. Huge failure on all fronts! When I was 19 or so it was aired again on DD at midnight or something. This time I could watch it and I was floored!

What was it that impressed me I couldn’t say. Usually such a self-pitying character would put me totally off. So nearly after 20 years I watched it again yesterday, because I wanted to know this why. I still can’t answer it, but discovered some other things along the way. Helpful were not only Philip Lutgendorf’s (with Corey Creekmoor’s special notes) and Upperstall reviews but also many discussions with fellow net friends over the years! Thanks to everybody.

Basically it is the story of a poet, a poor unemployed poet Vijay (Guru Dutt).

In college his girl-friend Meena (Mala Sinha) leaves him to marry a rich publisher (Rehman).

When we meet him this is already a thing of the past and he is living on and off the streets,

with no hope of help from his brothers (Radheshyam & Mehmood) or friends (Shyam),

except for the masseur Sattarbhai (Johnny Walker).

But he has a devout fan in the street walker Gulabo (Waheeda Rehman), who found his poems in a old paper trade market.

A chance meeting with his old flame at a college reunion makes the husband suspicious and he offers him a job at his office to confirm his suspicion, after which he kicks him out.

Meanwhile he discovers that his mother (Leela Misra) is dead. One cold night after a drinking bout he decides to commit suicide and writes a parting note, which he puts in his jacket.

Seeing a beggar shivering in the night he gives his jacket to him. The beggar has a train accident and everybody believes that Vijay is dead.

When Gulabo publishes his poems with the help of her savings, they are a best seller. As to corner the profits everybody refuses to recognise him.

When his brothers and childhood friends see that they can profit more with his art, they put him on the stage. Will the disillusioned Vijay take the fame and money which comes with it. Will Meena leave her husband and return to him? Where does that leave Gulabo? Will Vijay find peace of mind? Will his thirst be satiated?

What I liked about the film

Nearly everything! The acting, the actors and actresses, the songs, the music, the camera work. Notes on this in a coming post.

What I didn’t like about the film

The main character. Something about him turns me off. He is too self-pitying, always finding fault in everybody and everything. It is as if he has taken a vow not to like anything aobut this world. No single line of optimism do you hear from him.

Since I know there are many Rehman fans (memsaab and others) out there. Here is one for you.

And this is one is for Madhu, who is a loyal Mala Sinha fan!


Posted by on May 28, 2010 in Bollywood, Guru Dutt Series


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19 responses to “Pyaasa (1957)

  1. dustedoff

    May 29, 2010 at 6:52 am

    Thank you for that Mala SInha shot!! She looks so pretty here. And this is one film I always cite as an example of what good acting she was capable of…
    I met a Brazilian writer and editor a few months back, and though he hadn’t seen any Hindi films, he was very keen on making a start. Pyaasa was one of the two films I gifted him with (Lagaan was the other; he had asked specifically for it). Even though Vijay is such a depressing character, there’s something about the film – the way it all comes together, the juxtaposition of light and dark (both literally and figuratively), the cinematography, the music… there’s just so much that makes Pyaasa an unforgettable film. No wonder TIME magazine put this on their list of all-time great 100 films.

    • harvey

      May 30, 2010 at 5:25 pm

      Mala sinha looks good throughout the film and although she has a role as one of Vijay’s betrayers and a crucial one at that she makes her character believable.
      Vijay, although I sympathise with him is at times so self-righteous that it hurts himself and me!

    • harvey

      May 30, 2010 at 5:25 pm

      Glad you like the pic!

  2. pacifist

    May 29, 2010 at 3:27 pm

    Thank you for both Mala Sinha’s and Rehman’s pictures. I too am a very loyal fan of both 🙂

    This kind of poet (as in the film) is extremely sensitive and conscious of social problems, and if the problem also becomes his, the involvement is intense which might seem like self pitying. I didn’t think it was.

    Otherwise I’m in full agreement with the rest of the review 🙂

    • harvey

      May 30, 2010 at 5:28 pm

      I’ m so happy that Rehman and Mala’s pics are so well-recieved! I feel as if I composed them myself!
      I understand what you mean, I do believe that it is at times self-involvement, but he is mostly so negative, except for the end!

  3. Richard S.

    May 29, 2010 at 9:36 pm

    Harvey, thanks for the writeup and the very nice stills from Pyaasa, a brilliant film. But I have to say, I do like the main character too and, unfortunately, I often can identify with him.

    • harveypam

      May 30, 2010 at 6:16 pm

      I like him as well, but somebody who is all the time so neagtive would really get on my nerves. I think he needed some breathing exercises! 😉 Jokes apart, I do identify with what he says in his poems, but after a while it becomes too negative for me!

  4. bollyviewer

    May 30, 2010 at 9:55 am

    I think I did see this film when you couldn’t because of your exams! And it resulted in a very long hiatus from Guru Dutt-watching!!! What I have seen of him in recent times just does not inspire me to watch this film. I watched Jinhe naaz hai hind par woh kahan hai on youtube a couple of days ago, and he is frankly hamming it up like no “poor, starving and suffering artistic soul” ought to! Will try to watch the film and see if it comes together for me, too – but my previous relationship with “classics” is such that I haven’t much hope…

    • harvey

      May 30, 2010 at 5:32 pm

      In fact I liked ‘jinhe naaz hai hind par’! =-(!
      Well, try watching it again, maybe you will find that certain thing, which made you like Guru Dutt ‘in the school-days’ 😉

  5. bollyviewer

    May 30, 2010 at 9:58 am

    PS: Me too, in the I-love-Rehman-brigade. And he does look so nice with those brainy glasses and evil expression. 😀

  6. harvey

    May 30, 2010 at 5:34 pm

    Rehman looked great as did everybody else in the film, with the exception of the beggar maybe, but he was not supposed to look great

  7. sunheriyaadein

    May 30, 2010 at 6:46 pm

    I first heard the story of this movie on radio…there’s this program called Bioscope ki baatein on Vividh Bharati which comes on fridays, they tell the story of one movie in one hour every week…I was in 11th and was lying down in my hostel room listening to the story. It was the songs that made me cry. I was already pretty fond of Hum aapki aankhon mein – the only happy song in the movie, I guess. And then I went home for holidays and there used to be some program on Bollywood classics that Vinay Pathak used to host, I don’t remember the name though…I happened to see the making of Pyaasa on that. But it was only quite later that I fianlly got to see the movie. I was totally floored watching it. And though I don’t appreciate the self-pitying character so much, this movie was an exception. I liked everything about it, inspite of the main character being such a pessimist.

    • sunheriyaadein

      May 30, 2010 at 6:46 pm

      BTW, thanks for Mala Sinha’s and Rehman’s pictures. I too am a very loyal fan of both 🙂

      • harvey

        May 31, 2010 at 10:17 am

        Yeah, I remember a program similar to the one you are talking about, but I can’t recall its name. They used to air it on Sundays. It was like an abstract version of the movie. One which I remember distinctively is Baat Ek Raat Ki. But I never saw the movie!
        Nice to hear that you also are fan of Rehman and Mala Sinha. Will try to post more pics of them in my notes over Pyaasa today.

  8. bollywoodeewana

    May 31, 2010 at 7:39 am

    I love Mala too and i’ did a Mala special series a while ago where i even rant on how she’s never been awarded the filmfare lifetime achievement awards while a lot of her peers and even a lot of those who came after her have been given one, you know i don’t care all that much for award shows in a way but still something about that just doesn’t feel right

    • harveypam

      May 31, 2010 at 5:38 pm

      I myself am not a big Mala sinha fan! But neither do I hate her. I like her in some roles, in some she goes overboard!
      Her daughter, Pratibha, went to the same college as I and she would come to ‘visit’ her often, thus she was quite ‘visible’ there. I even spoke to her once, she was quite friendly and the funny thing was that I didn’t even recognise her. My friend had to tell me who she was.

  9. yves

    June 21, 2010 at 7:13 pm

    While reviewing your blog Harvey, I hadn’t seen that you had written something about Pyaasa: don’t know why! Anyway, what you write and the pictures you have selected show that you have been quite sensitive to the movie’s beauty and particular artistry, it’s very pleasant to find in someone else your own emotions seen from another angle!
    Great job!

    • harveypam

      June 21, 2010 at 10:53 pm

      Pyaasa did move me a lot.
      What I find fascinating is “to find in someone else your own emotions seen from another angle“. From which angle do you see them?
      Thanks for your compliments! But it is the film which evokes these words!


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