Musings on Guru Dutt’s Pyaasa

31 May

The Story

The plot of Pyaasa though unique, lends heavily from two sources. One which is quite evident is Saratchandra Chatterji’s Devdas and the other is the story of Jesus Christ.

The Devdas angle:

Vijay is Devdas, Meena is Paro and Gulabo Chandramukhi. In Pyaasa though Paro undergoes quite a transformation she marries a rich man not because she feels abandoned by Devdas and  demeaned by his family but for financial security. It is not his love for Paro/Meena, which drives Devdas/Vijay to his ruin but his disappointment and disillusionment of the society in general. Vijay unlike Devdas channels his heartbreak into his poetry and is basically optimistic about his success (at least in the first part of the film). Gulabo remains true to Chandramukhi. Guru Dutt gives the Devdas story a happy and a (for me) sensible end.

The Christ story

No Vijay doesn’t cure a leprosy patient and no, he doesn’t walk over water. When Mr. Ghosh breaks the news of Vijay’s death at the breakfast table to Meena, she is reading the LIFE magazine with an image of crucified Jesus on the cover. Just like with Christ, people fail to recognise him after his ‘Resurrection’. But unlike Jesus, he happily settles down with Gulabo/Mary Magdalene.

The film begins with a nazm and a very positive note (Yeh haste huve phool…, These smiling flowers….) as he observes the beauty of the nature, but when he sees the bumble bee being trampled over, his bitterness rises (Mein du bhi to kya du tumhe ye shokh nazaaron…, What can I offer you nature…) and the self-pity sets in (dene ko mere paas kuch aasoo hai, kuch aahen, I have only some tears and sighs to offer).

Painful it is also to watch the thread with which the bumble bee tied to. This poetic out bursts continue through out the film.

The very next scene which shows him running away from his mother mirrors the situation in which he is. The narrowness of the streets shows the narrow-mindedness of the people and the crowd the anonymity of the big city and also of being alone though in a crowd. A very claustrophobic feeling!

When he meets Gulabo for the first time, he just sees her from back and gives a look of “Oh, not a whore!” and then ironically she hums …dekhiye aapne phir pyaar se dekha mujhko (See, you saw me lovingly again). It is a treat to watch this song, where she moves giving ‘come hither’ looks. First they move through the park and then tall pillars and then the narrow streets. A very symbolic journey!

There are many scenes where Vijay is shown in close up at times waking up from his sleep on park bench or going along the streets. Here one can see him perspiring and unwashed, one can literally smell him. Quite eerie!

A song is used often to show the blossoming love. In Pyaasa the song (Ho lakh musibat rasten me…, Though there be hundred hurdles on the way…) is is only of four lines and exactly one minute. Is it to show the brevity of their love story? The song reminds one of ‘San san woh chali hawa’ from Kaagaz ke Phool.

Then there is this scene where Vijay meets Meena in the lift (Hum aap ki aankhon mein). It is lovely in the way the many layers of the situation is conveyed. First of all there is the clutterdness of the lift and sharing a space with many strangers. Then there is the fact that she is married and thus they can’t meet like old friends. There is the distance of the relationship which has arose between them and still the attraction of the moment. There is time factor which has played a big role in moving them apart and at the same the forgiveness which it brings with it. And then at the end of it when they reach the ground floor she says “Mein bhool hi gayi, mujhe upar jaana hai!” (I forgot I wanted to go up). Then the shutters close leaving her behind caught in the situation where she can go up but not out. Brilliant!

Brilliant is the filming of the song “Aaj sajan mohe ang laga lo” as well. The song itself evokes memories of “Aan milo, aan milo shyam saanware” from Devdas. Common to both songs is the origin in the Bhakti. In Bengal and Orissa it is heavily influenced by Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. The ‘aim’ is to be in love with God so much that one dissolves in the divine. This is the emotion in the song as well. When the song begins placidly Gulabo is shown downstairs. She listens to the song with suspicion and wariness. As the song moves ahead she is shown climbing the stairs symbolising her slow transition and moving to higher levels. She is so overcome with love for Vijay that tears well up in her eyes. And as the mridangs beats rise to a crescendo the emotions swell and she is about to hug him. She raises her arm up and then she moves back and runs to her room. And in this moment there is such clarity as if everything dissolves in the present. It always gives me this funny feeling in the heart region.

The three plane shots are again seen here very often. In the above scene for example the pillar makes the first plane, Rehman the second and Guru Dutt in the third plane. Involving an inanimate object does not only gives a depth to the shot but also a third character. Good use of it was seen in Aar-Paar as well. The scene where the bar singer comes into the garage and she is sitting in the car from where the scene is shot. One sees Shakila in the first plane and then the window and then Shyama and Guru Dutt.

Lot has been written of the song “Yeh mehlon, yeh takthon…” and it’s picturisation. Well, I can just repeat what has been said about it without adding much to it from me.

The fabulous lyrics and poems of Sahir Ludhianvi carry a lot of the weight of the film on their shoulders. His biting cynicism and critic of the social conditions give the character of Vijay its real depth. The music by S. D. Burman supports it equally well.

The characters

Vijay: As I wrote the review, I was complaining about the self-pity which he radiates. But there is this self righteousness as well. I sympathise with him, but at times he gets on my nerves. In the beginning in his quarrels with the publisher and his brothers, he gives one a feeling that he expects a lot from the world in return for his art. This expecting part is the thing which I feel hard to put up to. Thus when he leaves everything behind and goes forth with Gulabo is he at his best (for me).

After reflecting upon Vijay for nearly three days (I know, I’m slow) and some good discussions with dustedoff, pacifist, Richard, sunheriyaadein, I saw light today morning.

His character evolves through the story. In the beginning of the story he is disheartened by Meena’s ‘betrayal’, but very much going as a port and he has lots of hopes and expectations for the world. But the numerous experiences he goes through helps him rise above himself. His publicized death, kills not him but his expectations, his mindset, his worldly views, his ego. He becomes dispassionate. He understands that real happiness is not to be found in the worldly trappings. His torn clothes in the end are symblic for the torn veil of maya.

Meena: She is a fascinating character. She is a woman willing to take up fate in her own hands. I can understand her, I can imagine, that though the wooing time with Vijay must have been beautiful, what with all the beautiful poems and all. But the daily life, must have been quite boring with his pessimism and all. By marrying Mr. Ghosh, she hopes to get a better future but ends up being a in golden doll house. Chotti Bahu of Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam would be an extension of her role. Unanswered goes the question of her motives to support Vijay after his come-back. Does she leave Mr. Ghosh and join his opponents? Doe she do it out of love for Vijay? Is she hoping that with Vijay’s newly found riches he will marry her and thus support her? Since Vijay forfeits the wealth and goes off with Gulabo, where does that leave Meena? Can she return back to Mr. Ghosh? I think from this situation a Sidney Sheldonesque story can evolve! 😉

Gulabo: A more appropriate name for would be Kamla, since she symbolises age-old metaphor of the lotus growing in mud but blossoming to enlightenment amidst the dirt. As we see in her first few scenes she is sharp-tongued and able to look after herself. But after Vijay’s death she is unfortunately turned into a mouse. I would have liked her to be a little bit business-like in her negotiations with Mr. Ghosh, but that wouldn’t have gone with the spirit of the story I think!

Mr.Ghosh: A very two-dimensional ‘villain’. Manipulative and controlling. The way Rehman handles the roles speaks volumes for him.


When Vijay sees his brothers bathing in the Hooghly as part of the list rites for their mother, there is high tide with the river coming up to the steps of the ghats. In the very next moment, when he approaches them, there is a low tide and one can see the muddy river-bottom.

When Gulabo drives away Vijay for being penniless, Juhi scolds her and asks her to be quiet. At this time her voice sounds very normal and sober. But two three lines afterwards the voice falls into a (an unnecessary) drunken drawl.


A remake would be great if handled properly and moved to the present time. It would be interesting to see the story develop in a ‘consumer-friendly’ society of malls, fast bucks and fast pleasure. I don’t know how a poet would fit in the present age. How would it be if the main character is a social worker or an environmentalist?

Vijay: Abhishek Bachchan/Abhay Deol

Meena: Rani Mukherjee

Gulabo: Kangana Ranaut/Vidya Balan

Mr. Ghosh: Arjun Rampal

Director Sudhir Mishra


Posted by on May 31, 2010 in Bollywood, Guru Dutt Series


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

19 responses to “Musings on Guru Dutt’s Pyaasa

  1. pacifist

    May 31, 2010 at 11:19 pm

    Beautifully expressed harvey.
    This film definitely needed a second post with more of your thoughts.

    I still interpret Vijay’s behaviour differently from yours.
    He was a normal humanbeing with normal feelings. I think a paragon of virtue who keeps smiling with so much going on in his life would have seemed far fetched It would have been unbearable to see Raj Kapoor in him.

    That Meena would have got borerd with his pessimism if she had remained with him I think is unfair because he may not have been a pessimist at that time.

    His pessimism was most probably a result of Meena’s unfaithfulness.

    I like the parallels you have drawn. 🙂

    • harvey

      June 1, 2010 at 9:28 am

      Thank you pacifist!

      You are right. He might not have been always a pessimist.
      It was alwaysa pleasure to discuss things like this, because one tends to miss so many things, when once one gets in a certain mould of thinking.
      And I have been thinking more abut Vijay last night and I will add more insights soon!

  2. dustedoff

    June 1, 2010 at 9:00 am

    What can I say that you haven’t already said? Such a wonderful post, and such great insights into the film. Got me thinking about it all over again (you know, like with the Jesus Christ parallel, one would probably assign Gulabo the role of Mary Magdalene – the whore who was uplifted and pardoned).

    Thanks, superb read.

    • harvey

      June 1, 2010 at 9:29 am

      Thanks dustedoff!
      Pyaasa made me think about many things. The movie is really inspiring!
      Even last night my last thoughts were about Vijay and today in the morning when I woke up I was thinking about him.

      He is so confusing at times. Today morning I had a brain wave!
      Will be adding it soon!

  3. Richard S.

    June 2, 2010 at 10:26 am

    Very interesting post, and you certainly have put a lot of thought into this!

    Most of these points make a lot of sense to me.

    But would a poet seem so out of place in a contemporary remake? (Is poetry really that dead? I thought that was the case only in the U.S. (and maybe Britain). Though even here in the U.S., it sometimes can be kept alive if propped up by beats and samples.)

    I think it would still be very appropriate for him to be some kind of artist, because one tendency pointed out in this movie can still apply today – i.e., at least sometimes people won’t “discover” a certain poet (or artist or musician, etc.) until he is presumed dead. And then the poet/artist who was previously ignored or even disdained is worshipped (sometimes with a profit-making sort of church built up around him).

    I don’t see the necessity of making him a social worker or environmentalist in the updated/remade version, but if he were to fit into one of these categories, it would have to be a little different from the usual use of the terms… I think he could be one of those things only in a very visionary, activist sense, given that this character is so oriented toward pursuing a certain, well, vision and telling a dishonest world the truth… Then after his presumed death, his image could become a universally popular and hip commodity, adorning dorm walls and T-shirts.

    • harvey

      June 2, 2010 at 4:20 pm

      Thanks Richard!

      What you have said here makes real sense! What a brain wave? I bow in front of your grey cells!

      “his image could become a universally popular and hip commodity, adorning dorm walls and T-shirts”
      That reminds me of Che Guevara!

      Poetry is sort of dead in the present times, isn’t it?
      A poet does seem out of place in the present world. But you are right, why not a poet in a contemporary world. Vijay is a person, who is misfit. Only Gulabo understands his poetry. His Ma and his freind just sympathize with him. Hey, thanks again for that!

      So how about this.

      The film is set in Bombay instead of Calcutta. Vijay remains a poet and to earn his bread he goes from one music director to the other in hope of selling his poems as film song lyrics. He is rejected because he is too crtical of the society and his works don’t suit the taste. Meena has married a rich film producer/music director/music producer. Gulabo is a junior artiste, who has to sleep with directors to get a role. And in the time where he is presumed to be dead, his poems are set to schmaltzy tunes and used to sell commodities of the business world, which he criticised when he was alive!

      Curious about your opinion!

  4. sunheriyaadein

    June 2, 2010 at 7:56 pm

    Beautiful post!!! And what an insight into the film…loved the parallels you have drawn. Now I feel like watching the movie again…and am sure I’ll see things that I hadn’t noticed earlier when I watch it this time.
    Now, this is what I call a thought-provoking film. You’ve been thinking about it and so are all of us 🙂
    This movie is not just about the story….everything about this film is considered a classic – performance, direction, cinematrography, music, lyrics…everything. There’s a meaning/an explanation to every angle and shot. We could actually go on to do a research on this film. My brother, who’s done his graduation in Mass Communication had a subject on Film Making. They were shown this film in college, along with Bazaar and Pather Panchali. I still remember him coming home, totally floored by the way this film was made. And we had even had a long discussion on it. I think we will have to sit together and watch it again and discuss this further.
    Thanks for this lovely post. It has certainly tempted me to rewatch this movie 🙂

    • harvey

      June 3, 2010 at 8:20 pm

      Thank you Sunheriyaadein!
      That is kind of you! I hope you enjoy the rewatch. I am curious, which new fetures you discover in the film! 🙂
      You are right, everything is classic about this film! It looks like as if every angle, every movement is clearly planned and thought about.
      I love Bazaar and Pather Panchali! I would love to watch both of them again! I saw Bazaar some 20 years back and can hardly remember much of the details and hte music is great as well. Pather Panchali, I saw for the first time in Film Museum in Vienna some 7 years back and I wondered, why I had waited so long! I would really love to give Pather Panchali a dekho again! Thanks for bringing it back! 🙂
      Do tell me about your views if you rewatch Pyaasa.

      • sunheriyaadein

        June 9, 2010 at 7:16 pm

        Definitely…Will come back and post my thoughts when I rewatch it. But I don’t know when I’ll get to do that. I’ve been busy doing nothing these days.

        • harveypam

          June 9, 2010 at 8:51 pm

          That is great! Doing nothing is simply great! Do enjoy it, oftne one has so little time for that!
          I envy you!

  5. Richard S.

    June 3, 2010 at 8:04 am

    Harvey, that’s an interesting way to update it, though certainly there could be many other variations. 🙂 The suggestion you made in that last sentence is very clever indeed! Sounds good…

    And by the way, by bringing these aspects of the film world into it, you’re kind of bringing Pyaasa closer to Kagaaz Ke Phool. 🙂

    Thanks, by the way, for the compliment about my grey cells… I can say rather immodestly that I’ve been complimented on my brain power a few times before. Unfortunately, like our hero in Pyaasa, I have never been able to use that brain power to earn myself a proper living, and my ability to do so seems to be be declining further ever since the economic meltdown. I actually did a somewhat self-pitying, pessimistic post about a year and a half ago in which I compared my troubled, struggling self to the main character in Pyaasa. (Although as I make clear in the post that I left up, it wasn’t quite as bad as the original version 🙂 ….) I wasn’t sure before whether I wanted to come out with it, but, OK, here it is:

    • harvey

      June 3, 2010 at 8:44 pm

      Thank you Richard, for the appreciation!
      Speaking of Kaagaz ke Phool, I watched it yesterday, but got only half way through. Got me down, that film!

      I’m sure many people compliment you for your grey cells. Now that I know your Past 😉 no wonder!
      Similar thing happens to me quite offten that I start identifying with the characters of the film so much that I have to warn myself not to feel exactly like them. It is sort of devilish!

  6. Richard S.

    June 3, 2010 at 8:23 am

    Sunheriyaadein, hi! I wanted to mention, it’s interesting that your brother did a degree in mass communications. I almost did a double major in communications many years ago (just a couple of core courses short – which I was too lazy to stick around and take, so I simply graduated with my easy English major)… I also took a film (studies) course among these communications courses, but unfortunately, I don’t recall being shown a single Hindi movie! But that can happen if you live in the U.S. (Too bad this department didn’t have any equivalent to Dr. Philip Lutgendorf…)

    • sunheriyaadein

      June 9, 2010 at 7:23 pm

      Double major in communications??? That sounds interesting. I guess that’s the advantage of studying in India…they were shown Hindi, English and all regional language movies.

  7. sara

    December 18, 2010 at 7:08 pm

    luv the remake actor!!! abhay-rani can great couple onscreen 😉

  8. Dhillon Sheetal

    August 10, 2017 at 1:07 am

    pyaasa is an epicfilm of it s kind..never to be made again…. you must watch jaagte raho too. very nice film


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