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.
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