The ultimate fusion of self-aware Bengali film poetics and Hindi cinema conventions, master filmmaker Guru Dutt’s Pyaasa is a towering example of the new energy flowing through Bollywood cinema in the 1950s and a cautionary tale about its limits. Although among the most critically celebrated Indian films in history it was a resounding flop at the box office and crushed Dutt’s spirit; he stopped making films soon after and later took his own life. Pyaasa presages these events in its story about Vijay (played, tellingly, by Dutt himself), an impoverished poet rejected by an uncaring world who achieves recognition only after his apparent death — in reality, the dead man is a homeless street person who was discovered wearing Vijay’s coat. At a memorial reading of his work, Vijay turns up and denounces the crowd, only to be thrown into an asylum as a mad impostor. He escapes with his companion, a poetry-obsessed prostitute (a career-defining role for screen legend Waheeda Rehman), and retreats from the world. “If we look at the climax of Pyaasa, we see how [Dutt] painted success and fame with a brush of disdain and suspicion. The poet is finally appreciated, yet he walks away from that hall of fame and leaves the world with a prostitute by his side. If Pyaasa is telling us something about Guru Dutt, it is how little success meant to him” (Nasreen Munni Kabir). —TIFF Bell Lightbox
Guru Dutt is remembered in the history of Indian cinema as the brooding intense romantic who attempted to reflect the changing social situation in India in the fifties. Within his short life, he created some of India’s most socially-conscious movies like Pyaasa (Thirsty, 1957), Kaagaz ke Phool (Paper Flowers, 1960) and Baazi (1951). He also introduced Waheeda Rehman in CID (1956) and propelled her to stardom through his films.
Born in Calcutta in 1925, Guru Dutt worked as a telephone operator before he embarked on his career as an actor and director in 1944. The fifties was the time when India, under Nehru’s brand of state socialism, was embarking on massive industrialization. The conventional wisdom has it that rapid changes introduced by industrialization were undermining ‘traditional values’. What is certain is that industrialization, and the accompanying migration from rural to urban areas, was creating — as it still does in India — anomie, dislocation, and new social norms… read more
Oliver Assayas on the music from the film, "Possibly one of the most remarkable transpositions of poetry on screen. Dutt plays the poet himself and when he says the verses, he actually sings (using the beautiful voice of Mohammad Rafi). It's just out of this world. More than once I've had tears in my eyes listening to the audio tape I bought in Delhi in the late eighties".
Each body is injured, each soul is thirsty, Restless glances, sorrowful hearts, Is this the world or the dominion of senselessness