T. it.: Sete eterna. T. int.: The Thirsty One. Dial.: Abrar Alvi. F.: V.K. Murthy. M.: Y.G. Chawhan. Scgf.: Biren Naag. Mus.: S.D. Burman. Canzoni: Sahir Ludhianvi. Int.: Mala Sinha (Meena), Guru Dutt (Vijay), Waheeda Rehman (Gulabo), Rehman (Ghosh), Johnny Walker (Abdul Sattar), Kumkum (Juhi), Leela Misra (madre di Vijay), Mehmood (fratello di Vijay), Tun Tun (Pushplata). Prod.: Guru Dutt per Guru Dutt Films
DCP. D.: 143′. Bn.
Producer and director Guru Dutt’s intensely original film is widely considered one of Indian cinema’s unquestionable classics, striking a chord with its vision of the romantic artist in conflict with an unfeeling, materialistic world. Dutt plays the central role of Vijay, the brooding, alienated poet who encounters greed and philistinism among the gatekeepers of society, and compassion among its outcasts. Rejected by the establishment, Vijay’s work becomes popular only after his supposed death. In the film’s rousing climax, the poet returns from the dead to denounce the hypocrisy of those who have gathered to praise him.
Melody and Drama
Pyaasa was a great commercial and critical success in the short life of its maker. Guru Dutt worked in the genre of melodrama and was equally sensitive to its two components, melody and drama. Like Orson Welles, he had a vision of his protagonists which he interpreted masterfully, as the finely nuanced performances in Pyaasa prove. His drama was based on understatement. Where other Indian filmmakers would use a scream, he used a whisper. His camera, quite often mounted on a crane with a 100mm lens, would move silently into a close-up to capture minute changes of expression. The crane movements varied from swooping dramatic manoeuvres to subtle, almost imperceptible changes of level.
As for melody, no one used songs with more telling effect. In Pyaasa, Guru Dutt disregarded the conventions of Indian cinema regarding songs. He could use them in fragmentary form or as an extension of dialogue, while at other times, they went beyond the standard length. He could use them dramatically, as in his powerful interpretation of the climactic scene, where a song plays over a hysterical, stampeding mob. No matter how he used a song, his complete mastery over its mise-en-scène and its rhythmic cutting expressed a wide range of emotions, from extreme gentleness, sensuousness and tenderness to dramatic conflict and brutal violence.
Working in close collaboration with his cameraman V.K. Murthy, Guru Dutt created a world of original and unique images. Th their style draws from a realistic idiom, it is not limited by realism. Often, fl shadows thrown by unidentifi sources cross the face of a character; elongated shadows underline the loneliness of the protagonist. Lighting charges the spaces of everyday life with emotion.
The world created by Guru Dutt’s imagination in Pyaasa is deeply humanistic and sympathetic to the people who live on the fringes of respectable society, from the commercial sex worker to the itinerant masseur. The characters retain their humanism in spite of the difficult conditions of their lives. The depiction has none of the maudlin sentimentality so common in Indian cinema. Guru Dutt’s characterisation of the affluent and the powerful too is done with a fine eye for detail – he shows us the signs of their pomp, the arrogance of their gestures and words, and finally the brutality of their actions.
Perhaps it is the humanism of Pyaasa that still intrigues us and draws us in, after all these years. Guru Dutt’s works invite us to understand others and understand ourselves.