While roaming around Mutton Street in Nagpada area (popularly called Chor Bazaar), I entered one of those small shops which stock old cinema posters. As I was scanning through the displayed specimens of Ganga Jamuna, Suraj, Patthar Ke Sanam, etc., I tentatively asked the fellow there for Pyaasa. He pulled out a huge 3 feet tall poster, the classic one which has become an icon in Indian pop culture. I bought it there and there, Rs 1500 for it. It is still rolled up and kept in my house and I am yet to find someone who I can trust for framing it so I can hang it on my walls.
Pyaasa does that to you. The moment in the film is not in the film but immediately after. As the two lost souls walk away and The End splashes on the screen, your mind goes back to three things:
First, you are thinking:
Ye hanste hue phool / ye mehakan hua gulshan
ye rang mein aur noor mein duba hui raahen
Then you are thinking about the scene where a hungry coat-clad Vijay (Guru Dutt) helps a bhadralok load his suitcases into a taxi and gets a copper coin for it. The bhadralok mutters “what a state of affairs, educated people have turned to becoming coolies”, an ironical moment given that the copper coin he gives as payment turns out to be counterfeit.
This is immediately followed by a scene that forever puts that glimmer of hope into whatever dungeons of despair you may be in: the scene where Gulabo finally traces Vijay when she finds him in a lunch house trying to get a meal. (move to 28:52 in the video below)
There is nothing else one can write about this film which has not already been written. Just the thoughts that it evokes in you when you watch it. 55 years after the film, you notice the contemporaneity of the themes, themes which you can still see around you. Anurag Kashyap brought those themes out with Gulaal and for those who still didn’t get the message Piyush Mishra all but says it in the last song (and indeed the last bit) of the film.
har ek jism ghaayal, har ek ruh pyaasi
nigaho men ulajhan, dilon me udaasi
It is my personal opinion that Pyaasa is the greatest Indian film made – it is the Citizen Kane of Indian cinema. The emotional drain of Pyaasa and later Kaagaz ke Phool killed Guru Dutt but if he had survived, in my book, he would have become a greater film maker than Satyajit Ray, possibly the greatest. Where Ray was a master professional and used his craft to the fullest, Guru Dutt started with the core idea and worked backwards. He was happy to delegate all the craftsmanship duties to Abrar Alvi, VK Murthy, SD Burman and Sahir Ludhianvi. He focused on moving the audience. In hindsight, one can say that the audience walking out of the theatre in 1957 when the film was released was an indicator of Guru Dutt’s success. He evoked those emotions he wanted and those emotions frightened the audience who had innocently come to watch some song and dance extravaganza.