The idealist poet who seeks love and fame
The love we seek may not always be the love we need. This is exemplified beautifully in one of the best movies of Indian cinema – Guru Dutt’s Pyaasa. It is a commentary not just on the world we inhabit, but also our hearts and desires. Pyaasa, directed by Dutt, traces the journey of idealist-poet Vijay (Guru Dutt) and his encounters with poverty versus greed, success versus contentment, and life versus death.
Chasing fleeting fame and a lost love
The movie begins with Vijay aspiring to be a writer. He has tried to get his ghazals published in newspapers and periodicals, but failed. His two elder brothers have thrown their unemployed ‘useless’ brother out. So he lives with a friend and sometimes just on the street. Though well educated, he struggles to find a job and is reduced to penury, yet too proud to beg. As the story progresses, we learn of his college sweetheart Meena, who left him to marry a rich man. Love doesn’t pay the bills, as she reminds him. Through a turn of events, Vijay starts working for Meena’s husband and is forced to come face to face with a lost love. Meena’s husband is a man of the world, driven by money and greed and jealous of his wife’s former lover.
Coveted by all yet cherished by none
Then there is Gulabo. Discarded by the world, quite like Vijay. But not for idealism, instead for the sheer hypocrisy of the world. One where a prostitute is both coveted and derided. From Vijay’s highly idealist world view to Gulabo’s everyday struggle with a cold world ready to use and throw her, both are brilliantly brought to the viewer’s attention. As these two have many chance encounters, Gulabo sees a man unlike any other. Also discarded by the world and not interested in abusing her. She sees that his pockets may be empty but his soul isn’t. And that resonates with her. A prostitute derided as the scum of the world, yet she pays for a starving poet to eat while her clients don’t pay her, calling their money too pure for her.
Mistaken for dead, fame finally finds him
As the story progresses, Vijay’s fortunes decline further and he attempts suicide. However, his final act of kindness to clothe a homeless man, saves him and he escapes the incoming train while the poor man dies wearing Vijay’s clothes. The world thinks that it is Vijay who died. Grief-stricken, Gulabo ensures that his poems are published and he will finally achieve what he always wanted. His poems become a huge success and people come in their droves to pay their respects to the ‘dead’ poet.
Vijay learns of his success and as he tells the world that he is alive, he receives the biggest blow. His former employer, his brothers, all refuse to recognise him for money. Vijay sees a world that celebrates his death but does not care for his life. His desire for this shallow fame disappears. When Meena tells him she still cares for him, Vijay is quick to chastise her. You were not loyal to me, he says, at least be loyal to your husband.
You were not loyal to me, he says, at least be loyal to your husband.
The love that he craved from Meena, one he dedicated his poetry to, was quite like the success he craved from the world. And as the story progresses, Vijay’s desire for these reduces. He tells Gulabo that Meena is “Ek shareef aurat jo apne shauk ke liye pyaar karti hai, aur apne aaram ke liye pyaar bechti hai” (a decent woman who falls in love for a hobby, and sells her love for comfort.)
The world is shallow, let us go far away
As he realises the shallowness of this world which sells everything from emotions, to bodies, to lives, Vijay sees the foolishness of finding success here. Love, admiration, family and friends – these are all weighed by how much you bring to the table. And when finally his friends and family decide to recognise him and he can claim his work and reward, Vijay renounces it all. Because that love, adulation, care was never for who he is, but what he could do for them.
And that is when Vijay lets go of everything, his fame, money, and even Meena’s love. He goes craving the only thing that seemed not up for purchase – Gulabo’s love. A prostitute who may sell her body every day, but will never sell her love like everyone else. The love that he now both desires and needs. And with each other, they decide to go to a land far, far away. To find the beginning of their story.