Why Pyaasa Remains the Most Defining Film for Idealists


Idealist persons are a steadily decreasing component of the human species and in fact are  seen is such small numbers these days that  they can almost be called an endangered component of the human species. Nevertheless, and this  needs to be emphasized, even in their small numbers they retain their very important role in society as they keep reminding of ‘what should be’ in the middle of the rush for ‘what is most profitable’. In fact the more selfish and materialistic the society becomes the greater is the importance of this endangered but still surviving sub-species of humanity.

Important though they may be, idealistic persons frequently face neglect, failure ( in  material terms) and ridicule, leading to need for some means of support and identity which they often try to find in books and films. The genre of the idealistic film hero in films like Satyakam, Anari  and Anuradha (all three incidentally directed by by Hrishikesh Mukherjee), in which the idealistic hero may suffer but is depicted with a lot of sympathy and in a very positive light,  provides them a much-needed sense of  identity and support.

Unfortunately with the growing consumerism and greed such films too have decreased, and so the idealist person in India feels greater need to cling all the more to the great films of the idealist hero  made in the earlier days.  Among all these films Guru Dutt’s  Pyaasa (1957) still remains the most defining film  for the idealist person in India.

The greatest films are often, though not always, the result of superb team work, and in Pyaasa not only is some of the greatest talent of Hindi cinema assembled at one place but in addition they somehow appear to be most inspired to give their best in this film. Whether it is Sahir Ludhianvi as lyricist, Sachin Dev Burman as composer,   Guru Dutt as director, V.K.Murthy as cameraman, Mohammad Rafi and Geeta  Dutt as playback singers, Guru Dutt and Waheeda Rehman in lead roles, all these highly talented persons appear to be in highly inspiring mood to give their best for this film, and again a lot of credit for this goes to Guru Dutt for creating the situation in which this was possible. Even those playing smaller but important roles like Mala Sinha, Rehman and Johnny Walker have given very memorable performances in this film. As a result the impact of this story of an idealist, hugely talented but mostly very neglected and struggling poet is very great at the level of direction, acting and songs in particular. One song of this film Yeh Duniya Agar Mil Be Jaaye To kya Hai can even be called the eternal string of the idealist person in India.

Much has been written about the great qualities of this film from the point of view of direction, cinematography, screenplay and dialogues, acting and music; here we are more concerned with how this becomes  such a defining film for the idealist person. Of course all these qualities of a great film contribute to this great impact.

The poetry of Sahir is obviously very important as it gives voice so poignantly to the frustrations and disappointments ( Lo aaj hamne poem or jaane vo kaise song ) of the idealist youth on the one hand and also to their hopes and never-die-spirit ( ubhrenge ek baar abhi dil ke valvale), while reserving the best for the deeper realization  of Yeh duniya agar mil bhi jaaye to kyaa hai. The  merging of the intense longing for beloved person  with deeply devotional music has resulted in an all-time great song which comes closest to the idealist’s concept of love (aaj sajan mohe ).

The brilliant acting of Guru Dutt and Waheeda Rehman contributes much to the yearning of identity for idealist persons. However what contributes most is the way in which the story line develops certain dramatic situations which bring out clearly the dilemmas and ironies faced most by idealist persons.

There is a situation in which the life-story of the same person is as likely to end up as the story of a mad man as it is likely to end up as the story of the most brilliant and celebrated poet. Many idealist persons think of themselves, in most cases rightly so, as being exceptionally good persons even though they are being ridiculed all the time, and this thinking is in fact needed for their survival. This needs identity and support points from books and films, and such support also helps them to survive.

The highest point of the film for the idealist comes towards the end when the much-wronged poet finally finds himself in a situation where he has a chance to expose all his tormentors as well as to bask in glory but chooses not to. As he tells the woman who was his first love but ditched him to realize her ambitions—I have no complaints against any individuals. My   only questions are about the unjust  system which inflicts such injustices on struggling honest people in a systemic, routine way.

I think it is at this point that this very good film becomes a truly great film for all time, when the poet refuses to expose his tormentors and to bask in glory. He simply rejects the options of seeking revenge as well as  false fame achieved in an unjust system. He simply tells his beloved ( herself a fallen woman in the eyes of the world) that he is leaving in search of a world  which is free of such hypocrisy and injustice  and false values, and gently asks if she will accompany him . Of course she will and so they both walk into the sunset. The identity with the values and thinking of the idealist could not be more complete.

Bharat Dogra is a journalist and author who has written on public interest issues for well over four decades.



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