The idea of a struggling artist in a world that wants you to conform to its own set of rules has always been a tempting subject for filmmakers. It’s a wonderful opportunity to display a clash of individual aspirations with a more practical ideology. Who wouldn’t want to tell the classic tale of a vulnerable, talented man, holding on to his dream in a mean world that’s ready to take him on?
Only last year, the brilliant, Harvard-educated Damien Chazelle gave us this little piece of wonder – LA LA LAND — starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. The gorgeous musical about two struggling artists in Los Angeles was a buoyant force. Its candy floss outward appearance explored much darker themes of dreams, ambitions, love, and longing.
Imtiaz Ali’s Rockstar was about a young singer who fumbles for that inner pain that could launch him into a stratosphere of fame and money. The film cleverly tells you that an artist remains incomplete without undergoing little frustrations of pain and betrayal.
But long before La La Land and Rockstar, Guru Dutt’s Pyaasa that’s also listed in TIME’s top 100 movies explored similar themes. The film is intellectually stimulating even today. Watching it in 2017 can be a tedious task, given the film’s slow pace. It is nevertheless impactful. Pyaasa resonates with anyone who has ever pursued a dream but only got rejections on the way.
Pyaasa first and foremost is a work of art. Not many filmmakers can boast of creating a piece of art today. For those who are clueless about its story, here’s a quick primer. Pyaasa is a story about a young, unemployed poet Vijay ( Guru Dutt) who fails to get recognition for his art. He accidentally meets his college love Meena ( Mala Sinha) who is now married to a rich publisher Mr. Ghosh. The flashback scenes show us that both Vijay and Meena loved each other during their college days. Ghosh gives Vijay a job at his office and that’s how Vijay meets Meena again.
The meeting between Vijay and Meena rekindles their emotions for each other and gives way to some beautiful poetry including Jane Wo Kaise Log The. Ghosh gets suspicious of Vijay-Meena’s past and fires Vijay from his job. Vijay finds refuge in prostitute Gulabo ( Waheeda Rahman) who appreciates his work.
Vijay suffers from more pain after his mother also passes away. By this point in the film, Vijay is scarred by the brutalities of life. He has suicidal thoughts and writes a parting note, tucks it in his pocket. He gives his jacket to a beggar later that night. The beggar is killed in an accident and everyone comes to believe that Vijay is dead.
Gulabo, who is clearly heartbroken by the news takes Vijay’s poems to Ghosh and requests him to publish them posthumously. The collection of poems becomes an instant hit and makes Vijay famous. Vijay who is alive questions the cost of the new-found fame. He walks in on a ceremony organized to honor him and rejects this fame that has come at the cost of his death. Vijay’s moral dilemmas intrigue you.
Vijay doesn’t believe in flourishing his ‘art’ for the sake of this world. He embraces it and holds on to it. It’s essentially about an individual’s efforts to fit in a world that he can’t understand. It’s more about life’s endless disappointments and frustrations.
Pyaasa stays away from glorifying dreams and ambitions. That’s where it stands out among a plethora of films about art. Unlike La La Land and Rockstar, it’s not interested in gloating over one’s achievements. Pyaasa treats ‘art’ with a certain reverence that’s starkly absent from movies today. It paints a more intimate picture of ‘art’. Pyaasa’s world is much darker and it was a sincere cinematic effort. It might not be a gorgeous, buoyant film like La La Land or Rockstar, but it drives the point home more successfully.