Monday, June 30, 2014

Pyaasa / The Thirsty One

Mala Sinha as Meena, Waheeda Rehman as Gulabo, Guru Dutt as the poète maudit Vijay
प्यासा / Sete eterna / The Thirsty One. IN 1957. D: Guru Dutt. Dial.: Abrar Alvi. DP: V. K. Murthy. ED: Y. G. Chawhan. AD: Biren Naag. M: S. D. Burman. Songs: Sahir Ludhianvi. C: 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). P: Guru Dutt per Guru Dutt Films. [DCP was announced]. 143’. B&w. Hindi version. From: National Archive of India
    Introduced by Shinvendra Singh Dungarpur.
    Shown on Bluray.
    Viewed with e-subtitles in Italian and English at Cinema Jolly, Bologna, Il Cinema Ritrovato, 30 June 2014

Arun Khopkar (Il Cinema Ritrovato, 2014, catalogue and website): "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 100 mm 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. Though their style draws from a realistic idiom, it is not limited by realism. Often, fleeting shadows thrown by unidentified 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. These characters retain their humanism in spite of the difficult conditions of their lives. Their 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."
Arun Khopkar (Il Cinema Ritrovato, 2014, catalogue and website)

AA: The story of a poet - an artist for whom his art is a rare talent, a blessing, a curse, a damnation, an obsession, an all-overwhelming possession. Poetry makes him mad.
    He is marginalized and cursed, an outcast in his own society, not understood by anyone, rejected by the woman he loves. He drinks. He sleeps outdoors. He is locked up in a madhouse.
    I was thinking about biopics of poets: Sayat Nova (Nran guin also being screened in Bologna), John Keats (The Bright Star), Eino Leino (Runoilija ja muusa). Pyaasa is in the same class as Sayat Nova. I was also thinking about Jean Cocteau, the poet as a film-maker, and the electrifying poets' evening in Zastava Ilyicha. I also thought about great poems filmed such as Terje Vigen.
    Many great Indian films are also musicals, and so is Pyaasa, but this time it's about poetry being sung - Vijay (Guru Dutt) is a poet and a song-writer, the poems are meant to be sung. His brothers have sold his poems to the lump collector for a penny, but a lady has discovered them, and one night at the beach Vijay hears a woman singing them. That is how she learns to know Gulabo (Waheeda Rehman), the prostitute. Gulabo and a goofy masseur Abdul Sattar (Johnny Walker), the two outcasts, become his only true friends.
    The poems and the songs are of the essence, and they are the heart and the soul of Pyaasa. Poetry transports Vijay and us to another world, a higher level of perception and existence. 
    Meena (Mala Sinha), the great love of Vijay's days of youth at the university, is now married to the rich and callous publisher Ghosh (Rehman).
    Vijay gets work as an errand boy for Ghosh and as a waiter in the poets' evening Ghosh has arranged. There Vijay, however, gets to sing one of his poems, one that is more shattering and heart-wrenching than anything else heard there that night. Especially Meena is deeply shaken.
    Vijay is succumbing to alcohol and self-loathing. Gulabi is dragging him to dignity. "The world needs your poetry". "I have never been able to make anyone happy". A shaking beggar gets Vijay's coat with his last poem in its pocket. In his pain Vijay seems to be contemplating suicide by the railway station. But the beggar gets stuck between the switching rails, and as Vijay tries to help him it's too late, Vijay jumps aside at the last second, and the beggar is mangled to death so badly that he cannot be identified, but it is believed the corpse is Vijay's.
    After his "death" Vijay becomes a legend. Printing presses are thundering, spitting out copies of Vijay's poems. They are read everywhere.
    Meanwhile, Vijay is at the madhouse, shaken, not speaking a word until he hears a nurse reading aloud his poetry. Ghosh and Vijay's evil brothers agree on a pact that they refuse to identify Vijay in order to collect his huge royalties. But Abdul Sattar one day notices Vijay behind the bars of the madhouse yard and sets him free.
    There is a huge anniversary memorial gala in the honour of Vijay's death. Vijay himself appears and starts to sing a new poem. Panic ensues, and Vijay and Gulabo are almost trampled to death. "I am not that Vijay", Vijay announces. "He's been dead for a long time." "These are not my friends". "I'm going where there is no further to go". At the producers' insistence Guru Dutt added a more positive ending where Vijay invites Gulabo to accompany him: "Will you come with me?"

Visual quality: bluray, but not from a bad source.

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