So I saw Pyaasa.
And it’s hard to deconstruct a movie that takes itself so seriously and is relentlessly downbeat. But we will give this arduous task a spin, shall we?!
Vijay (Guru Dutt) is a poet. We know this because he is dreamily sprawled under a tree thinking delicate, beautiful thoughts about the birds and the bees (not sex, put away your dirty minds!). Then a foot and a crushed insect ooh so symbolic! Vijay all upset and walks away. That Vijay - just so SENSITIVE!
Next scene at publishers' - aka some harassed bloke who runs a rag - to whom Vijay has handed over his poems. Publisher is a bit of a piece and tells Vijay he wants poems on wine, women and the lot and Vijay’s poems not quite the thing. Fair enough, eh Vijay, the man has a paper to sell! But no, Vijay throwing a hissy fit and demanding the return of his poems. But they are in the wastepaper basket - oh cruel, cruel world! Vijay all ATTITUDE and walks off in a hissy fit. There, there Vijay, man up, we have all been there! Vijay then runs into Maa and nephew in the market and tries to avoid them as he is unemployed and down. Maa drags him home for ghar ka khana but his two nasty brothers are all up in arms about his freeloading. Now Vijay again looking for his poems. And again poems absent, sent off to the raddi! Vijay throwing another hissy fit at this CRUEL, CRUEL WORLD THAT CANNOT RECOGNISE HIS BEAUTIFUL NATURE. Now Vijay off to meet a friend for a bed for the night. And I am thinking DRINKING GAME! DRINK as Vijay is being serially fucked by the world! Friend offers him a bed but suddenly a girl turns up and its lady screwing time for him and Vijay has to leave looking like a wounded bird. DRINK! And mate, don’t grudge your friends a root!
Then Vijay sitting on a bench and contemplating a night under the stars. Girl on bench starts singing - yes that’s how street prostitutes land a Joe! Now Vijay is following her and an entire song later Gulabo (Waheeda Rehman) realises that Vijay has no money and merely wants to quiz her on her song. She chases him away -DRINK! - and then finds a piece of paper he has dropped. Oh Vijay, always leaving poems everywhere! Gulabo is sadly not a poetess prostitute but merely singing Vijay’s verses - she bought all his poems in the raddi (!) and is now all remorseful at turning him away.
Vijay sleeps rough, its morning and he is lounging around and spots Meena (Mala Sinha) getting off a swish car. Hey, Meena looking good there no, make that you are a DIVINE, RAVISHING GODDESS and you so need a tumblr shrine! Now Vijay again looking fucked. DRINK! Time for college flashback - Vijay looking so like the uncle next door but Meena, DIVINE! - general happy fuckery, lame jokes and then ROMANCE and CYCLE SONG! Stuff the serial fuckery, just DRINK because it’s all happy! But not for long and soon it’s the present and Vijay is being a coolie to earn a few paise. DRINK! And then takes himself off to a hotel to eat. But paise turn out to be khote. DRINK for the fuckery of the world is never ending! Then Gulabo spots him and pays for the meal - witness the beginnings of SUPER KINDRED SOUL fuckery. DRINK! DRINK! some more for Sattar Bhai (Johnny Walker) now singing CHAMPI SONG! Yay!! But what’s this - time for Sattar Bhai’s fucked up comedy show with hard as nails prostitute. Quick REWIND to champi song! DRINK! For no reason!
Then Vijay runs into an old friend and it’s CLASS REUNION time! So Vijay goes. Recognition at last, propelled to the stage to sing song! DRINK! But there is Meena in the audience. She’s DIVINE! Vijay sings SUPER SAD song, Meena anguished, audience unimpressed. DRINK! Outside Vijay runs into a publisher, Mr. Ghosh (Rehman) who invites him over. So off goes Vijay with his poems but Mr. Ghosh quizzing him on his college years and then offers him a job. On way out Vijay meets Meena in the lift and FLASHBACK and ROMANCE! Meena, Meena you are looking DIVINE in that Goddess Gown. Back in lift, Meena looking as if she could fuck Vijay on its floor but Vijay all bitter and moody. Enough to make a girl DRINK!
Mr. Ghosh invites Vijay to his house deliberately for there is Meena and she is Mr. Ghosh’s wife! Now looking closely at Mr. Ghosh – kind of portly in a fine suit but then the eye is drawn up and see those fine cruel lips, the cruel eyes, the cruel brows, the fleshy cheeks, the brilliantly pomaded hair…….so like a Fat Flashman……..think perversity, eroticism, sado- masochism, boudoir, corsets, knickers, white gloves, fetish, bondage….umm, er where was I?! Yes, hmmm, some rubbish poetry on, Vijay forced to serve drinks. So DRINK! Meena looking distressed, Fat Flashman thunderous on confirmation of liaison and Vijay contemptuous. Then Vijay singing and looking like the softest, sweetest, most feeling and soulful morsel of humanity so hush, suspend the snark, put down the DRINK! Audience however unimpressed so recommence DRINKING!
Meena now getting a bit stalkerish and Vijay being standoffish and all annoyed at Meena the gold-digger who thwarted his love. DRINK! Meena behaving a bit besotted here - drag him on to the couch girl and just get over him! Deliciously cruel Mr. Ghosh is however eavesdropping on Meena’s confessions and later - uh huh these were not the kind of spankings I had in mind - BAD MR. GHOSH, stick to role play! The next day, Vijay finds Fat Flashman throwing away his poems – what’s up with folk trashing poems but hey woo hoo for the fuckery of the world for we can DRINK!
Somewhere else in the city Gulabo all sad and still looking for Vijay. A trick turns sour and she is being chased by a policeman and then runs into Vijay who claims she is his wife to save her. Gulabo super happy and now her hot, hot body needs some serious cooling down – this erotically charged song will tell you all! Folks, it can be confirmed - Gulabo totally besotted with Vijay - but he disappears. Men, never there when a woman is hot and bothered. DRINK!
Some unnecessary comical fuckery from Sattar Bhai. LET’S NOT GO THERE AND JUST DRINK!
Vijay still sleeping rough in the city trying to drink water from a dry tap. But we can DRINK! Oh no Meena again stalking him. Meena, Meena surely Fat Flashman can offer you infinite more pleasures, albeit a tad sordid, than uptight Vijay! No? Pass him on to us! DRINK! Random storm and Vijay is in it. DRINK! Then Vijay finds out that the Maa is dead and the brothers don’t want him. DRINK, DRINK, DRINK! And have Vijay join you as he goes on a bender and then joins his friend for a kotha visit where a fetching lady is dancing. DRINK! But look the lady has a crying baby and Vijay is totes the only one with FEELINGS and TEARS! So much Sturm und Drang! And now he is singing a hauntingly beautiful song a Ballad of the Fallen Woman so to speak but you are also thinking hey Vijay, maybe you can remove that pretty, soulful mug that is so beautifully lit for a few minutes because it’s not always about how fucked up you feel, you know! Anyhow, DRINK!
Now Gulabo time. Gulabo is all fangirl – Vijay you are the Greatest Poet that ever lived! Also totes maternal and all for tucking him into bed. Vijay all no I am fucked, my poems are fucked, the world is fucked. DRINK! At this point he should take a Bex and lie down but no, leaves Gulabo and is totally cruising for more punishment and running wild over some railway lines and offering coat to shivering beggar. Then beggar dead under a train and everyone thinks its Vijay who is QUITE DEAD. DRINK! Fat Flashman gleeful but Meena and Gulabo all sad. Now Gulabo fangirl wants to get poems published (note that poem folder has a Spitfire on the cover, wtf!) but runs into Meena who doesn’t want this as the tome is dedicated to her. Meena vs Gulabo has Meena knocked out (Meena you remain DIVINE)! Then Gulabo begs Fat Flashman to publish poems and he does. Now Vijay a STAR. Crowds wanting to buy his book top Justin Bieber twitter followers! Fangirl Gulabo all happy. DRINK!
Meanwhile Vijay in hospital and bereft of speech. DRINK! Nurse now reading HIS poems to him (so touching!) and he is all those are my poems, I AM VIJAY! For that immediately carted off to pagalkhana. Meanwhile Vijay’s friend, his brothers and Fat Flashman have all cut a deal to not recognise Vijay for its well known that the only good poet is a DEAD ONE! DRINK for the glorious fuckery of the world is eternal! So Vijay quite quite stuck in pagalkhana. DRINK! Till Sattar Bhai spots him and gets him out. Another round!
Then time for a public reading of Vijay’s poems to which he turns up along with a million other fanboys of his sporting I AM VIJAY tees. Confusing! Meena on stage looking DIVINE, Fat Flashman - ummm - looking devilishly rakish and cruel and so so fetching in that Indian attire (put a brake on the fantasies girl!). Yes Vijay, you are a ROCK STAR, you are verily CHRIST Resurrected. But no need to sing about burning down the world, eh! Then a stampede as Fat Flashman goons try to hustle Vijay out, stamp out his existence and trample poor, devoted Gulabo. I don’t know about you but I need a DRINK! And now let’s all DRINK as Vijay is embraced and vindicated by the very people who spurned him - bar Fat Flashman whose rep is quite ruined for spruiking Vijay as a quite DEAD POET. DRINK to the friend! DRINK to the brothers! DRINK to the Publishers! DRINK to Meena! Another round to the ever changeable fuckery of the world!
Now time for another ROCK STAR Vijay appearance-this time as an undead poet!
But what’s this? Vijay in a MASSIVE FUCK YOU to the world. Shall we DRINK?! Vijay now claiming he is not Vijay. Much consternation. Another bloody stampede and another Sattar Bhai rescue of Vijay. Vijay who is not Vijay but is St. Vijay now saying goodbye forever to Meena and offering her his everlasting goodness and forgiveness. Its OK Meena, you are DIVINE, you have Fat Flashman and some excellent hair ornaments I am totally reproducing! Then Vijay off to Gulabo’s place and witness the consummation of their SUPER KINDRED SOUL fuckery as they walk off into the sunset! Hey Vijay not Vijay but still St. Vijay, goodbye then! Meanwhile for the rest of us depraved, unfeeling folk - its time for the FAT FLASHMAN BOUDOIR GAMES! DRRRRRRRIIIIIIIIIINNNNNNNNNNKKKKK!
PS: Bonus DRINK for anyone who got title reference!
Ouch. I grew up on Pyaasa songs and the idea of Guru Dutt as auteur. But this movie (and incidentally also Kaagaz ke Phool) is a hot turgid mess where maudlin sentimentality meets middlebrow romanticism. It is beautifully shot, its songs are quite wonderful, it has its moments I will give it that. But the central conceit of the film - of a tortured, sensitive genius crushed by society only to spurn its final acceptance too often feels like the petulance of a ignored child. Even a song like Jinhe Naaz Hai somehow fits uneasily in the film inspite of being its central piece partly because it is as much a considered reflection of the sordidness of the world as it is of the cult of the sensitive poet. I find myself a little surprised that this movie turns up in top 100 lists.