It has been 65 years since we saw Vijay (the Guru Dutt version) play the thirsty (read ambitious) poet willing to burn the world down in Pyaasa. Why so? Because he had a lust for life in a world that celebrated the dead. It was "a most important film," showcasing not only the zeitgeist job insecurities of a newly independent India but also grabbing the pulse of a nation that was slowly getting disenchanted with the system. What could highlight this better than the haunting score of S. D. Burman and the poignant lyrics of Sahir Ludhianvi? Who could brave the brood better than Guru Dutt? Catch more of these who, what, how and when in the trivia below.
Based on Kashmakash, a story Dutt wrote when he was 22, the film was first titled Pyaas, but Guru Dutt felt that Pyaasa would better describe the film's mood. And did the name-changer find a moniker in this game-changer? You bet he did.
The original choice for the leading man was none other than the Tragedy King, Dilip Kumar. He refused the role and the director became the hero.
Guru Dutt's real-life friend had the opportunity to portray his reel-life friend, Shyam. But that role went to the eponymous assistant director, Shyam Kapoor. Nevertheless, Johnny Walker got the role of the much more loved masseur Abdul Sattar and his champi in his kitty.
Guru Dutt had initially planned to shoot the red-light area scenes on-location in Calcutta. But some pimps weren't so keen about it and hounded the crew members one day. The original plan got scrapped, and Pyaasa continued to be filmed on a set.
Who can forget the iconic crucified Christ-like pose of Guru Dutt towards the climax of the film? Whence did this imagination sprout? Scholars speculate that the idea emerged from a Life magazine cover featuring a crucified Jesus Christ. Was Dutt possibly reading that? Possibly, because that cover also gets featured in a scene where Mala Sinha reads the magazine.
An imported tune championed Johnny Walker's classic champi. "Sar jo tera chakraye" was inspired from the melody of a song from Harry Black. The inspiration was so inconspicuous that the producer of Harry Black could hardly notice it. Instead, he was amazed by it. Some also speculate that "Sar jo tera chakraye" was an R. D. composition.
"Hum aapki aankhon mein," sung by Geeta Dutt and Mohammed Rafi, was a last-minute addition to please the distributors because they thought the film was becoming darker and pessimistic by the minute.
Sing "Humne to jab kaliyaan maangi". Sounds similar to this verse from the National Anthem? It was composed intentionally according to the memoir, S. D. Burman: The Prince-Musician (by Anirudha Bhattacharjee and Balaji Vittal). "Jaane wo kaise log the" who could identify this subtle reference.
The song "Ye kooche ye neelam ghar dilkashi ke" that a brooding Vijay recites as he crosses a red-light area is a modified excerpt from Sahir Ludhianvi's nazm "Chakle" (brothels). The original hook-line was "Sana-khwan-e-taqdis-e-mashriq kahan hain?" (Where are those who praise the sacredness of the east?) and not "Jinhe naaz hai hind par vo kahan hain?" (Where are the proud Indians?)
The same memoir quotes Sahir and S. D. Burman's great fallout post Pyaasa. Ludhianvi thought that the soundtrack and the film became a hit solely through his verses. Burman, on the other hand, felt discredited. More so, since he had been an appreciative Sahir collaborator since Baazi (1951). Pyaasa became the last straw, and the two never met again. Ludhianvi gave some memorable songs along with R. D. Burman in the future, though.
Gulabo (Waheeda Rehman) was a real person. One night, writer Abrar Alvi visited Bombay's red-light district and chanced upon the eponymous woman. Warmly concluding the chat, she thanked Alvi because that was the first time she was "shown so much respect." Her token of gratitude got reflected in verbatim, in a dialogue of the film: "Aaj tak logon ke munh se main dhutkaar hi sunti rahin hoon apne liye. Unki fiqre-baaziyan aur taane sunti rahi hoon, gaaliyan sunti rahi hoon, ganda mazaak sunti rahi hoon. Aur tum? Itni izzat se pesh aate ho mujhse?" ("Until today, I have only heard people rebuke me. Their crude remarks, their taunts, their abuses and their dirty jokes. But you show me so much respect").
Want some more poetry? You could read The Dialogue of Pyaasa by Nasreen Munni Kabir. Her 2011 book contains the film's dialogues in Hindi and Urdu. English translations are also available.
Many feel that this film (along with Kabhi Kabhie and Manmarziyan) doffs its hat to the much-romanticized relationship of poets Sahir Ludhianvi and Amrita Pritam. Sahir wrote the lyrics of the film. And wherever there is Sahir, there is bound to be speculation.
The climax turned out to be a debatable affair. While director Guru Dutt wanted the film to end one way, writer Abrar Alvi the other. Who won? The maverick Dutt.
The film became a slow-burning hit, giving Dutt the courage to recreate the enchanting pathos in Kaagaz Ke Phool (1959). That did not work out either. And that setback was beyond tragic. What is more tragic is that both these films achieved much greater critical success and mainstream interest in the '80s, decades after Dutt had died.
From Time to Guardian to Sight and Sound, all recognize Pyaasa as a classic. Don't miss it. You can watch Ultra's restored print on YouTube.