Monday, May 07, 2007

on Pyaasa

"In a way, Bombay Cinema had anticipated Pyaasa. Devdas, the hero troubled by a death wish, makes way for Vijay, the poet unable to come to grips with the redefinition of the poetic vocation under postcolonial Indian capitalism. But this is to overlook what Guru Dutt finally does with the form. In his hands the form is twisted quite radically, the narrative loosened up, and we get glimpses of the possibility of the reworking of the epic form in the new capitalist order. In this reworking, the text is less rigidly structured, its plot not quite so carefully measured, and the heroic action remains ambiguous to the end. To achieve this, Guru Dutt introduces the figure of the heroine who is neither an achhut kanya (the untouchable girl of Himansu Rai's film of that name) nor a crippled nartaki (the dancer of Kismet). What we get instead is the figure of the "unromanticized" prostitute, someone like P.C. Barua's Chandramukhi (in Devdas) but without her reformist tendencies. For a brief moment women in Bombay Cinema come of age and begin to anticipate their radical representation in Indian Middle Cinema films such as Ankur (The Seedling, 1974) and Arth (Substance, 1983). But for a moment only, as Guru Dutt continues to work within what Ashis Nandy has referred to as popular middle-class cinema. Pyaasa must be read, in the final analysis, not through the thematizations of the hero as poet but through the manner in which it reads the marginalized Indian woman. With all his Romantic limitations -- Waheeda Rehman as Gulabo is both far too attractive and her sensibility is far too labored -- Guru Dutt nevertheless makes the relationship between stars and audience much more complex. In the end the text remains fragile. Despite the elements of the popular -- songs and sanitized representations that characterize the genre -- the text's fragility (formal and ideological) draws us to Guru Dutt as auteur."

- Vijay Mishra, Bollywood Cinema: Temples of Desire (2002).




From left: Waheeda Rehman in Pyaasa (1957); Shabana Azmi in Ankur (1974); Smita Patil in Bhumika (1977).

2 Comments:

Anonymous Don said...

Completely off the topic. I watched an extract of an English subtitled version of 'Où gît votre sourire enfoui?' Pedro Costa. Do you know if an English-subtitled DVD exists? What about an English subtitled print of the film? Thanks,

D.

10:09 AM  
Blogger Mubarak Ali said...

Sorry for the late reply. Yes, a subtitled Portuguese DVD does indeed exist, from the label Assirio & Alvim. Google its Portuguese title 'Onde Jaz o Teu Sorriso' and it should be the first result. (I don't have an exact link with me at the moment.)

1:34 PM  

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