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Symbolism in Guru Dutt’s Pyaasa

Symbolism in Guru Dutt’s PyaasaDirected by Guru Dutt in 1957, Pyaasa is a proclaimed and a much-acclaimed classic of the Indian Hindi Cinema. A movie worth re-viewing because after each viewing, it manages to convey some new message to us that we, might have failed to notice in last viewing. The movie is symbol-laden. It is crawling with symbols. During each viewing, a person can find some new symbol.

A line from a song in the movie:

Ye Dunia agar mil bhee jaye to kya hai.
The protagonist rejects fame but only after achieving it. He doesn’t commit suicide or die. Instead he walks away from it all after achieving it all. Hence, the moral triumph of his human spirit. Does this have echoes of the Indian concept of Renunciation found in our religious myths and our popular T.V serials.

A line from another song in the movie:
jinhen naaz hai hind par woh kahaan hain
Critics tell us that this line is a telling remark on the post Nehruvian India. How would the international community make this connection? In a way, present Indian viewers are no better than the international viewers must have been: the one that tried to understand it without symbols.

I haven’t read Sarat Chandra's novel, Srikanta, it’s the book that inspired the movie. I found it mentioned at a website. Most of the intellectualism of the movie would be lost on us, but that is where Guru Dutt’s skill as a storyteller comes to the rescue.
Most of these symbols would probably be lost on us too.
Symbolism does get lost. Or does it?
The symbols adapt based on our understanding.
Maybe, western audience can see Christian symbolism in the movie and connect. In the song, “ Yeh duniya agar”, in one scene Guru Dutt gives a crucification pose. In addition, the way -light and dark- is used, that also was symbolic. In the end after the protagonist’s renunciation, the rushing light could mean enlightenment.

Protagonist has this to say:
Jala do ise phook dalo yeh duniya…Yeh duniya agar mil bhi jaye toh kya hai”.

What modern symbolism could the film hold? How do we discover old symbols and give them new meaning?
As we look for the symbols, we realize nothing much has changed. The context of symbols might have changed but the meaning remains the same. That’s what makes Pyaasa such a timeless classic. It talked about fallacy of man and since when wasn’t the man fallible.
The movie is an indictment of people like us. It exposes our ‘ready to bend for a dime’ attitude and ‘chadtey suraj ko salaamfitrat. The man of the movie holds the dime in contempt and even the whole world (including our Kamar -bent- Salaams) in contempt.

Astonishingly, the movie was a commercial success.

But, Guru Dutt knew duniya ka kuch nahi ho sakta.

Guru made Kaagaz Ke Phool next in 1959.

On October 10, 1964, Guru Dutt was found dead in his bed in his rented apartment at Pedder Road in Mumbai. He is said to have been mixing alcohol and sleeping pills. His death may have been suicide, or just an accidental overdose. Had he survived, it would have been his third suicide attempt.


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