India is celebrating its 70-year independence. To mark this momentous occasion, Derby QUAD is showcasing a number of classic films as part of its India On Film season. Pyaasa (1957) was one of the films included in the programme, which I watched yesterday and the review will follow shortly.

Other films that have been lovingly restored and which have been previously unavailable to view in the UK include:

Miss Lovely (10-11 November)

Britain On Film: South Asian Britain (15-16 November)

The Chess Players (6-7 December)

This is a great time to watch films your grandparents used to rave about (Mother India and Ganga Jamuna are also on my To-Watch-List). Thank you to Derby Quad for the viewing.

Film Review: Pyaasa (1957)

The film’s literal translation is thirsty. So, what is the protagonist thirsty for? Life? Ambition? Love, fame, fortune?

The film kicks off with unpublished poet Guru Dutt (Vijay) in a heated exchange with a potential publisher. It turns out that Vijay’s prized poems have wound up in the slush pile after the editor didn’t want to publish work by an unknown person.

And so the scene is set, as our creative hero tackles obstacles that prevent him from being published and accepted into society.

Vijay dreams of being an acclaimed poet. Unemployed, he seems to spend most of his time away from home to escape his overbearing brothers who constantly berate him for being penniless. His mother (Leela Mishra) is the only member of the family who cares about him, and tender scenes with her, especially when replayed during a character death certainly pulls at the heartstrings.

Vijay’s work is largely unappreciated when he is alive (his brothers sell his hand-written poems for waste paper just to spite him). When he recites his poetry at a party, the host and his guests treat Vijay with scorn and derision, as he is “just another unpublished poet”. In a cruel twist of fate, when Vijay appears to be involved in a fatal accident, his popularity soars.

In between bonding with beautiful prostitute Gulabo (Waheeda Rahman), falling in love with fellow student Meena (Mala Sinha) and defying publishing mogul Mr. Ghosh, Vijay is kept extremely busy. But he never loses his spirit, which remains indefatigable till the very end.

Pyaasa is not your regular Bollywood masala movie. It is a social commentary on values that were prevalent at the time. The film is set in post-independence Kolkata. Back then, being a creative didn’t hold prestige. It was, and in some societies today, continues to be a career that is not stable, doesn’t pay well and therefore by proxy a creative is considered to be an inferior citizen.

It isn’t all poverty and “sticking it to the establishment” rhetoric that lies at the heart of Pyaasa. Light relief comes in the form of legendary Johnny Walker, whose spot-on comic value will elicit belly-laughs and warm smiles. Bollywood films are musicals by nature, and the soundtrack of Pyaasa doesn’t disappoint. From Mohammed Rafi’s “Sar Jo Tera Chakraye” to Hemant Kumar’s “Jaane Woh Kaise Log”, the toe-tapping numbers will make you want to download the music so you can enjoy them on the way home. The film has a cult following in Europe and was screened at 2015’s 72nd Venice International Film Festival where it beat off 20 films to make its 21st century debut on the European stage.

It is a truly thought-provoking film that will make you Google Guru Dutt, actor, director and producer of Pyaasa, and appreciate his prowess in the Bollywood film industry right until his death in 1964.