Pyaasa (The Thirsty One)

Directors: Guru Dutt, Abrar Alvi
India | 1957 | Fiction | Hindi w/English subtitles
Run Time: 146 minutes
Film source: Gala Global
Sponsor: VT Council on World Affairs
Introduction by: Ken Wade

Pyaasa (The Thirty One)

VTIFF is delighted to present Guru Dutt’s Pyaasa as a tribute to mark the 100th anniversary of Indian cinema. Pyaasa, a film found in both Time magazine’s and Sight & Sound’s 100 best movie lists – uses two familiar tropes – that of the starving-struggling artist and that of the prostitute with a heart of gold. Yet, both these narrative devices are reworked so thoroughly that the film ultimately becomes a statement about the poverty of thought and the hypocrisy of a crassly materialist society. Several film scholars consider Guru Dutt as India’s Orson Welles, producing, directing and starring in his own films. His use of chiaruscaro and acute close-up in Pyaasa were very innovative and avant garde for his time. Almost all scenes are shot either in tight, enclosed spaces, or through doorways and windows and framed by gates, arches, pillars and columns. This gives a sense of claustrophobia and constriction and symbolizes the constraints faced by the protagonist. Like most Bollywoood films, Pyaasa is full of memorable songs. But unlike most mainstream directors, Dutt integrates the songs into his narrative. To maintain realism, some songs are part of fantasy (or phantasmatic) sequences or expressions of characters’ emotions; other songs are filmed as poetry readings. Pyaasa was a huge box-office hit when it was released achieving a rare balance between personal artistic aspirations and commercial concerns.