Last week Nasreen Munni Kabir’s book, The Dialogue of Pyaasa: Guru Dutt’s Immortal Classic, hit the bookstores. And brought back a flood of memories… Black-and-white and bittersweet images…
I remembered Vijay, the idealist poet from the film whose verses are trashed as kabadi (waste) by cultured publishers but strike a chord with an illiterate prostitute. Gulabo sings them to lure customers and uses her savings to get the poems published after Vijay’s untimely death.
To everyone’s surprise, including his own, Vijay gets the recognition he craved for posthumously. But when he tries to convince everyone that he is still alive, he is pronounced insane and locked away in an asylum by his publisher and his own family. Ditched, disowned and disillusioned, he returns, Christ-like, to denounce the world, ‘Yeh mahlon, yeh takhton, yeh tajon ki duniya, yeh insaan ke dushman, yeh samajon ki duniya, yeh daulat ke bhooke rawajon ki duniya, yeh duniya agar mil bhi jaye to kya hai…’
After being beaten up, Vijay admits to being an imposter and sets out towards a world from which he’d never want to runaway again. “Saath chaloge? (Will you come with me”)” he invites Gulabo, and draws an answering smile from her. Hand-in-hand, they walk away into the sunset and towards a new beginning. Everyone returns home with a smile… everyone but Abrar Alvi, the film’s writer.
A fiery leftist and a hard-headed realist, Abrar saab, one afternoon, over a brunch of soup and toast, had pointed out to me what Vijay’s college sweetheart tells him in the film. Mala had ditched him for a lonely life of luxury with his publisher. When Vijay is leaving, she argues, “Kahan jaoge? (Where will you go?) Jahan bhi jaoge, yeh duniya paoge (Wherever you go, you will find this same world).”
Abrar saab had wanted Vijay to stay back and fight his battles. And for Gulabo to go away alone and fight her own battles. But Guru Dutt wanted a more filmi end, a happy end, for his dark film. And eventually, Abrar saab had catapulted to the demands of populist, escapist commercial Hindi cinema.
“But that’s not how it happens in real life,” Abrar saab had protested to me, several decades after the film’s release. “In real life, a Vijay never goes away with a Gulabo.” The conviction came from experience.
Years ago, Abrar saab had met a Gulabo at a reunion of school friends at Anchor’s Cabin in Juhu. And spent the night listening to how her married cop lover had lured Devi, the priest’s daughter, from a village in Gujarat to big, bad Mumbai where he’d abandoned her at a brothel.
It was the stuff Bollywood potboilers are made of and Abrar saab admitted that he was often drawn to Gulabo’s dark world. They would sit up all night, talking. The relationship never turned sexual and whenever she was expecting him, Gulabo would refuse to see clients after 9 pm. Sometimes he would come, sometimes he couldn’t. She never complained but just waited patiently for his next visit.
And so the years rolled by. Gulabo married and had a daughter. She dreamt of a better life for her, shared her reams with her friend whenever he dropped by. Then, the miserable years began to take their toll on her.
Her health deteriorated as a racking cough took hold. She was detected with tuberculosis. That and her shattered dreams took her away early. Abrar saab admitted that he had missed their last meeting and had no idea what happened to her little girl.
“That’s life, the real world,” shrugged the modern-day Vijay, who had turned his poems into film scripts but the thirst for recognition was there to see. I also saw right through his pretended nonchalance over the pain of loss. And suddenly, Vijay and Gulabo were no longer storyboard characters.
They were flesh and blood, two social outcasts bonding over trails and trauma. ‘Jaane kya tune kahi, jaane kya maine suni, baat kuch ban hi gayi…’