Monday, January 03, 2011

Holiday time = movie time

PYAASA (Thirsty) *****
I watched this 1959 Hindi masterpiece on New Year's Eve. Wow, wow and wow. I've known about the great writer-director-actor Guru Dutt since the early 1990s, when the Film Center did a retrospective of his work. But I'd never actually seen his fims. What was I waiting for? This film is all soul, from start to finish, and somehow affected me far more than the masterpieces of the great Bengali filmmaker Satyajit Ray.

This one stars the handsome Dutt as Vijay, a penniless poet who has been thrown on the streets by his avaricious brothers - who have sold his poetry for the price of the paper they're written on. Vijay hears his songs sung by a prostitute named Gulab (Waheeda Rehman), who lures him up to her lair but throws him out once she realizes he has no money. Vijay wanders the poor area of town, where he has many friends - including the hair-oil massage man, whose business picks up as soon as he starts singing a poem Vijay penned for him (the film's wonderful soundtrack is by the great S.D. Burman). Eventually, Gulab realizes Vijay's talent, as does the husband of his college-time sweetheart. The latter is a big-time publisher who hires him as a servant, and then eventually fires him. Then Vijay's mother dies, and he contemplates suicide at the railway tracks. In a scene straight out of It's a Wonderful Life, another homeless man sees what he's up to, and pretends to get his leg caught in the railroad track. Vijay forgets his quest in order to save him - only they both end up getting run over by a train (this is why I love Indian movies). The newspapers carry the news of Vijay's death, and Gulab uses her life savings to have his poems published by the ex-sweetheart's husband. They're an instant hit. Long story short, Vijay survives the train and is interred in an insane asylum by the publisher and his own brothers, who are raking in the proceeds from his poems. The ending is stunning. It's all shot beautifully, the acting is top-notch - better than any European art film I've ever seen - and the story is utterly compelling. Many, many tears were shed while watching this exquisite piece of art. I cannot wait to see the rest of his oeuvre (NOTE: Guru Dutt's real name was Vasanth Kumar Shivashankar Padukone, and he was born in Bangalore, Karnataka. His wife, Geeta Dutt, is the main playback singer in this film).

I saw this 2002 documentary on New Year's Day. It promises to let the viewer in on the secret practices of Tibetan yogis who spend years holed up in mountain retreats in order to achieve enlightenment. But it spends a lot of time on the history of Buddhism in Tibet (it was imported from India and adapted to include the many gods and stories that already existed there). It shows how the religion spread throughout the land, and explained that one out of six Tibetans was a monk when China invaded in 1949. It also tells the heartbreaking story of the Dalai Lama's exit in 1959, and Tibetan exile in India. I recommended it just for this. Finally, they get to the yogis, and even show a few of their practices - one of which appears to be a rather extreme version of Maha Vedha. The monks allude to their practices, but don't give much away - despite the fact that the practices are dying out and not being passed on due to the invasion and population dying / moving, etc. They show a stone box where the yogis do their sitting in the mountains. One of them explained that they sit there day and night and do not sleep. They also interviewed the Dalai Lama, who told the famous story of the monk who was imprisoned by the Chinese for many years. He told the Dalai Lama he was in great danger. But not from his enemies. He wasn't worried about that. Instead, he said he was in danger of losing compassion for them.
Click here to about the difficulties of filming this movie.

A better title for this 1985 film would have been "No Country for Old Women." It takes place in the 1940s and stars Geraldine Page in an Oscar-winning role as a Carrie Watts, an elderly woman who is a virtual slave in the small Houston apartment of her son and his vapid, overbearing wife. Carrie's only goal in life is to return to Bountiful, the bucolic coastal town where she spent her formative years. But her son won't let her go because of her weak heart, and his wife has control of her pension check. Finally, Carrie escapes and takes a bus as far is it will go. After many incidents and close calls, she finally gets to Bountiful - only to learn that her sole remaining friend there died a few days ago, and that the entire town is empty. This film was clearly based on a play and had some stage-y scenes, but I liked it anyway - especially the lyrical nature and period details and wonderful supporting work by Rebecca De Mornay as a fellow bus passenger and the underrated Richard Bradford as the kindly Sheriff. Again, may tears were shed. Watching it made me realize how much easier it is nowadays for the fairer sex to earn a living and have some say over where and how they live....although one still can't help but worry about being a bag lady one day. It also made me long for life in the country.

* * *

Click here to learn more about Pyaasa.

Some lyrics from the song:

I wonder what kind of people are those, who get love for love.

When we asked for buds, we got thorns instead.

When we searched for destination of happiness, we got paths of sorrows instead.

We longed for songs of affections, got cold wishes instead.


  1. Great clips, shall have to watch them someday.. so it's not only me that fears becoming a bag lady..x

  2. And I thought only American women were taught to fear that!

  3. Dear C.K.
    A good friend of mine named his country house "Bountiful Place" after the movie. It was a small cottage in Fredricksburg, a German town in the Texas Hill Country. You could go there on weekends and hole up in his library reading a lot of wonderful books while sipping tea.

  4. Brendan11:31 PM

    If you're interested in checking out Tibetan yoga you should try one of a Lama Lobsang's classes here in Chicago!