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June - July 2008


A Timeless Jewel

by Nikhil Gajendragadkar

Navketan’s ‘Guide’ was included in this year’s ‘Cannes Film Festival’ in its “Classic” section. The film starring Dev Anand and Waheeda Rehman in lead roles is still a darling of the audience. The film has got a face-lift with re colouring and digital sound. Here is a look at its everlasting charm.

It has songs and dances, yet it goes beyond ‘masala’ (formula) films. It is one of the rare Indian and particularly Hindi films that deals with complexity of human mind. Deft handling of the story gives it an everlasting quality. That is ‘Guide’ for us.

Dev Anand read the novel, ‘The Guide’ (written by legendary R.K. Narayan) when he was in New York, and decided to turn it in to a film then and there. Many people from the filmdom warned him not to touch such a controversial subject; more over the lead character was against his popular image. (hero dies in the end, an added disadvantage). But he had set his heart upon it. First his elder brother Chetan Anand was to direct the film .He wanted Priya Rajvansh as the leading lady, but Dev refused the idea, it is said. Around same time Chetan got permission to shoot his film ‘Haqueeqat’, he dropped ‘Guide’. Then Dev approached his younger brother Vijay alias ‘Goldie’, he reluctantly accepted.

Vijay Anand, barely 30 years old, rewrote the entire script, with dialogues, just before the first shooting schedule was to begin. He shifted the story to Udaipur (Rajasthan) from Malgudi, a fictitious small town in Karnataka, so dear to R K Narayan. This change in location gave an exotic feel to the film. Guide is the first colour film from Dev Anand’s production house ‘Nav Ketan’. And he presented a riot of colours. It was filmed in Pathe colour, perhaps a novelty then. As a producer he spent generously. The film was processed in London.

Of course the strength of this film lies in its treatment, characters and their interaction. Marcos (Kishor Sahu), an aged archeologist is obsessed with discovering some caves. His beautiful wife Rosie (Waheeda rehman) comes from a family of courtesans, women with no prestige. She wants to be a famous dancer. But Marcos is dead against dancing and singing, as he looks upon them as derogatory and not art. Raju (Dev Anand), a simple tourist guide gets entangled in their affaire and their lives are changed forever.

This is a bold film, ahead of its time. It  portrays a ‘live in relationship’ out of sanctity of marriage. This too in early 60’s and in Hindi cinema, known for its conservative and conformist mind set, even today.

There are shades of gray even in hero and heroin’s character. Raju gives Rosie courage to come out of the loveless, joyless marriage. He accepts wrath of his mother, friend, and society and brings her home. Raju helps her fulfill her ambition of becoming a famous dancer, in the process he also realises his dream of getting rich and famous.  But he becomes possessive. He is not ready to lose Rosie to Marcos again, so he forges documents, and goes to jail. Love, Name, Money-having everything they longed for, what makes them drift apart? Such twists, transformation in psyche make ‘Guide’ unique.

The film established Vijay Anand firmly as an ingenious director, able to create a masterpiece. It also reaffirmed his place as one of the leading, imaginative song picturiser. Songs, (ten plus two-three dance sequences) play an important part, they do not impede the progress of the film, on the contrary they help the narration to move on. For instance “Aaj phir jeene ki tamanna hai”is the personification of Rosie’s liberation from her tormenting past and it heralds her entry in to a new life. The track shot in the song which follows her dancing on the ledge of the ruins is amazing and now a part of the cinematic history. Similarly her dance on the street, known as ‘Sapera dance “(snake charmer’s dance) is an occasion where Rosie gives vent to her frustration. “Tere mere sapane ab ek” is a statement and testament of love. This mellifluous song was picturised in just three shots. It denotes the command of the director over his medium and actors as well. “Din dhal jaye “ is a stark contrast to the former song. Where lovers are wondering, what went wrong between them, and where the love has lost. Both these songs have strong undercurrent of sensuality and desire. “Mose chal kiye ja” and “Kya se kya ho gaya” are two ‘back to back’ songs, again a rarity in Hindi cinema, become lyrical rendering of the story. Songs of ‘Guide’ are embodiment of moods and mental state of characters.

The film won many awards. Dev Anand got his second “Best Actor”award; Waheeda Rehman was adjudged as Best Actress.Dev Anand’s restrained acting displays shades of the character. Waheeda brings Rosie to life. Supporting cast is also very good. Vijay Anand won an award for his direction. All deserved them. But unfortunately music director S D Burman missed out. Music is the backbone of the film. Ambitious Dev produced English version also. He roped in Nobel laureate Pearl S. Buck to write the script. The film was directed and co scripted by Ted Danielewski. It flopped commercially, but Hindi Guide was a super hit. 

The film presents lead characters as simple human beings who want to realise their dreams. They are fallible, they commit mistakes, face consequence, they love and hate, contradict themselves, just like any human being in the world. ‘Guide’ challenges conventions of the society, upholds personal freedom, questions concept of salvation (and redemption to a certain extent). R K Narayan later disowned the film for deviating too much from the novel. Comparison apart, ‘Guide’ the film is a complete work of art in its own right.

Raju, by profession is a tourist Guide. He guides Marcos to discovery of caves, guides Rosie to stardom and then he becomes spiritual guide to villagers -who thrust sainthood upon him- and leads them to happiness (rain). He remains guide all through characters in the film are chasing that elusive object, Happiness. What happens to them in this journey is the story of Guide. This film is made for masses too. It presents complexity of human nature in a socially acceptable manner. That artistic simplicity gives it a timeless quality, lifts it from a just’ a very good film’ and makes it a ‘Classic!’

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