Thursday, July 03, 2008

Guide

[Warning: vague spoilers ahead.]

I have to get something out of the way before diving into Vinjay Anand's 1965 classic Guide: sometimes it's hard to take star Dev Anand seriously because of his hair. It's distracting. Towards the climax of the movie, when his character, Raju, grapples with huge philosophical questions, all I could think was "To you, the meaning of life is obviously Aqua Net!"


Guide is so full of meaningful, pointed, significant dialogue that my brain almost short-circuited while I watched it. I kept pausing and furiously scribbling notes, unable to keep up with everything that seemed to be going on. The story of unhappy wife and former dancer Rosie, the focus of the movie's first 90 minutes and performed sublimely by Waheeda Rehman, gripped me completely. "Whoa!" I thought. "This story is feminist." It is thoughtful. It doesn't let anyone off easy (even the protagonist). The visuals are fab and beautiful and, best of all, totally in support of what's going on. Every word spoke to me. I cheered for Rosie and her choices. She's a truly fierce heroine, flawed but strong and willing to learn. This character and her arc are perhaps best epitomized by the famous snake dance, where she leaps to action with all her heart, stares down the camera, dances her very soul, sweats buckets, nearly collapses, puts her shoes back on, and then continues on with her day. It's a stunning, sudden affirmation of power, and to be honest it was even more thrilling because it's a woman doing it. She doesn't take anyone down when she seizes control of her life. It's all about her being herself, getting in touch with something that has been taken away from her, choosing.

Another visual of Rosie being herself: tired of her whiny, neglectful husband forbidding her to dance, she buys ghungroos (and pays too much for them), then all but skips down the street, not caring who looks or who minds.

That heel might as well be on her husband's back, and he'd deserve every stab.

But. Oh, but the "but." Somewhere after an hour and a half, the movie switches focus to a completely different story and a completely different person. While Dev's Raju has been very much a part of Rosie's growth from downtrodden to alive, I didn't think the story was really about him. But then another story comes barreling at us, one about Raju and his without-Rosie life, and, I gotta tell you, I found his story far less interesting and a lot more trite, even though some might argue that his story takes on "bigger issues" of sacrifice, divinity, enlightenment, etc. while hers is about personal freedoms and choices. (I don't buy that myself; her struggle reflects everyday and "meaning of life"-type questions of the oppressed and/or under-resourced people everywhere [women, the young, the poor, those who do jobs the rest of us don't want to think about].) The visuals start to slip too, getting a little too funky for the tone established earlier in the movie. Check out the question marks in the background of the top image - overkill! Or here, where we learn that enlightenment is light-up.

I like a little dard-e-Lite Brite as much as the next person, but maybe not when the soul in question is in anguish over trying to save an entire village. It looks trippy in a way that I don't think suits the surroundings the character is in.

I could understand if someone found both parts of this movie heavy-handed, but in the momentum-filled first part the message is so beautifully and interestingly done that I didn't notice. Towards the end, the wheels come off a little bit, getting a bit clunky and dabbling with super-filmi coincidences (which I assume are in the book, so it's probably not fair to call them filmi). Here the pre-spiritual-experience Raju and the emerging-enlightenment Raju have a conversation

and while I get that we're seeing how Raju holds various separate thoughts and answers within himself, the literal split seems unnecessary.

Overall, Guide is a fascinating film, and there is much to take in, verbally, visually, and philosophically. I've only seen Dev Anand in one other movie, Jewel Thief, where he is movie star personified, going style for style with all the components of the film and oomphing his way through the whole groovy production. Here I found his a-touch-of-smirk persona a little bit in the way of Rosie's and Raju's personal voyages. But on the other hand, his buoyancy is an asset to all the interactions with Waheeda that center on Rosie soaking up Raju's steady, sturdy encouragement. Waheeda dazzles, glorious in every scene, and I think she communicates more through dancing than anyone I've seen yet. Everyone involved in creating her songs deserves every award and rave review they received. Here's a taste.




I loves this last one especially - Rosie seems to be walking along the river bank, the dancers forming the ghats and water's edge, with Raju in the middle of the current. Later, Raju finds himself caught in a net of mistakes and anger, and the dancers swirl their arms and hands around, complicating the wall around him.

S. D. Burman's music is beautiful and the picturizations suit it. For example, in the longing opening song "Musafir," a solitary Raju wanders for months, a small figure against striking scenery, emphasizing how lonely the character is.


Vijay Anand and his cinematographer, Fali Mistry, have an especially wonderful eye for using architecture in striking ways.


Look at the saffron flash, framed by the temple.

Rosie steps into the darkness to take on her husband.

These next two shots are my favorites. It's hard to tell whether Waheeda or the buildings are the stars.


I would be remiss not to note how touching the relationship between Rosie and Raju is. They give each other a lot, and their affection and mutual support and encouragement are really lovely when they work. The exploration of the concept of the title is interesting too. I've been wondering if it's significant that the title does not include an article, maybe shifting emphasis from "the guide" (that is, Raju) to the act or concept of guiding, implying that we all need guidance and appreciate good advice at some point in our lives, that figuring out what or whom to follow or learn from is one of our greatest challenges. The movie's greatest strength by far is Rosie's struggle with choices, priorities, and relationships - totally compelling. My final impression, after a week of mulling things over: I wish the major threads were better integrated, and the movie rambles towards the end and leaves viewers with a broader, less coherent work than we started with, but when Guide is focused and strong, it is amazing and rewarding.

At the time of writing this post, you can watch Guide free at Jaman.com.

A professional aside: FYI, this is no longer the preferred method for engaging visitors with cultural heritage.

27 comments:

houseinrlyeh said...

I haven't seen "Guide", so this is conjecture, but I think the shift in perspective from female to male character could have come from the kind of tradition we still haven't really overcome, that always seems to say: "There are the experiences of single people and then there are universal experiences. All universal experiences are made by men, the people who made this film, wrote this book, etc."
I tend to give older pieces of art some slack when it comes to dubious undercurrents and ideas like this, but this case sounds especially annoying, because the film almost gets it right.

Abhi said...

I read Guide a long time back but I had seen the movie before. The book is much more cynical and subtle. There is a scene described in book where Raju is fasting and there is a carnival around him. He can see the noisy children run and smell the food being cooked by families. We as reader appreciate the Irony.
If you read the book, the battles between senses and the soul are not described. The book is much more open. The movie to its credit pushed down the philosophy in a way masses could relate to.The Hindu philosophy.

Todd said...

Thanks, Beth. This is one of those "I've been meaning to see it for ages" films for me, and now I'm that much closer to finally getting around to it. Despite the flaws you point out, it looks amazing.

Beth said...

houseinrlyeh - Good point. I wouldn't be surprised if this was the case in this story, and I hope someone who has read the novel will chime in. And yes, exactly, it is especially annoying here because it starts off so amazingly.

Abhi - That's very interesting about the book being more cynical. Now that you mention it, the movie strikes me as generally hopeful in tone. Maybe some of those irnoies are in the movie too and I just didn't pick up on them. Just to make sure I understand you, do you think the film accompanied some of the philosophical questions and discussions with overt visual cues to be more readily comprehensible? That would explain what I think I saw, certainly. I should give it a little leeway since I have 43 years of movie symbolism to cut through that it didn't - maybe some of the visuals seemed fresher and less obvious in 1965.

Todd - It really is a treat visually, and in a lot of different ways and in many different settings. (That is, the kapow! and ooooh! factors are not just for songs or exteriors or whatever - they're everywhere and very stylish and interesting.) (I realize I've used the word "interesting" a zillion times in this piece, but it really is, and I'm not sure how else to put it.) There song with all the white bridges looked like candy - I kept thinking of gumdrops as the dancers' skirts swirled around. You should most definitely see Jewel Thief too if you haven't.

ajnabi said...

I don't have any deep observations to offer. Am totally superficial. But I did want to observe that the sets look like something out of Classic Star Trek and are ultrafab.

Rum said...

I loved this movie, it was empowering but not very true to the R.K Narayan novel which is fine as they fitted some filmi conventions in, but i don't know if i could buy Dev as a wandering sadhu contemplating life because his hair got more coiffed in his thinking scenes

*~mad munky~* said...

Not seen this one. I didn't even realise there was a book. *shuffles back under rock of ignorance*

p.s. Dev A always came across as the elder brother of Tin-tin. If Tin-tin had a brother, that is. I don't know. *ramble ramble* :o)

Bollyviewer said...

The book is about Raju the Guide and his dreams of hitting it big through short-cuts. He uses Rosie's frustration with her husband and her dancing skills to achieve his success. Rosie finally realizes this and throws him out. He comes out of jail and again uses people – the faith and helplessness of the simple villagers who shelter him. This time though, he gets caught up in his own trap – they make him a Mahatma (great soul) and he is forced into playing the part! So Rosie, though important, is just part of Raju’s journey and the story is not about her at all. The movie of course, had to demonise Rosie's marital life in order to justify her living in an extramarital union. Thats probably why it appears to be told from her point of view and then shifts allegiance!

I read the book years ago and saw the movie even before that – so my interpretation may not be the best. You should check out Yves’ posts over at Lets Talk About Bollywood for a more detailed interpretation of Guide the book and Guide the movie .

Whatever its faults, this is the only instance of a Bollywood mainstream movie that has a heroine indulging in an extramarital affair with no demonisation of her character. And that in the uber conservative 60s! Can forgive a lot for that and the gorgeous visuals!

Beth said...

ajnabi - Ultrafab indeed!

mad munky - Don't hide - I only learned it recently :) And he absolutely looks like Tin-tin - good call!

Rum and Bollyviewer - great input on the book! Fascinating - and very helpful. I think if I had known all that before I started watching, I might see the Rosie-centric arc quiet differently - that is, from the angle that Raju is using her, which I can definitely see now that you point it out but did not occur to me as I was watching.

And now I'm trying to remember whether Dev still has his puffy hair when he gets scruffying during his wandering in the title song...might have to go back and check.

Banno said...

I am just reading the book. I saw the film years ago, and I know the author of the book was not happy with the film at all. Rosie's story with dance, love, adultery, makes for a more dramatic film, and the entire 2nd half of Raju's wandering is obviously vague and ham-handed in the film. But not so in the book. Where the story moves back and forth in past and present, tying up both the journeys.

Shweta Mehrotra Gahlawat said...

I've often wondered how the movie/book would have turned out if the plot chose to follow Rosie's journey instead of/as well as Raju's. She so embodies freedom and reinvention in "aaj phir jeene,"- i'd have liked to see where here spirit would have guided her, without Raju in tow.

Beth said...

Banno - That's so interesting! (There I go with that word again.) Clearly I should read the book - sounds like a better, if less Rosie-centered, time overall. And yes, vague and ham-handed! Yes yes!

Shweta - Yeah! Let's somebody write that story! He's kind of a stone around her neck, eh? I am not sure I understood why she was so moved to see him again at the end - because he was suffering and she would have been equally moved by any other human in that plight? Or was it Raju-specific?

Shweta Mehrotra Gahlawat said...

I would think that aside from the obvious attractions of Raju's pompadour, as well as the goodness of her heart, Rosie was maved by memories of Raju from the good times- and maybe also the fact that he stood by her when she flew free for the first time...aagh I am exhibiting signs of closet romanticism. rofl.
Happy July 4 Beth!

Amrita said...

This was the first Waheeda movie I ever saw and I've been in love with her ever since. She can make me sit through a movie the way Shashi can. In fact, she's made me sit through worse movies than Shashi ever has. There's this remake of Wuthering Heights (with a happy ending!) that she did with Dilip Kumar. OH MY GOD! If we're ever in the same city some day we should get completely trashed and watch that movie together. It's horrible and yet! it's her! They're all annoying twats in that movie but when you love someone even as an annoying twat, you know you LOVE them.

Have you seen her in the hindi Rebecca? I've never seen a bad adaption of that novel and this one was seriously sweet.

prasun said...

I don't know that much about visual symbolism and such but as far as the plot is concerned, the film miserably fails the book.

It tries to fit the story into the typical Hindi movie mold of Hero-Heroine-Villain and turns Raju into a martyr and Rosie's husband into the bad guy.

I'd recommend the book. R K Narayan is after all one of India's greatest writers in English.

Beth said...

Shweta - The pompadour! Of course! That must be it! :) I think you're right - she'd mellowed a bit with time and was able to focus on what he had helped her do. I was a little surprised that a story as bold and sharp as Rosie's would then have a mega-cheesey, mega-filmi, mega-convenient coincidence like that at the end, but ah well.

Amrita - She is DA BOMB. Let's make that movie watching happen! I am so there. And please, let's get a discussion going about "What's the worst movie you've sat through because of who starred/was involved in it?" I have not seen the Hindi Rebecca (or read the novel). Shame on me.

prasun - "Fails miserably" seems to be the consensus :) I hope to try the book soon!

chavanni chap said...
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Ridhima said...
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neha vish said...

To be fair, RK Narayan made a public statement about the film having completely ignored the book's path. The book and the film have very different "feels". RK Narayan's sarcasm is a very kind one. It doesn't really tend to glorify the protagonist any more than it glorifies other characters. The film however is acutely aware of the notion of "hero".

I loved the first part of the film. The second part just seemed to ramble. Maybe there's a point there somewhere, but I just couldn't figure it out.

Beth said...

chavanni - I accidentally deleted your comment! Sorry about that. I meant to click on another one that sounded a lot like blatant advertising.

Speaking of which, to all the website promoters out there, I usually delete comments that are basically nothing but an ad.

neha - The more people are commenting on this, the more I want to read the book! :) Kind sarcasm is a very great thing, and it would have been wonderful to see a movie that managed to pull it off. Good call on the film being aware of "hero" - that sure explains the last half hour, doesn't it!

Raka said...

OMG I love this movie so much! Though hands down the most beautiful song in it (and in the entire Hindi movieverse) is "Gaatha Rahe Mera Dil". Also a cool fact, SD Burman is the singer for "Musafir".

Also I believe RK and Dev Anand has a very public fallout over the book adaptation issues since Dev Anand basically wanted to make this another vanity production for himself. Dev Anand also wanted to make this his Hollywood launch making a duplicate English language version of the film which I want to get my hands on.

yves said...

Hi Beth,
Loved to read what you thought about Guide, and of course was interested about the discussion, because as Bollyviewer (and others) points out, I indeed was quite interested in the relationships between book and film.
So yes, the book for all its ambiguity is a very interesting effort at understanding what it means to guide other people, to be a master, a teacher, a leader, an inspirer: all roles which, come to think of it, are very common in society! And so if you have the book's story in mind, the film is glitzy, but VERY Bollywoodian. It follows the story, but fails at focussing on the central problem that Narayan was dealing with. That explains the strange "double-story" impression you felt. And the end of the film is, by the book's standards, completely ridiculous!
But if you haven't read the book, then you can probably like it without restraint. This is what M. Mohit Verma says (reference here http://www.letstalkaboutbollywood.com/article-19103838.html):
“There are two perspectives you can have about this film: firstly if you're an R.K. Narayan buff and had read "The Guide" before watching the film just like me, you might just end up being a little disappointed. On the contrary if you have watched or the want to watch the film, only because of its face value or perhaps because of Dev Anand, then you would enjoy it considerably.”
Bye for now!
yves

Never Mind!! said...

I love love love this movie. One of the very few movies that I enjoyed as much as the book on which it was based. Although I think the movie was colorful, book was more profound.

Pessimisissimo said...

A wonderful review, Beth, and the screen caps make Guide look visually appealing, even if the story is somewhat altered/simplified from the novel (I have to confess complete ignorance of both).

I loved your idea about starting a thread on the worst movie you've sat through because of who starred or was involved in it. Right now for me that movie is Koyla, with SRK, Madhuri Dixit, and Amrish Puri. So how bad could it be, you're thinking? Painfully bad.

And I think you need a blog category for Distracting Hair. I can think of quite a few films/stars that would qualify...

Brian said...

This is one of my favorites as well - like others it made me a Waheeda fan from the moment she goes into the snake dance. Dev is a little more difficult to warm up to as an actor. In the 50's and 60's he was kind of hip and contemporary compared to other stiff male stars at the time like Ashok Kumar and Dilip Kumar - but he was already beginning to acquire certain film ticks like the smirk you mention and a terrible taste in caps that became more exaggerated as he got older and in truth he began to feel like a creepy middle aged man by the 70's. Catch him in Hare Krishna Hare Rama and Bullet to see what I mean. Then if you really want to torture yourself watch him in Love in Times Square made a few years ago for one of the sadder visions of an actor who refuses to act his age. But in Guide and Jewel Thief he was still quite cool.

Gauri Radha said...

The snake dance and the "Aaj phir jeene ki tamunna hai" song are so cool in this movie!

I saw an interview with WR where she talked about the snake dance. She explained that normally in BW songs, much of the meaning comes through the words and phrases in the song. In the snake dance of Guide, the song is without vocals, of course. So she talked about how she had to show so much of what her character was going through in that song without relying on words. It was an interesting interview.

By the way I hope no snakes were harmed in the making of this movie. If I make a snake-dance video in future I will not use real snakes myself (just a random note here Lol)

Anyway, thanks for your review Beth, I might have to re-watch this one soon!

Hans Meier said...

Nice rev, and now that you say it, i find the movie's first half also more gripping.
Also nice comments here.