GUIDE (1965), Hindi, color, 170 minutes.
Directed by Vijay Anand. Music by S. D. Burman.
The Anand brothers ambitious adaptation of R. K. Narayan's
novel is a lush allegory comprising paradoxically-paired themes of, on
the one hand, nation-building, modernization, and social reform, and,
on the other, world-renunciation and spiritual self-realization -- all
enduring preoccupations of contemporary Indian culture. Dev Anand stars
as the effervescent Raju, a fast-talking, self-promoting tourist guide
in the Rajasthani city of Udaipur, who in time becomes the successful
promoter of his dancing-girl mistress, and ultimately (through his accidental
transformation into a "mahatma" worshiped by illiterate villagers)
of himself -- or rather (in deference to the filmmakers' neo-Vedantic
ideology) of the unitary, absolute Self. This trajectory is shaped through
two narratives that come together in the film's final moments: a frame
story about Hindu concepts of the power of faith and renunciation, involving
an ex-con who is mistaken for a saint and gradually grows into the role,
and the emboxed narrative (comprising the bulk of the film) of the unhappy
dancer Rosie (Waheeda Rehman), whom Raju guides away from a loveless marriage
to the archaeologist Marco (Kishore Sahu), and into the role of the acclaimed
"classical artiste" Nalini.
The film is strongest on the inception of their relationship,
when Raju slowly becomes aware of the depth of Rosie's sorrow and of the
abuse she receives from the rich Mr. Marco, to whom her mother married
her in a desperate bid for respectability -- a sour antiquarian who lusts
after stone images of copulating couples while despising his own voluptuous
young wife. Raju gradually begins "guiding" Rosie to belief
in herself and in her talents, eventually giving her shelter in his home
despite the voyeuristic scandalization of his neighbors and the outraged
opposition of his relatives (Leela Chitnis portrays another long-suffering
widowed mother). Raju's courage and compassion, and the hypocrisy of "respectable"
society's attitude toward "public women" are powerfully portrayed,
as is the chemistry between him and Rosie. Their later falling out, at
the height of Rosie's success, is rendered more sketchily -- the film
implies (in contradiction to its earlier message), that worldly success
inevitably corrupts and that career women must indeed construct (in Rosie's
words) "a sort of fortress around the heart." Raju's hurt over
this rejection helps to drive him to melancholia, booze, and gambling;
a lingering jealousy of the rich Mr. Marco (whose surname Rosie still
bears) prompts his fateful act of forgery.
In the final sequence, the film acquires overtones of the much-maligned mythological/devotional genre (at one point, the voice of God speaks from a penumbra of light, and the climactic moments recall Damle's 1936 classic Sant Tukaram), and its validation of the simple faith of the villagers may appear, in a materialist reading, as a cynical sop to India's most powerful opiate. But other readings are certainly possible and, perhaps appropriately, how one feels about the transfigured Guide at film's end may ultimately depend on how one feels about the One.