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aka Eternal Thirst aka The Thirsty One 1957 153’(139’) b&w Hindi d/p Guru Dutt pc Guru Dutt Films dial Abrar Alvi lyr Sahir Ludhianvi c V.K. Murthy m S.D. Burman lp Guru Dutt, Waheeda Rehman, Mala Sinha, Johnny Walker, Rehman, Kumkum, Shyam, Leela Mishra, Rajinder, Mayadass, Mehmood, Radheshyam, Ashita, Moni Chatterjee

Dutt’s classic melodrama inspired by Saratchandra’s novel Srikanta was the first in a series addressing the state of the nation and the displaced romantic artist (cf. Kaagaz Ke Phool, 1959). Vijay (Dutt) is an unsuccessful poet whose work is sold by his brothers as waste paper. Unable to bear the reigning philistinism, he elects to live on the streets where a young prostitute, Gulab (W. Rehman), falls in love with him and his poetry while Vijay’s former girlfriend Meena (Sinha) marries an arrogant publisher, Mr Ghosh (Rehman), for comfort and security. When a dead beggar to whom Vijay gave his coat is mistaken for Vijay, Gulab has his poetry published in a book which becomes a best seller. Everyone who previously rejected Vijay now gathers to pay tribute to the dead poet. Vijay disrupts the celebration with a passionate song denouncing hypocrisy and calling for the violent destruction of a corrupt world (Jala do ise phook dalo yeh duniya). According to Dutt the inspiration for this film came from a lyric referring to Homer: ‘Seven cities claimed Homer dead/ While the living Homer begged his bread’ (cf. his essay ‘Classics And Cash’, in Rangoonwala, 1973). The comic relief scenes with Johnny Walker as Abdul Sattar, an eccentric masseur, do not always fit smoothly into the rest of the film, but Dutt’s exploration of the tragic idiom is unprecedented in Hindi cinema and can be compared to some of Ritwik Ghatak’s work in the powerful use of a musical chorus and the presentation of characters as archetypes (Vijay repeatedly evokes Christ imagery, e.g. in the song Jaane woh kaise and his appearance at the memorial celebration). The film, shot mostly on sets, makes no specific reference to its location but audiences would be able to note the significance of Vijay as an Urdu poet belonging to a Bengali family or the figure of Mr Ghosh evoking a Calcutta or Delhi businessman. Several sequences testify to an astonishing cinematic mastery: the crane movements during Gulab’s tender and hesitant move towards a Vijay absorbed in his own thoughts (set to the song Aaj sajan mohe ang lagalo) or when Vijay staggers through the red- light district protesting (in the song Jinhe naaz hai hind par woh kahan hain) against the existence of such exploitation in a newly independent India.