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Pyaasa – 1957 Dutt
- Guru Dutt has a dogmatic, stylistic and formal approach to Pyaasa. Dutt’s camera is rarely sedentary—like Renoir or Ophuls—the default setting here seems to be movement. Yet unlike Renoir, who most often moved side to side, Dutt’s camera either starts or ends almost every shot with a close-up (and there is a very heavy dedication to close-ups here which leads to some great performances) tracking either forward or back. I wonder if Dutt had continued making films in the 1960’s or 1970’s (he died tragically young at age 39) if he would have substituted the crane or tracking shot for the zoom (like say Altman, Pakula, Barry Lyndon or Visconti’s in Death in Venice).
- This is Dutt’s seventh and second to last film. Largely gone is the obstructed von Sternberg-like mise-en-scene frames in 1954’s Aar-Paar. Here the focal point is undoubtedly on that dynamic camera
- Dutt plays Vijay, a brokenhearted starving poet, in what is assuredly one of the best performances of 1957.
- This is darker in tone than Dutt’s previous work (situation romantic comedies). He has a grief-stricken mother that dies, there is drinking, poverty, an insane asylum, the songs/poems are more sensitive and somber. It hits a level of depth more akin to Satyajit Ray or the Italian neorealists than your typical musical (whether we’re talking Hollywood, Bollywood, or Hindi films). I’m not making a direct comparison but von Trier’s changeup on the typical musical conventions of the genre in 2000’s Dancer in the Dark feels like a similar revolution
- “I am weary of the struggle of life” with flowers in the frame as the camera tracks in on Dutt. Dutt is editing back and forth between tracking shots of him singing and the audience (whomever it is) reacting (also in a tracking shot). It is like 2 ½ hours of Curtiz rushing in on Bogart and Bergman in Casablanca– extremely effective. Dutt even increases the speed of the tracking shot when the volume of the song/poem rises
- Scenes of surrealism, fog, a row of lights- a nice set design—reminded me of Powell and Pressburger’s A Matter of Life and Death
- The camera is especially alive during the musical scenes. The singing is dubbed, and I think this frees up the camera—totally untethered. You’ll see this often in cinema history from the silent era to Leone, Bela Tarr
- Borderline Must-See Masterpiece after one viewing