[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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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!
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.
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?
Happy July 4 Beth!
Have you seen her in the hindi Rebecca? I've never seen a bad adaption of that novel and this one was seriously sweet.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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!
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...
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!
Also nice comments here.