Guide (1965)

Posted on February 10, 2011

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Vijay Anand never wanted to direct Guide. He had refused to direct the film when it was first offered to him by his brother Dev Anand. It is clear that for someone who preferred noirs and thrillers a story like Guide would hold no appeal. It was only when Dev had trouble finding a director that Vijay Anand decided to step in to help his brother. In exchange, he demanded complete creative control, which he promptly exercised by re-writing the script and departing from the book on significant points.

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The film begins, to borrow a literary term, in medias res. We are plunged into the middle of things as we hear Raju’s thoughts after being released from jail. A montage presented as a quick flashback establishes Raju as a popular guide, but we are not told how he ended up in jail. That story forms the bulk of the narrative and is told to us as part of Rosie’s story.

However, Anand, in this section of the film, does not privilege one point of view over the other. The point of view is not so much shifting as it is encompassing. A remarkable example is the way the fight between Raju and his neighbor is shot. It begins with Raju occupying the foreground, an over-the-shoulder POV, looking up at his neighbor, who is on a terrace. Raju runs back, climbs the terrace and a fight ensues. It cuts to the mother’s POV shot. Again, an over-the-shoulder POV. The mother asks Raju to stop fighting and a reluctant Raju climbs down. This is followed by yet another over-the-shoulder POV shot — this time it is Rosie’s. We now see Rosie seeing the mother slap Raju and Rosie’s reaction to it. Anand is thus able to incorporate different perspectives on the same event — Raju’s anger at the meddling society, his mother’s shame, and Rosie’s guilt.

The precise moment when Anand privileges one point of view above all other is when we are once again given access to Raju’s thoughts as he decides to forge Rosie’s signature. The film goes one step further in the song Kya se kya. This song marks our entry into Raju’s subjectivity. Towards the very end, when a farmer brings his young son to be blessed by Raju, Anand treats us to a direct POV shot.

Anand also gives us shots and images that are echoed and repeated to signal a change in perspective and situation. For example, the song Kya se kya ho gaya and Aaj phir jeeney ki tamana hai. In Kya se kya, Rosie is on a raised platform and Raju is standing below her; it directly echoes the famous low angle tracking shots of Rosie from Aaj phir jeeney ki. But while Aaj phir jeeney ki showed Rosie as a woman full of hope and highlighted her joyous dance, in Kya se kya, she is distant and aloof and doesn’t dance but merely poses. More importantly, in Aaj phir jeeney ki, the physical distance between them is used to emphasize their closeness. In Kya se kya, the distance between them is so great that Rosie seems to disappear into the background, which, of course, makes sense since the song is from Raju’s perspective.

Another visual echo can be found in the scene where Raju’s uncle is introduced. The space (the courtyard) is literally divided into two sections with a clothesline. Interestingly, the private area of the courtyard, where Rosie is rehearsing, is the foreground; whereas, the public part of the courtyard, where Raju’s mother is awaiting the arrival of her brother, is the background. The clothes on the clothesline act as a sort of curtain shielding Rosie from the hostile public glance. Throughout the scene, Rosie never steps out of her space while the uncle enters her space in a rather dramatic fashion and intimidates her. Later in that same courtyard, curtains are used again when Rosie is introduced by Raju to the committee members. She makes a dramatic appearance by stepping out from behind the curtains signaling her transformation into Nalini – the professional dancer.

Much has been said about the lack of any satisfactory explanation regarding the failure of Raju and Rosie’s relationship. And much has been said about Rosie being a strong independent woman. What is often not noted is that failure was already inherent in the situation. Rosie’s need for respectability had always been very strong and it is repeatedly emphasized in the film. Her final gesture in the film is to mark her forehead with the dust from Raju’s feet and thus giving herself the right to be his widow.

Rosie started out as an outsider, but her marriage to Marco gave her respectability and social standing. Although Rosie is a gifted dancer, she doesn’t harbor any specific ambition. One gets the feeling that she would have been happy with Marco if he had allowed her to dance. She rebels against Marco and her marriage in a moment of anger after being spurred on by Raju and then, acts upon Raju’s suggestion by taking up dancing as a profession.

On the other hand, Raju wants to moves up the social ladder and comes to regard Rosie as his ticket to the top rung. Raju will, therefore, always remain the nouveau-riche. Rosie is silently disapproving of his newly acquired lifestyle and habits. When he waves a cheque in front of her expecting her to jump with joy, Rosie reminds him that she has always had money and it hardly matters to her – what she needs is the kind of respectability that money can’t buy.

A short but significant scene before her meteoric rise highlights their different needs and expectations from each other. Raju asks Rosie to marry him and a delighted Rosie tells him that she will happily give up fame and money to be his wife. Raju reminds her that her fame is the result of both their hard work. To which, Rosie gently points out that she will have to give up dancing once they have children. Raju tells her that they need not have a baby right away and Rosie rebukes him by saying that they need not get married right away. This strange little conversation is followed by the romantic Gata rahey mera dil and often tends to be overlooked. The conversation clearly indicates that these two have very different expectations from each other, so their later disillusionment with each other should hardly come as a surprise.

Even the lovely Tere mere sapney ends on a slightly ambiguous note. As Raju and Rosie walk off together, a more natural shot would have been to film them walking off into the sunset. But here, they simply walk out of the frame — it is the camera that pans back to linger on the sunset.

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He may have taken up the job reluctantly but Guide became one of Anand’s most famous films and established his reputation as an important director.  Yet, Vijay Anand remained unimpressed by the film’s success and reputation. The man worried that Guide will overshadow his better films!

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Posted in: Appreciation