Like Japan, India had a golden age in the 1950s. Independence from Britain sparked a robust, questioning artistry. While Satyajit Ray was pioneering the nation’s art cinema, commercial filmmakers such as Raj Kapoor (Awaara), Mehboob Khan (Mother India) and Bimal Roy (Do Bigha Zamin) were grafting influences from Hollywood melodramas and Italian neo-realism onto the Indian tradition of musical narrative. Pyaasa, which means thirst, is the most soulfully romantic of the lot. Vijay (Dutt) is an unpublished poet, dismissed by family and office colleagues but befriended by a prostitute (Waheeda Rehman). In a twist out of Sullivan’s Travels, Vijay is believed dead and his poetry “posthumously” lionized. The writer-producer-director-star paints a glamorous portrait of an artist’s isolation through dappled imagery and the sensitive picturizing of S.D. Burman’s famous songs. And Rehman, in her screen debut, is sultry, radiant—a woman to bring out the poet in any man, on screen or in the audience.
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