It's easy to see why Amitabh Bachchan was branded the "angry young man". He possessed a certain stature and could easily turn up the thunder in his voice. His hands were the hammer of the gods. He could smash a chair, throw punches, kick, swear and shoot. When AB got into a fight, God was in heaven and all was right with the world.
We were watching "Pyaasa" on DVD last night and while thinking of Guru Dutt's character, I was struck by how he and AB really are India's Yin and Yang of angry young men.
Most of us are familiar with Pyaasa (even those that have not seen it.) The neglected and suffering poet's story is probably as much a part of our film mythology as any of the popular AB films that came before the dreaded 80s. Though it seems almost fantastic now that back then, Indian audiences actually wanted to see Artists (and their Tortured Souls) up on the screen. (Or not - "Kaagaz Ke Phool" was a flop.)
Here's an interesting coincidence: AB, in many of his films, was simply "Vijay". Guru Dutt's poet in "Pyaasa" is also a Vijay. It's a harmless, generic, everyday Joe kind of a name. Vijay also lacks a surname, so Vijay could be a Konkani, an Allahabadi, anyone really.
Dutt's Vijay does not fight with his fists. He does not even fight with his words, even though he plays a poet. Like any introverted passive-aggressive, he rejects. That which he cannot accept is rejected. He is very angry, but what can he do? What can anyone do? When it all becomes overwhelming, he simply turns his back to the world.
That is where Guru Dutt's angry young man is so different from AB's character (GD was 35 when Pyaasa was made; AB, a wet-behind-the-ears 33 in Deewar). One Vijay fights like a wildcat. The other Vijay could easily audition for Hamlet. The poet, the intellectual and the coolie, the dockyard worker. But they are not very different. If one Vijay will not pick up a shoeshine tip that was casually tossed, the other cannot stand to see his poetry in a trash-can. It moves their souls, it makes them mad.
The poet Vijay's rejection of the world make me uncomfortable even after so many viewings, but it is probably because I cannot help but watch his films in the context of his suicide. (In fact, watching some of those scenes reminded me of another artist and I could not figure out who it was. It is Kurt Cobain, of course - another famous passive-aggressive.)
Is it accurate to say that the poet's anger is really more representative of Indian anger, and AB's anger just a fantasy? After all, what do most of us do when we hear about corruption in the government - we turn on the TV, listen to music, refresh our browsers, discuss fine art, propose grand political and economic solutions - anything but confrontation. Confrontation is the younger Vijay's business.
Two such wonderfully complex and different "angry young men" prototypes have been available to Bollywood for 4 decades, yet anger is no longer a sellable emotion. Do the audiences not care? I thought summer's here and the time is right for fighting on the streets? There must be an angry lot somewhere in India. Where are their stories? Who is their Vijay?
A fine bunch of pussies is what we seem to have become now, fixated on weddings and receptions. Imagine that - weddings and receptions! "Domesticated Young Indian", isn't that the incredible new "us". How sad - my generation - the one raised on AB films, and the generations that followed - seem to be capable of neither walking away like one Vijay nor taking it outside like the other.
October 10 was Guru Dutt's 41st death anniversay. Not one major online news outlet gave a rat's ass.
Are there words to describe SD's music?
I find Pyaasa to be a satisfying film, but not a great film. I know, genre conventions must be respected blah blah, but still...