Was Raju a Saint or a Fake?

I am talking about the film Guide. The film was released more than 50 years ago but doesn't look dated. Perhaps RK Narayan would not be happy if I say that Guide was made for Dev Anand and Waheeda Rehman. The film, made under the banner of Navketan Films, was directed and edited by Vijay Anand. The film's screenplay was also written by Vijay Anand. SD Burman was the music director of the film. Its songs were written by Shailendra. Fali Mistry was the cinematographer. Others in the cast of the film included Kishore Sahu, Anwar Hussain, Leela Chitnis, Jagirdar, Rashid Khan.

The film is based on RK Narayan's most famous book, The Guide. RK Narayan wrote the book in the mid-sixties; he was then in the United States. He has described the circumstances that led him to write the book: A recent situation in Mysore afforded the setting for such a story. A severe drought had dried up all the rivers and tanks; Krishnaraja Sagar, an enormous reservoir feeding channels that irrigated thousands of acres, had also become dry. As a desperate measure, the municipal council organized a prayer for rains. A group of Brahmins stood knee-deep in water (procured at great cost) on the dry bed of Kaveri, fasted, prayed, and chanted certain mantras continuously for eleven days. On the twelfth day it rained, and brought relief to the countryside. During my travels in America, the idea crystallized in my mind. I stopped in Berkeley for three months, took a hotel room and wrote my novel.

The central characters of the story are Raju the guide, Rosie the dancer, and Marco the archaeologist. The story is about ambitions, insecurities and jealousies. Rosie, a suppressed wife, walks out on her husband. Rosie longed for affection and care from her husband, but the differences in their wave-length causes discontent in their relationship. She becomes a celebrated dancer with the help and support of Raju. Raju is a sentimental adulterer, a dancing girl's manager, a swindler, a jail-bird, and a martyred mystic. Rosie, Marco's wife, abandoned by Marco, realises with Raju's help, her ambition of becoming a dancer. Rosie's success in the show world swells Raju's head. He turns to an easy life, gambles away her newfound wealth, and lands up in jail. When Raju comes out of prison, he is mistaken for a god man. His fake new life faces a challenge. The villagers, thinking him to be a god man, believe he can bring the rains by praying and fasting. How can a fake saint let down the thousands of people who have faith in him! Raju risks his life and goes on fast. Referring to the fasting ritual by Raju to appease rain-god, Narayan writes, Raju felt suddenly so enthusiastic that it gave him a new strength to go through with the ordeal. The rains come just as the man breathes his last. One might ask - Was Raju a saint, or a fake?

Raju was a ‘reluctant guru’. He was not comfortable with the role people had foisted on him, but he could not entirely shake it off. He was trapped into sainthood. Some, however, think Raju was a fake as he accepted sainthood when it was thrust upon him. Though, Raju was a transformed man at the end of the story. He understood that he could not correct the villagers' misconception about him. They thought, as a true saint, he can bring rain through his genuine fast. He might have thought that it was better and nobler to die a martyr than live an ignoble life, despised by others. RK Narayan's story is not about social conflict, nor about philosophical confrontation. Its dimensions are ethical, presented in a subtle way. Life is neither all white nor all black, but the grey world of contemporary living. RK Narayan does not glorify the superstitious rituals. Similarly he does not deny the existence of a strong strain of faith among the villagers in the native rituals.

I can't imagine anyone except Vijay Anand handling the film with such subtlety, finesse, maturity and flair. One can see in the songs and dances the conviction of a director in the characters he is bringing on the screen. Waheeda Rehman effectively conveys Rosie’s repressed energy and desires through her many breath-taking dances. She's subtle as ever, and her expressive eyes flash fire as well as frighteningly cold rage. In the film she looks so spontaneous and smooth. Many times we give sole credit to the actors for bringing spontaneity on the screen. Often directors play a major role. This is how Raju Bharatan described it, quoting Vijay Anand: “Dada (Burman) had the Kaanton se kheench ke yeh aanchal tune going exactly as I had pictured it before Shailendra came to put it in the words for Lata Mangeshkar to render the number with all the delicate vocal shadings I wanted. My dilemma simply was how to get Waheeda going. Time and again, I had to impress upon her that she must be viewed as totally breaking her mental shackles. Waheeda, after some eight years in films, was still so full of typical Indian reserve that I had a hard time getting her to feel totally carefree in tune with Rosie's temperament in Guide... I had to reemphasize to Waheeda how I needed Rosie to shed all misgivings for her to take off with Dev, astride that truck, lip-synching Kaanton se kheench ke ye aanchal. Finally we managed, but only I know how.” Despite the differences with RK Narayan, in his approach to make Guide, Vijay Anand has ably managed to portray the complex subject that the film is all about.

I can't think of an actor better than Dev Anand to play Raju, the Guide. Raju is a clever guide. He manipulates people through his wit, charm, and 'gambit of words'. People adore him. He said what people wanted to hear. Flamboyance was his major plus. No one can understand the illusions and distortions of time better than him. Chronological time could not erode his zest for life. His style represented time. His films told simple stories in simple language. His directors knew that his face had the potential of high 'audience engagement factor' and they used it accordingly. His 'music centre' could 'hear' as well as 'feel' the music. He knew the fundamentals of risk taking. He moved forward even when he did not know the way. He was confident that he would find the way. Often his confidence backfired, but he knew that imperfection is normal. It is fine, if he was occasionally stubborn and unreasonable.

Guide was made in both English and Hindi. The script of the English version was written by Pearl S Buck and directed by Tad Danielwski. RK Narayan was not happy with both the film versions, particularly the English one. Narayan was unhappy because he felt both the versions could not capture the spirit of his story. The exotic locations of Udaipur drowned the spirits of a small township Malgudi, known for its simplicity. Narayan felt, by abolishing Malgudi, they had discarded my own values in the milieu and human characteristics. My characters were simple enough to themselves for observation; they had definite outlines-not blurred by urban speed, size, and lend tempo. Writes Narayan in Misguided Guide: I could not share the flexibility of their outlook or the expanse of their vision. It seemed to me that for their purpose a focal point was unnecessary. They appeared to be striving to achieve mere optical effects.

Narayan recalls one of his meetings with Satyajit Ray. He writes, Ray expressed his admiration for The Guide but also his doubts as to whether he could ever capture the tone and atmosphere of its background. Ray said, its roots are so deep in the soil of your part of our country that I doubt if I could do justice to your book, being unfamiliar with its milieu. Ray had first thought of adapting The Guide into a film with Waheeda Rehman in the lead. She had to be a good dancer and he (Ray) knew south Indians were usually good dancers, and so he had thought of me, recalls Waheeda Rehman. If Satyajit Ray had made the film, it would have been a different film. It would perhaps have captured the spirit of the story. He would have made changes, not necessarily in the same proportions as Vijay Anand did. I don’t know what he would have done to replace Dev Anand. Perhaps, Soumitro Chatterjee (or Uttam Kumar) wouldn’t fit the bill. Temperamentally, Dev Anand would not fit into the scheme of things of Satyajit Ray, perhaps. Ray surely would not have come to exotic Rajasthan (though he liked the place so much). Perhaps the music of Guide would be by Ray himself. Perhaps SD Burman would have sung for Ray.

Cinema and literature are two different forms of art. The endeavour of the film makers has always been to adapt famous literary works into films. The film makers have always found it difficult to completely adhere to the original storyline. Among the reasons are included are the differences in their purpose. Regardless of honesty in purpose, often a filmmaker finds it difficult not to deviate from the original, as pure adaptations often don't work. It is never the intention of a filmmaker to merely copy one art form to another. The director looks for the gaps and then tries to fill them with his creative imagination. He wants value addition in his product. He wants to tailor it to suit the needs of his audience. To tell the story, the director makes changes, minor as well as major. These changes are often the cause of conflict between a storyteller and a director. The other reason for conflict is the clash between art and commerce. Raju of Malgudi becomes flamboyant Raju of Udaipur. Who will not like to create a visual grandeur when an ace cameraman is available to give it a shape, and when there are so many colours spread in the atmosphere? Often art dies at the hands of entertainment. In a simple tale, often glamour is added to make it entertaining.

Years later, in his tribute to Narayan after the author's death in 2001, Dev Anand said, If only we had managed to ignore the commercial aspects, Guide could have made a milestone in the history of cinema.... And the author would have been a happier man.

The novel ends thus: The morning sun was out by now; a great shaft of light illuminated the surroundings. It was difficult to hold Raju on his feet, as he had a tendency to flop down. They held him as if he were a baby. Raju opened his eyes, looked about, and said,'Velan, it's raining in the hills. I can feel it coming up under my feet, up my legs.' The end in the novel is open-ended. In the novel there is scope for imagination. One has the possibility to imagine the ending according to one's own liking. The end in the film is close-ended. Raju the Guide passes away as the rains start pouring. In his final hour, Raju is with his mother, friend, girlfriend, and many admirers. It is symbolic of reconciliation with the material world. It is also his resurrection from the ordinary and ephemeral to the eternal and blissful.

The last words in the film still reverberate in our ears: Na dukh hai na sukh hai, na din na duniya, na insaan na bhagwan, sirf main, main, main. The film aptly describes the man who made the film.

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© 2017 by Dr Purnendu Ghosh