Dev Anand, the evergreen superstar of Indian cinema, featured in loads of commercial blockbusters, but his career-best has doubtlessly been Guide , which is not just Dev's best but is also considered one of the best movies ever made in the history of Indian cinema.
Based on R. K. Narayan's widely acclaimed novel The Guide , the movie - a 1965 release (February 6, 1965) - was produced by Dev Anand himself and directed by his brother Vijay Anand, who, going by the credits, also wrote the screenplay. Dev Anand was always quite sure that if made well, the novel The Guide could be turned into a cinematic milestone. Ace Music Director Sachin Dev Burman composed the music for the movie and gave us some of the most popular musical gems in the process.
A 120-minute version of the movie was later made for the US market. Produced by Tad Danielewski, the US version involved some fresh writing and filming as well. The movie was screened at 2007 Cannes Film Festival some 42 years after its first release in India.
Raju steps out of the prison and a brief flashback introduces us to the famous tourist guide he had been in the past. He chooses to walk away from his past and towards Anjaanpur, a town 685 miles away from the prison in Udaipur. En route, a tired Raju decides to rest at a derelict temple on the outskirts of a village called Rampuri. Seeing him curled up in sleep a Hindu saint covers him with his saffron sheet.
In the morning, Bhola, a simpleton villager, mistakes him for a saint and apprises him of his plight - a step-sister who refuses to marry. Raju, a smooth-talker, manages to talk her out of her refusal to marry.
However, Raju's persuasion of Bhola's sister Maya is clearly a clumsily directed part and exposes Vijay Anand's limitations as a Director. The cause of Bhola's acute unhappiness is that his step-sister does not want to get married, and had preferred running with nowhere to go to getting married. By Bhola's account, ever since she was found and brought back all she had done was sob and cry. But when she is brought to Raju, she has a smile on her face right from the start, which strikes as odd. Having spent days crying, she could not be smiling like that. Furthermore, all that Raju does in the name of persuading the girl is say in a straight sentence that the love and companionship of a husband is like no other. Her smile broadens and deepens as though loads of happiness had suddenly gushed in from somewhere. And she is ready to get married instantly.
What Raju says is the first thing that anybody would say in his or her attempt to persuade her. Besides, she looks half ready to marry the moment she is brought to Raju. Is it the 'miracle' that the Director wants us to believe Raju worked? But then, Raju being a smooth and rather crooked salesman, is completely incapable of any such 'miracles'. The sequence remains thoroughly unconvincing.
Also, coaxing someone into getting married is not exactly a feat extraordinary enough to be considered a 'miracle' even by the simple villagers no matter how flatteringly the story is told around the town. So, Raju's being accepted as a 'swami' is quite incredible. It wasn't really hard to turn the same event of a heart-change into a convincing 'miracle', had the Director not made the persuasion look so stupidly easy, and the girl so very willing.
The movie touches several diverse issues including gender equality, morality, social acceptability of performing arts, extramarital emotional association and religious faith.
Rosie, born to a courtesan, was married away by her mother to a rich Marco so as to secure her 'bright' future. But while she is a conventionally 'perfect' wife, Marco is no 'husband'. To him she is an object purchased for pleasure. Dancing is her happiness, but it is not an acceptable vocation to Marco. While Marco is away in the rocky caves, Rosie finds an encouraging companion in Raju, who inspires her to pursue dance seriously.
Raju makes a passionate pitch for gender equality, to which greater force is lent by Marco's infidelity witnessed by Rosie herself. If Marco could pursue his passion for archaeology spending days in rocky caves, why couldn't she pursue her passion for dance, Raju contends. Just the fact that she was a woman could not be the reason why she could not pursue the vocation of her own choice.
She leaves her husband and Raju supports her. The crooked salesman in Raju manages to bring Rosie to the attention of the world of performing arts, and Rosie's talent and passion carries her up and forward making the duo rich and famous with every passing day.
Apparently, Marco's infidelity has been strategically placed to make Rosie's abandonment of Marco acceptable to the Indian audience, who might have found her leaving him morally untenable if the only reason was his disapproval of her passion for dance. Rosie's abandonment could also meet popular disapproval for the reason she had married Marco of her own will and had not been forced to marry him, and she wants to leave him now when she has a staunch admirer in Raju, which seems nothing better than cold preference for a better alternative - a very mean, market-like mode of decision-making. Although Marco never indulges in physical violence or maltreatment of his wife, yet the way he treats her is doubtlessly callous and heartless.
Cruelty and unfaithfulness are sufficient grounds for a wife to leave her husband both morally as well as legally. Under the Indian Divorce Act, 1869, cruelty and adultery are valid grounds for a Christian man or woman to seek divorce. And both of these are valid grounds for divorce under all other matrimonial laws in India including Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, and Special Marriage Act, 1954. Therefore, Rosie's dumping her husband to pursue her own dreams stands on sound moral grounds.
The change that money brings in Raju is not appreciated but is also not complained against by Rosie like she did with Marco, which is an interesting contrast, which is perhaps because Marco was her husband whereas Raju remains a helpful, lovable person who suffered a lot for her and lent her a helping hand in her time of need. But increasing distance between the two makes Raju realize his principal folly. He turns back into Raju Guide and goes back to his deserted house. In going back he underscores the fact of his being a guide, first and foremost, and once he has led the tourist to his or her destination, his work is done after which he must return.
Led by his insecurities about Rosie, he had forged a document sent over to her by Marco, which lands him in trouble with the law and he is awarded a two-year sentence for forgery. Released from prison, he does not go back but moves forward instead. The spirit of renunciation is very much evident in Raju's natural inclination to brush the past aside and start afresh.
The movie concludes with the end of Raju's 12-day fast. The heavens unleash the rains, and Raju is released from the confines of his body and thus "sages down", to borrow from Narayan himself. With his mother and Rosie by his side Raju dies content.
In seeing Guide as a man's spiritual journey what is easily missed is Raju's easy and complete acceptance of life. Joy and misery affect him the same way as they affect any ordinary mortal, but he does not completely lose himself in either. Therefore, to say that it is the journey of an 'ordinary man' is to begin wrong.
The thrust of Raju's internal dialogues that culminate in a final exchange between his suffering body and his self-aware self, which despite residing in the body is unaffected by the physical pain and rigours that the body goes through, is nothing but the spiritual essence of Lord Krishna's lengthy discourse in Srimad Bhagwad Gita. Death is not the end; it marks the beginning of a new chapter.