Guide part 3! This is what happens when I write about Great Movies, I just go on and on and don’t know how to stop (16 parts into DDLJ, by the way, and not even to intermission). But I am going to be firm with myself this time and try to keep it down to just 3 parts. Especially because, unlike DDLJ, this isn’t a movie all my readers will necessarily have seen. (part 1 gives no plot details of the film, just background on the pre-production, part 2 starts with a general discussion of the style and techniques of the film before getting into plot. Read them both before you read this, because I will be referring back!)
In the last section, I spent a looooooong time talking about the importance of Waheeda’s character and her whole backstory. And then I ended with the beginning of Dev and Waheeda’s relationship. He has been hired as a local guide for her and her very wealthy husband. But he is already disturbed by how her husband seems completely uninterested in Waheeda and instead obsessed with his archaeological research, and how Waheeda has these strange mood changes.
It all comes to a head when Dev travels for a day back to the caves with Marco, Waheeda’s husband. And then travels back to learn that Waheeda has tried to kill herself by drinking poison. It is not Dev’s place to handle this disaster, but he is the only one there. Marco’s abusive behavior has driven out any other connection to the world that Waheeda might have, and so the paid guide, who she has only known a few days, ends up being the one to bring her back to life.
Dev is now a large presence in Waheeda’s life, and that makes her a large presence in his life. Their romance is based on need, Waheeda’s need for him and, ultimately, his need for her need. That is what initially attracts them, and it is also what drives them apart in the end.
But I’m not there yet! First, there is the slow discovery by Dev of Waheeda’s charms. You know how babies “trick” people into falling in love with them? By being so incredibly needy and dependent, and at the same time responsive and reactive to anything you offer them? That is what Waheeda is like here. She desperately needs Dev, because she has no one else. And at the same time, she is so ecstatically grateful and happy with anything he can give her. It’s intoxicating!
It’s intoxicating for the viewer as well. Going back to the directing for a moment, there are so many lovely shots in this section that serve to draw us in to Waheeda’s story. Early on, when she learns her husband is still not coming to visit her, even after a suicide attempt, she runs for the cliffs in an attempt to jump. The camera pulls back and we watch Dev chase after her, Dev in browns and earth colors, Waheeda in a brilliant blue like the sky, one of this world and one of them above it. And then their is a perfectly framed and acted moment when he catches her and pulls her down stone steps cut into the side of the hill. She is fluttering and trying to get away, and he makes a cage of his arms around her until she finally sinks into them.
Later, when he has offered her anything that would make her happy, all she asks for is a set of dancing bangles. She pays an extravagant amount for them, and then the camera follows her feet as she gracefully moves through the marketplace, the jingle of her bells loud on the soundtrack, with Dev nervously following behind her, aware of all the eyes that have turned to watch her passage. And it is after this, after her glorious rediscovery of her happiness, that we have the “Aaj Phir Jeen Ki Tamanna Hai” song.
The first time I watched this song, I was focused on Waheeda. Because she really is glorious in it, just pure joy and freedom and happiness. But on a second mental watch, Dev is the one that strikes me. He is trying to do his job of protecting Waheeda while still facilitating her happiness (the same job he would do for any of his tourist charges, but more so). Only, there is already a slight hint of how those good intentions will turn dark and bring about the end of their relationship.
What I noticed on a closer watch is that Waheeda is free and happy not because Dev is there to protect and facilitate, but in spite of it. He thinks he is needed because otherwise she would be in danger, that she needs him to stop people looking, to make sure she is safe on top of a camel, to walk behind and below. But, she doesn’t need him. She can make her own way and pay for her own camel rides and make her own decisions. How would Waheeda’s day here be different if Dev weren’t around? Not very, right? And Dev just can’t admit that.
It’s not so toxic in this part of the film. Dev has freed Waheeda from her shackles, and now she likes having him around as someone she can trust, and also just plain likes him. If they had continued life as equals, the could have built up a long and wonderful relationship. But, they didn’t.
Notice that Waheeda is the one to free herself from her husband, all by herself. Once she sees that he can enjoy dancing girls so long as he isn’t married to them, that is the final straw. And she dances her way out of his life with one final performance, just for him. And then lands up on Dev’s doorstep. Dev doesn’t need to rescue her or help her, he just has to be there when she falls.
It’s after she arrives at Dev’s household that the relationship begins to turn toxic. It doesn’t seem so in the moment. Of course Dev takes her in, of course he insists on the neighborhood treating her with respect, of course he holds back his mother from judging her. No, the moment it turns bad is when his uncle arrives.
Before that, actually. Waheeda has been watched by the neighbors while practicing. So Dev has arranged a curtain of saris to block half the courtyard, and he is sitting there on the steps watching while Waheeda practices. When his uncle arrives, she stops, and he orders her to go on. Waheeda keeps shuffling gracefully while Dev and his uncle and mother go back and forth over whether Waheeda should stay in the house, whether his mother will stay if she stays, and so on.
His mother and uncle are certainly in the wrong in all moral ways. Waheeda has nowhere else to go, it is their duty to take care of her. And Waheeda has done nothing wrong in leaving a husband who was destroying her. And it wasn’t her choice in the first place to marry him.
But on the basic level, this is his mother’s house. She should be able to say who she chooses to have with her. And Dev should listen to her. Maybe not agree, but at least listen. Most of all, when Waheeda offers to leave rather than cause this anguish, he should talk with her about that.
Instead, Dev chooses Waheeda over them all. Chooses that little life he has built for her, hidden behind a curtain of saris, dancing just for him. It’s selfish, it’s putting his need to be needed above what is best for them all.
And then, suddenly, Dev has arranged for cultural leaders of the area to come and see Waheeda dance, to jumpstart her career as a respectable dancer. Is this something that he has been working on all along, trying to make contacts and find the right occasion? Or is this something that just fell into their lap? Or is it something that he first started pursuing in desperation after his mother left and he lost his bookstall through his obsession with Waheeda?
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that we didn’t know this was happening, that all of those arguments never reached that point, they stopped at Dev declaring “I want Rosie” and allowing no further discussion. He didn’t think anyone, including Rosie, had the need to know whether or not he had a long term plan for them, what she was practicing for (beyond his own enjoyment).
What is remarkable is that the film makes it clear that it is Rosie’s talent which leads to success and drives them forward from here. This is remarkable, because it is a hero’s film! So often the heroine’s virtues and vices and abilities are all made subservient to her relationship with the hero. It’s not that Dev “tricks” people into seeing Rosie, or uses her connections to give her a chance that belongs to someone else, all he has to do is get a few people to recognize her talent. It’s the same help-but-not-really he gave her in leaving her husband. He just had to open the door, she was the one who ran through it.
It’s remarkable, because this is Dev Anand’s film. He conceived of it, he starred in it, he produced it. And yet, he gave himself the most flawed character. But also the most interesting. I guess what I am saying is that he made his decision to be in this film and make the film like this not because of Star reasons, but becauses of actor reasons. Or even higher than that, Artist reasons. He knew it was the best way to make this into the best film, and he didn’t care what it did to him.
What makes the performance really remarkable is how it relies on and yet destroys the Dev Anand screen image. Dev is the cool guy, the one all the ladies love, the one nothing can touch. And that’s how he starts out here, cool and casual and confident, King of his city. But Waheeda works on him and weakens him and suddenly, underneath that cool and confident facade, he is a mass of insecurities. He reveals to us that the King of Cool needs the women to love him more than they need to love. And that the “cool” demeanor can be an armor protecting all the hot emotions within him.
And the greatest of these is fear. Dev is afraid Waheeda will leave him, afraid he doesn’t deserve her, afraid she will discover that he doesn’t really have anything to offer her. That is what drives him to hide from her the note from her husband. It is just a copy of his book, dedicated to Dev as promised, and a lawyer’s note about some old jewelry in a bank that he wants to send her. But Dev is terrified, terrified that somehow she will decide he isn’t worthy, that she will go back to Marco, that Marco will be able to give her something he can’t, even if it is just some old cheap jewelry. And that’s why he forges her signature. Not to steal from her, but to keep her from being “stolen” from him.
And that one mistake, that one final giving into fear and desire, that is what destroys him. His friend the police officer shows up to take him away, but lets him have just one more glimpse of Waheeda before he goes. And that glimpse is epic! He stands in the wings, knowing she will not talk to him, and watches Waheeda give a vicious dance of anger. Before he lets himself be taken away, without saying a word in his defence.
That is the beginning of Dev’s nobility. When he learns to let go of Waheeda, to stop fearing and needing. We don’t see his time in jail, but by the time he comes out letting go is easy for him. He turns away from his former life with barely a thought, and then lets go of everything else piece by piece, his money, his jacket, his shoes. Finally, all that is left is his hair.
Dev has really good hair in this movie. I don’t necessarily want to see what he looks like with different, worse hair. But it is a little odd to watch him wandering with nothing, and yet still having that fresh-from-the-barber look. I can believe that it wasn’t an artistic decision, but a simple matter of Dev refusing to change.
It works as an artistic decision though. And it is explicitly mentioned in the book as well. To grow out his hair and lose his clean-shaven look would mean that Dev is officially pretending to be a Guru. So long as he keeps his regular hair, it means he is himself and not trying to be anything different.
Straight through Dev remains himself. And, because he is that kind of casual good hearted but not unselfish person, he would never voluntarily offer to fast unto death to save a village. Or even become a Guru of a village. He just sort of stumbles into these things.
And in the end, the greatest conflict is not between him and Waheeda, or Waheeda and his mother, or any of these external forces. The biggest conflict is between his two selves. The caring one who wants to help others, and the selfish self who wants things for himself.
The end of the movie brings Waheeda and Dev back together, and Dev and his mother as well. But it’s almost an after thought. The two women separately hear of this wise religious man who is fasting. They both recognize him, but Dev has gone beyond worldly attachments. He is happy to see them, but he is finally beyond concern over whether Waheeda is “his” or if his mother forgives him. He cares for them as something that was important to his past self. And we, the audience, are gratified to see that they are surviving well without him, that they are able to put closure on that chapter in their lives. But it does not give closure to Dev. His story has gone beyond any petty concern with love or romance or family entanglements. He has begun to grapple with things which are much bigger.
And that is why the final scene and the final conflict is between Dev and Dev. His higher self he wants to keep striving and going and looking for a greater enlightenment. And his lower self, who desires worldly things, food and love and fame. It could feel cheesy, to have this “double role” effect, an actual vision of two Devs onscreen. But the writing conquers that. His internal dialogue is so close to the conversations we have already heard him having, to the way he has always talked, that it does not feel out of place. And of course, Dev’s acting makes it work as well. It feels like a real discussion and conversation, not a monologue. Which must have been especially hard to do since it would have been filmed as a monologue! First one half by itself, then the other.
And then it is over and Dev dies just as the rain starts to fall. The villagers celebrate while his mother and Waheeda sob over him. It’s not heartless for the villagers to celebrate, or small-minded for Waheeda and his mother to cry. It’s because they are experiencing different things, different versions of Dev.
I said back in my first half that this is a story of the making of a Saint. I stand by that, even more with this ending. The idea of Sainthood or finding a higher purpose is often a growth into a new person. The “old” person is shed from you, you may share their memories and affections, but the issues of their life do not touch you in the same way.
That is what is happening here. Dev as the villagers knew him was a Saint. His only purpose was to help others, and to attain a closer relationship with God. For them, the rain means that Dev has succeeded in his goals. Their celebration is not just for themselves, but for him as well.
Dev as Waheeda and his mother knew him was a petty human with desires and fears and hopes and dreams. They are mourning that death. But what they do not realize is that this version of Dev died long ago. Had he survived, they would still have been left to mourn him.