I finished Guide-the-Book! It was a good book in general, and an easy read, I recommend it. But it was really really really interesting to read it in partnership with the film. There were so many things that had to be changed to make a film version work, and they all revolved around Waheeda’s character.
A lot of the smart things I gave credit to the film for doing turned out to actually be from the book, and a lot of things I gave credit to the book for doing turned out to be original to the film.
One big thing that was the same in both versions was the holiness of our hero. And his lack of awareness of his holiness. And huge huge credit to Dev Anand and the other filmmakers for picking up on that!
This is something that gets messed up a lot in the translation of first person books to film. Bridget Jones Diary, Karachi You’re Killing Me, they all have protagonists who don’t see themselves clearly. If you read and believe their descriptions of themselves, they sound stupid, ugly, boring, cowardly, all those things. But if you focus on how people are reacting to them, you realize that it is just a matter of the “see oursel as ithers see us” Robert Burns problem. And all three of those books mentioned above have strong beautiful capable heroines. But in the film translation, the screenwriters took everything at face value and turned them into some exaggerated comic version of the characters we knew from the books. Well, I haven’t seen Noor yet, and I have my fingers crossed, but definitely the other two missed the little hints as to our heroine’s coolness.
(A little worried. Seems to have a bit of a “clumsy weak naive” vibe going, instead of a “sees herself as clumsy weak naive, actually cool street smart awesome”)
Dev Anand and the others did not make that mistake here. Guide the book is told mostly in first person as our hero remembers and honestly tells his follower the story of his life. In his version, he is constantly cowardly and weak and selfish. And yes, a lot of his actions are weak and selfish, even worse than they are presented in the film.
But the more important fact is that he is the one telling this version of himself. That he has grown to be a better person who can clearly see where he went wrong in the past and can sympathize and understand the view of those who were his enemies. That he is unselfishly and humbly baring his soul to his current follower, giving him the right to sit in judgement on all his past life.
And we need to read between the lines and fully understand the good things he has done as well in his new life as the village guru. He describes the things he did for the village as half thought out, impulses, not that important. But he did really good things for this village! He encouraged the children to attend school, even if it was only at night after their workday had finished. He promoted peace between the adults, he told them old stories and fables, always giving them just the right kind of story to solve their current problems. And in the end, he did indeed fast unto death.
So, that’s our hero. In essence, the same man. A sinner, a lover, a man of worldly things. He slowly came to appreciate a different kind of life without even realizing this change was happening in him.
But with our heroine! BIG BIG Differences!!!! The biggest being, the book is explicit that she joyfully sleeps with the guide Raju, after knowing him only a few days, and without her husband being deliberately cruel to her in order to drive her to another man.
But there are some changes even before that. In the book backstory, firstly, her family were temple dancers. Which is kind of the same as the Tawaifs they seemed to be in the film version, but a little different. Temple dancers had a religious place and purpose, not just a social one. But then, like the Tawaifs, the British taught society to scorn and hate them as what this book calls “public women”. It also means that this book and characters came along just as Rukmini Devi and others were leading a revival of Bharat Natyam outside of the temples.
More importantly for this particular character, while in the film it is her mother who forces her into a respectable marriage, in the book Rosie chooses this for herself. With no future in temple dance, she gets a college degree and then answers a matrimonial ad asking for an educated wife. And ends up the wife of the wealthy man “Marco”.
In the book, we never learn his full name, “Marco” is just our hero’s nickname for him. In the film, Marco is taken as his official last name, a name that is carefully neutral. But the book is even more neutral. Although it is also careful to describe his attire, which matches that of the proper British gentlemen on tour, the pith helmet, the white suit, everything. So, while Marco is not explicitly British, he is possibly British, and Westernized at the very least.
(These guys. He looked like these guys)
But the big differences occur with the start of her relationship with Raju. In the film, there is a very slow and delicate build to this point. This is an area were I could possibly see Pearl Buck, a woman who divorced her first husband herself, contributing to the plot. Or it could have been Vijay Anand’s natural sensibility for the female character, present in his other films as well. The film is careful to show that what at first glance seems like merely fights between husband and wife, in actuality goes a lot deeper than that. Rosie is suicidal with depression, and her husband doesn’t even care. It is only after Raju realizes that she has no one else in her life to save her, that he steps in and begins to care for her more than his place in her life really warrants.
But in the book, nope! They have just the normal husband and wife quarrels, Raju notices immediately how stunningly beautiful and graceful she is, and grabs the opportunity when she is angry at her husband to flatter her and make his way into her hotel room, and eventually her bed. They enter a routine of her spending one night in 3 visiting her husband at his remote lodge where he is doing research, and then returning to the hotel and Raju. They go to the movies together, she dances for him, he flatters her. And together they come up with a plan for her to leave her husband and then to set up as a professional dancer with Raju’s help.
It is only after she asks to leave him, and he learns that she has been unfaithful for weeks now, that the relationship turns bad. And even there, he never raises a hand to her! And also never indicates that he himself has strayed (as happened in the film version). It’s a peculiar kind of cruelty, she spends 3 weeks following him around, waiting for any attention or notice, and he never so much as looks at her, finally leaving her waiting on the train platform while he gets on the train, not so much as offering to buy her a ticket home.
Raju and Rosie’s affair continues once she is living in his house with himself and his mother, he describes passionate scramblings while his mother is briefly out at the market or washing. And once his mother leaves, the house became a heaven, they did nothing but eat and love. Until the food and money began to run out, and only then did they get serious about starting her dancing career.
So, why did they change all this for the film? I think, in essence, the character is the same. If you read between the lines, Rosie may have jumped into this affair, but she only did so because she was so totally lonely. And yes, they had a lot of sex. But they are only human, after all, and there were occasional references to her husband’s “perversions” and them fighting all night every night, which makes it seem as though sexual dysfunction was part of the issue in her marriage.
But reading about a woman welcoming a man not her husband into her bed is one thing, seeing it on screen is something else. And so Dev went a different way, conveying the idea of a strong beautiful woman trapped in a loveless marriage who clings to any brief moment of happiness or support, without bringing in anything in her behavior that the audience would find unforgivable.
(Remember how Amitabh blamed Waheedaji for something that happened before they were even married in Kabhi Kabhi and the audience could sympathize with him? Imagine how that audience would react to Waheeda sleeping with another man after marriage!)
The end of the relationship is strikingly different as well. In the book, firstly, Raju forges Rosie’s name through a combination of greed and jealousy. He believes he is signing permission for her to receive valuable jewelry, jewelry which he plans to receive himself and then sell “for her”. But he is also signing her name because the document is from her husband and he is afraid it will remind her of her husband and make her leave him.
And secondly, when the truth comes out and he is arrested, Rosie is faithful to him. She is disgusted, but promises she will do whatever is needed to raise the money for his defense, she supports him in court, she hires the best lawyers, she does everything. While at the same time saying that once she has gotten him off, she does not want to ever see or hear from him again.
In the film, Raju forges the name only out of jealousy. The jewelry is specified as being of low value, there would be no purpose in him signing just for that. It is only because he is jealous of Marco that he does it. And Rosie’s response is silent fury, she doesn’t even want to speak to him again, she agrees to testify against him, and sends him off to jail without a second glance.
The narrative is totally different between the two versions, but the end result for the characters is the same. We need to be able to understand that the forgery came from a moment of weakness and doubt, not a calculated crime. That’s easy to convey in a book, in a way we can understand, with all his slow internal discussion of his doubts and fears, but harder on film. And so instead of giving us some massive voice over explaining “it was greed, but the greed also came from fear, fear that I couldn’t give her anything, that I would lose my hard won status if I had no money, etc. etc.”, they just make it simple and make the amount paltry, so it is obvious that the motivation was jealousy not greed.
And the change to Rosie is needed because of the change they make to the ending for the film version. Her redemption of understanding for Raju comes at the end, instead of immediately after his theft. I like the film version a lot better, because it is so much less cynical, less trying to be “clever.”
In the book, we never see Rosie again, or anyone else from his past. Raju finishes his story, and his follower declares that he is greater than before. Raju thinks this is a silly response, but agrees that if he thinks so, Raju will at least attempt the fast. With the understanding that he can stop at any time. And then for the final handful of pages we learn about his fast. How a carnival sprang up around it, sweet venders and rides and games and even movies projected on the back of the temple wall to entertain the crowds who started coming. The government sends a doctor to treat him, the politicians get involved and declare that the “Guru” can’t die! Finally an American TV producer arrives and makes one of the villagers pretend to be Raju so he can take footage to bring back. It’s very Ace in the Hole, a black humor sort of attitude to it all, how everybody is just out for themselves and there is no true sacrifice in the world.
(You may also know it as The Big Carnival. Kirk Douglas plays an ambitious reporter who descends, along with hundreds of others, to cover a man trapped in a cave in and get as much fame and money out of the tragedy as they can)
And the ultimate “joke” is that our lowly worldly adulterer and jailbird is the only pure soul among them, the one who in the end does keep up his fast. Although we don’t actually learn for sure that hist fast is successful. He declares in his last words that he can feel the rain on the hills, but the book ends there, before the rain actually falls. If you choose to read the book with ultimate cynicism, you could say that the rain didn’t fall, he was just hallucinating, and this whole thing is a joke on how God men operate.
But I don’t choose to read it that way. And I don’t think it is meant to be read that way. Not because of anything in the text itself, but because RK Narayan gave his permission to Dev Anand to turn this into a film. He must have seen something in how Dev grasped the story, in the essence he found, which made him willing to give up the film rights. After all, this wasn’t handled through agents and managers and “people”, it was decided after Dev flew around the world to meet with him personally in his house.
I find the film much more powerful than the book because the film does not hold back, does not choose cynicism and laughing at others over sincere belief. The focus of the end is not on a carnival atmosphere or making fun of worldly greed and fame and other concerns. It is on the spiritual aspect, the higher consciousness our hero has attained which makes all worldly concerns suddenly slide away from him. And how this higher consciousness has the ability to transform those around him.
We see crowds come to see him not for a “carnival”, but because they are from other villages were the crops are dying and the land is barren and they want to honor this great man who is trying to save them. And we see Rosie and his mother return to his life, not because he has redeemed himself through worldly actions, but because he has become a great man and they wish to worship him.
I don’t like Rosie’s redemption in the book. She stands by him even after he has stolen from her, proving her large-mindedness, and then proves her ability to manage her own life and career by continuing on to success even after he is no longer with her. That’s fine, I guess, but it’s not the greatest. I prefer the film version, in which she rejects him immediately, regrets her actions later and tries to find him in jail, and ultimately is able to appreciate his sacrifice and be there to serve him in his last days. That is a true redemption for her character, Raju has become holy and she has become fully worthy of serving this holy man.
So, in the end, I would say that you should read the book, it is an easy read and has some interesting ideas and provides the general outline for the film. But if you have to choose between one or the other, pick the film. It is a good book, but it is a Great Film.
(Also, the poster is a lot better than the book cover. The cover is “cute”, the poster is classic)