As a tribute to Waheeda Rehman on her 82nd birthday, a look at one of her most iconic roles—Rosie in Vijay Anand’s Guide (1965).
She was warned that if she did the role, she would ruin her career; no good Indian woman could be like that—leave her husband, take a lover, build a career!
In Bollywood, the unbreakable marriage was the pivot around which happy families revolved, and the family was the centre of the movie universe. Good wives put up with everything—cruelty and infidelity included– and by their endless patience and piety, reformed straying husbands, softened harridan mothers-in-law, raised angelic kids and kept the family together. If a wife walked out, she was severely punished by society or by fate. In such a scenario, Rosie was an early rebel.
Director Vijay Anand turned RK Narayan’s somewhat stolid novel into a sensuous, lyrical and powerful piece of cinema. He was not in the least daunted by the ‘unIndian’ elements of the story– a married woman having an affair– and gave the characters such depth and honesty, that the film was accepted by the masses. He had also been told that an Indian audience would not be able to stomach the boldness, and no top actress would agree to play the lead part. But Waheeda Rehman dared and made Rosie memorable—a woman who is talented, ambitious, proud and passionate.
The story is about Raju, a tourist guide (Dev Anand), who falls in love with a Devdasi’s daughter Rosie (Waheeda Rehman), rescues her from a loveless marriage of convenience with an archaeologist, Marco (Kishore Sahu) and helps her achieve fame. Marco had married her with the attitude of doing her a favour—saving her from her disreputable past as a woman from a family of dancing girls. He then forbade her from dancing, and expected her to be a respectable and submissive wife. But Rosie love for her art is not to be suppressed. Raju sees her snake dance and instinctively recognises her talent, her frustration at being kept away from dance and her potential. The cold-hearted Marco is not even perturbed by Rosie’s attempt to commit suicide, telling her that if she really wanted to die she would have taken more pills. The scene in which Rosie confronts Marco as he studies cave sculptures and screams, “Marco main jeena chahti hoon.” (Marco I want to live) is unforgettable. Marco is more interested in lifeless sculptures, but ignores his wife who is a living embodiment of that art.
Raju’s love liberates Rosie, a moment celebrated with the joyous song Aaj phir jeena ki tamanna hai, aaj phir marne ka irada hai. (Today I with to live again, today I intend to die again) Raju defies society, angers his mother (Leela Chitnis), alienates his friend to stand by Rosie. The mistake he makes, too, is in taking Rosie’s love and dependence on him for granted. When she builds a life as Nalini, the star, in which he is just a hanger-on, he turns to drinking and gambling. Though she gently postponed his proposal of marriage, Raju is too besotted by her to see that she had started pulling away from him. Hindi cinema captures the process of falling in love all the time, Guide caught a woman becoming so secure in her fame and talent that she falls out of love. Raju’s pitiful grovelling has no effect on her; it is, as she says, that she has built a fortress around her heart.
Even though the film is mostly about Raju’s redemption, Guide created in Rosie an inimitable heroine, who is capable of immense love, but is not foolishly self-sacrificing. When Raju goes to jail for a minor fraud committed in a moment of jealousy—he does not want Marco to meet Rosie again—she is shattered. But she does not lie to save him from going to prison. Later, she realises her mistake, apologises to Raju and promises to wait from him to make a fresh start. In the end, she gives up everything to be by Raju’s side, as he becomes a ‘swami’ (ascetic) and saviour of a drought-stricken village, fasting to the death so that they get rain. She walks through the arid village, symbolically shedding her jewellery and finally collapsing before him. Her being there, along with his mother, gives Raju the courage to persevere.
Rosie is quite unlike any female character seen in Hindi films – not all good, not all evil, not entirely lovable, but not despicable either. Waheeda Rehman always danced like a goddess, and was considered the best actresses of her time. She played the complex Rosie with grace and brilliant subtlety, never letting her character drown in pathos. What’s more, it did not destroy her career and she won the Filmfare Award for her performance.
If before Guide she had Guru Dutt classics like Pyaasa, Kaagaz Ke Phool and Chaudhvin Ka Chand, and hits like Kala Bazaar and Solva Saal, Bees Saal Baad, Mujhe Jeene Do and Kohra, after Guide she had films like Teesri Kasam, Ram Aur Shyam, Khamoshi and Reshma Aur Shera.
It is said in moviedom, that masterpieces are made accidentally. The flawlessness of Guide was a result of Vijay Anand’s genius, and every department of filmmaking coming together in perfect sync. What’s more, it was not a Hollywood me-too, it was rooted Indian culture, but had an international sensibility, something that the director of the Hollywood version, Ted Danielewski could not manage to grasp.
Guide is a fine example of a filmmaker at the peak of his career, and a classic by any standard
(This is a modified version of a chapter in my book Sheroes: 25 Daring Women Of Bollywood, published by Westland.)