In 1960, RK Narayan won the Sahitya Akademi Award for his novel, The Guide, published in 1958. The story is of a small town tourist guide who has an affair with the lonely wife of an archaeologist, an affair that has a lasting impact on his life.
Of course, anybody who knows anything about Hindi cinema would recognize the plot (and the name) immediately: this, after all, was (minus the ‘The’) the name of one of Hindi cinema’s most popular films ever made. The Dev Anand-Waheeda Rehman starrer Guide, directed by Vijay Anand, won an impressive seven Filmfare Awards (and that excluding what should definitely have been an award, for SD Burman’s brilliant score for the film).
But this is not that Guide. This is The Guide, the English-language film, directed by American director Tad Danielewski (who also wrote the screenplay for it, along with Pearl S Buck). Danielewski had been approached by Dev Anand, who was very keen on making The Guide simultaneously in both English as well as Hindi, with Chetan Anand directing the Hindi version. Almost as soon as shooting started—in Rajasthan, so much more exotic to the Western eye than South India—problems arose between the directors. Soon, Chetan Anand (whose Haqeeqat had just been given the go-ahead) moved away, and was replaced by younger brother Vijay Anand, who wrote the script for the Hindi version in three weeks flat. A version that was, ultimately, very different from the English-language one.
So what is The Guide all about?
The story begins in Udaipur, where the tourist guide Raju (Dev Anand) leads a group of tourists around the sights. He comes across as cocky (even if, like far too many Indian guides, he’s really not absolutely sure of the provenance of the sights he describes so confidently). He’s also somewhat slimy—he offers a tourist a chance to visit a dancing girl and enjoy himself—and yet also the sort of man whom the average gullible and helpless tourist would be happy to have along: Raju will do everything for you, from showing you a real cobra, with its fangs intact (not the defanged variety at the snake charmer’s), to tipping waiters at so-and-so restaurant.
A newcomer arrives at the town asking for Raju’s services. This is Marco (Kishore Sahu), an archaeologist. With Marco is his beautiful wife Rosie (Waheeda Rehman), who wants to see a cobra dance to the music of a flute.
Marco quickly spikes Raju’s guns when Raju attempts to show him the sights: Marco knows far more about these places than does Raju, and Raju is quickly sent off to attend to other things. Which Raju takes to mean looking after Rosie, whom he takes to see the dancing cobra. To Raju’s surprise—and wide-eyed pleasure—Rosie sheds her ‘elegant lady’ persona, hitches up her sari, and dances up a storm.
Raju is so infatuated by Rosie and her dancing that he even dreams of her. Raju’s mother (Leela Chitnis) comes rushing to see what’s wrong when Raju tosses and turns and talks in his sleep. She tells him a story—as she’s been doing since he was a child—to soothe him back to sleep.
The next day, Marco decides to set off for some caves which he wants to explore. They’re a good way off, a day’s journey, and Raju, along with a driver (Anwar Hussain) and a cook Joseph (Rashid Khan) will be going along. Raju wonders if Rosie will be going too, and Marco says, dismissively, that caves don’t interest her. But Raju, guessing that Rosie might like the environs, decides he will ask her anyway.
And Rosie, who does go along, loves the place, out in the wild. It’s beautiful.
Marco goes off exploring his caves (and soon shoos Raju away). Raju comes to Rosie, and shows her around. She tells him a bit about herself: she comes from a line of temple dancers, her mother and her grandmother were both temple dancers, but Rosie’s mother, by sending Rosie to school, made a dent in that tradition.
Raju is curious about how Rosie ended up married to Marco, and it turns out this was an arranged marriage: Marco advertised for an educated and beautiful bride—and got Rosie. He does not like her to dance, but dance is Rosie’s life, and that seems to have become the bone of contention between husband and wife.
Not that they seem to be otherwise happily married, either. They quarrel, they argue, they make up, says Rosie. For some days, it goes on quietly. And then they quarrel again. It’s obvious that these are two very different people, he a man obsessed with his work, she passionate about her dance but not allowed to even think about indulging in her passion.
That evening, as they sit on the terrace overlooking the jungle below, a leopard comes roaring out of the trees and attacks a deer far below. A terrified Rosie instinctively clings to Raju, who hugs her. Marco, watching them, shoots at the leopard, and looks as if he’d much rather have shot Rosie and Raju instead. A shaken Rosie cries out that she wants to go back to the hotel in Udaipur, and Marco, furious at what he’s just witnessed, agrees.
So the next day, leaving Marco to himself, Raju takes Rosie back to the city and to the hotel. And then, because—well, Rosie has shown that she’s not totally immune to Raju’s charms, and because Marco isn’t around either— Raju seduces Rosie.
In a post-coital haze of bliss, Rosie wishes aloud that she could dance again, and Raju supports her: he will be her manager. But no, Rosie has to put that aside. Because Marco will not agree.
All of this is interrupted by the sudden arrival of the driver, who comes banging on the door. He’s come all the way from the caves, because Marco has made a momentous discovery and has summoned Rosie. Rosie goes to the caves, and there is a showdown. The topic of Rosie’s dancing comes up again, and Rosie accuses Marco of not understanding her. In the course of the increasingly heated conversation, Rosie compares Marco to Raju (to Raju’s advantage) and, besides admitting that she has danced for Raju, also admits that she’s slept with him.
Marco, of course, is enraged. He gives Rosie the cold shoulder the rest of their time at the caves, and when it’s time for him to leave (Marco spends three weeks doing research), he gets into the train and goes—he hasn’t bought a ticket for Rosie.
So Rosie packs her bags and comes to Raju’s home. Raju is delighted, his mother is aghast, and the townspeople are soon up in arms against Raju for having had the audacity to live with a married woman. The little stall he owns (and runs with the help of a boy) at the railway station is summarily handed over to another man, and a crowd beats up Raju. Rosie comes to his rescue and takes him away…
… and decides that now that Marco’s out of her life, she can go back to dancing. She takes on the stage name ‘Nalini’ and debuts by performing—for free—at a school function, for which Raju helps her by approaching the school authorities on ‘Nalini’s’ behalf.
The performance is a huge success, and the next time we see her, Rosie is being feted. She’s the darling of all, performing far and wide, a celebrity. Raju, a now more urbane and suave Raju who keeps bottles of whisky in his safe, has a secretary, and hosts poker sessions every night, is still Rosie’s manager. He’s brusque, he’s money-minded (he insists that Rosie will be paid double what she was paid the last time, because this is the second time she’s going to be dancing for the same people).
But they’re drifting apart, and how. Rosie only wants to be with her ‘friends’: singers, musicians, dancers like her. And Raju, too caught up with his card-playing gang (with whom he also boozes and visits brothels) only thinks of Rosie as Rosie when he wants to spend the night with her; the rest of the time, she is Nalini, the means for him to make money.
Before they know it, their divergent paths have diverged so drastically that there’s no return for Raju or Rosie—and under what circumstances they will finally meet again is something neither of them knows now, or can guess.
Unlike its Hindi counterpart, which was an undoubted hit, The Guide sank without a trace. And it’s easy to see why; this is an uneven film, in many ways. It does have the elements that might have been expected to appeal to an American audience—‘exotic India’, with its painted and caparisoned elephants, its snake charmers and magnificent palaces included—but there is too much that’s also wrong with it.
What I liked about this film, and what I didn’t like:
Though that’s usually two separate sections in most of my film reviews, here I’m clubbing them together—because what I liked can pretty much be summed up in one sentence: the beauty of Waheeda Rehman.
On to what I didn’t like, which was a lot. One irritant was the somewhat stilted diction of a lot of the cast; most of them seem a little uncomfortable speaking English. It’s not just a question of accent, either: there’s just a sort of flatness of tone that comes with the unfamiliarity with a language. This, sadly, is most prominent in the case of Waheeda Rehman herself, who, though she was tutored by Pearl S Buck herself, comes across as uncomfortable with English—and it affects her acting. Iftekhar and Leela Chitnis are among the few actors whose English seems very natural: Dev Anand’s too, but because of his mannerisms, the effect is spoilt somewhat.
The other major irritant for me was the poor scripting. The Guide is a story that’s not as plot-driven as it is character-driven, and the problem with this screen adaptation is that in trying to fit it into two hours, Buck and Danielewski miss out on a good deal of character development. Things happen too suddenly and too abruptly to be convincing, and motivations are often unclear.
This becomes especially obvious (and annoying) in the middle of the film, when Rosie’s shift from being Marco’s neglected wife to being Raju’s lover and a famous dancer, occurs. Rosie seems to become famous overnight and without any hitches; Raju’s bringing her home seems to cause only the slightest of problems with the townspeople and a minor embarrassment for Raju’s mother; why they drift apart and how is not really shown. There are other sudden jumps, too: one moment, Raju is being given an offer by a lawyer and the next moment he is in jail, only—in the very next scene—to be out and free. If you don’t know the story already, it can be confusing and disconcerting, not to mention dissatisfying.
Let me, at the outset, admit that I’ve always been a bit of an iconoclast: I’ve never really liked Guide, except for some of its elements: SD Burman’s music is sublime, and Waheeda Rehman is beautiful, her acting is excellent, and so is her dancing. A lot of the rest—especially Dev Anand’s mannerism-ridden performance—has tended to put me off.
But, since I’d just watched The Guide, it seemed appropriate to rewatch its Hindi version too and compare the two. Of course, Guide is not The Guide, except in its basic story, its cast and most of its crew, and the settings. Vijay Anand scripted and directed a film that’s very different from what Tad Danielewski made.
On a macro level, there’s the very fact that Guide is more mainstream Hindi cinema than The Guide is (well, naturally). For one, Guide has songs—and what wonderful songs, too—while The Guide has, except for one very brief, almost wordless (?) ululation by SD Burman at one point near the end, nothing by way of song (in fact, very little in the way of dance, too).
Also, since Vijay Anand knew Indian society and Indian audiences, he introduced nuances and details that would fit the audience and its tastes.
Rosie, for instance, doesn’t plunge into an affair with Raju simply because Marco neglects her and doesn’t want her to dance. No, Marco is a despicable man: he drinks, he has a whore visit him at the caves, he hits Rosie, he calmly (and triumphantly) admits that he married her for her body, nothing else. Rosie is battered, suicidal—and her relationship with the only person who’s sympathetic and understanding and supportive (Raju) arises out of this. So even though a Bharatiya naari shouldn’t be in an adulterous relationship, some justification is built up for it.
Then, too, even when she’s moved to Raju’s home, the impact of that relationship is very widespread, and not merely confined to Raju being beaten up and deprived of the stall at the railway station. It’s a rather more virulent boycott of the two—and yet, from the conversations between Raju and Rosie, the implication is that they aren’t actually sleeping together, even after he’s managed to set her on the path to success.
Near the end, Guide takes even more of a catering-to-the-average-Indian turn: where the American film’s guide slowly grows weaker and struggles with his conscience now and then, the Hindi film’s guide sees his two alter egos battle it out: one, the self-serving, opportunistic Raju, the other a sanctimoniously radiant, saintly being clad in a shimmering saffron cloak, who talks about how his body may die, but he will remain. There is no leaving it to the audience to figure out what dilemma Raju is facing, what demons are battling it out within this man; you’re shown it.
But, to cut to the chase: while I do not much like Guide, I still think it’s a far better film than The Guide. The Guide is bogged down by a script that does not do a good job of depicting the character arcs of its protagonists; it leaves out a lot that could have helped define Raju and Rosie better. Guide, on the other hand, does a more impressive job of showing how they first come together and then what makes them drift apart. Watch The Guide only if you, like me, are curious to see what they did with the English version.
You can watch The Guide on Youtube, here.