By Shakun Saini Feb. 06, 2020
Vijay Anand’s Guide stands out for being that rare Hindi film about adultery that also normalises the act of falling out of love, even in a marriage. The film refuses to demonise its characters for the decisions they take, driving home the point that love transcends all boundaries – even those considered as sacred as marriage.
Back in the ’60s, Bollywood plots revolved around two things: love and family values. At this time, Dev Anand placed a bet on something that was remarkably antithetical to these beliefs. He gave the world a movie called Guide (1965), where the leading lady is a married woman who falls in love with another man.
Directed by Vijay Anand and based on RK Narayan’s The Guide, Guide is the story of Raju (Dev Anand), a young and charismatic tour guide who lives in Udaipur. Marco (Kishore Sahu), a wealthy and aging archaeologist, arrives in the city one day on work with his young wife Rosie (Waheeda Rehman). It soon becomes apparent that Rosie and Marco are in a loveless marriage with Marco abandoning his wife every chance he gets. Soon, Raju learns that Rosie aspired to be a professional dancer and as he saves Rosie from repeated suicide attempts, Raju develops a soft spot for her, encouraging her to go after what she wants. A friendship develops between the two, with Rosie ultimately leaving Marco to be with Raju.
Dev Anand placed a bet on something that was remarkably antithetical to these beliefs.
Fifty-five years ago, Guide’s radical approach to a topic as taboo as adultery was something that the audience wasn’t used to, given that the film showed the woman being utterly unapologetic about what she wanted. Even before Raju tells Rosie how he feels, she already seems to have made up her mind to be with him. In fact, it’s almost as if she couldn’t wait to tell Marco. Dressed in a glittery lehenga-choli instead of the standard cotton saree, Rosie looks at Marco in the eye when he asks her if there’s another man and says, “Main bewafaai karungi Marco toh khule aam (If I am to be unfaithful to you, Marco, I would do it openly).” In a way, that sets the tone for the honesty in her relationship with Raju. On his part, he promises her that he isn’t the least bit affected by her past.
Guide’s handling of adultery is even more remarkable, considering that Bollywood made a routine out of villanising it, underlining the “evils” of being in a relationship that went against accepted social conventions. Legend has it that while Dev Anand’s heart was set on making the film, Vijay was initially horrified at the script and refused to touch it. Today, Guide is perhaps the most definitive modern portrayals of adultery in Hindi cinema. As the characters evolve in the film, we forget that Rosie hasn’t really divorced Marco. And by the time Rosie and Raju start drifting apart and he calls her “saiyan beimaan” and he comes back at her with “bewafa”, they are just a standard couple – fighting and pining.
Guide’s handling of adultery is even more remarkable, considering that Bollywood made a routine out of villanising it.
In doing so, Guide stands out for being that rare film about adultery that also normalises the act of falling out of love, even in a marriage. The film never demonises its characters for the decisions they take. Usually, Bollywood has a long history of punishing any man or woman who tried to break the sacred institution of marriage. In Gumrah (1963) for instance, the woman shuts the door on the other man and goes back to her husband just because it is the right thing to do. In Dil Ek Mandir (1963) and Yeh Rastey Hain Pyar Ke (1965) on the other hand, the lover had to pay with his life. Even years later, in Silsila (1981) and Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam (1999), we see Indian sanskar triumph.
In fact, this is the norm – anyone trying to mess with what the society considered hallowed needed to be eliminated. Guide managed to strike a balance and handle the topic in a way to reveal that in situations such as this, no one is really wrong. Not for one moment do we feel that Rosie and Raju were “living in sin”.
That’s not to say that it was all nice and easy for Rosie and Raju. But even when they’re shamed for falling in love with each other, the film has no villains.
Even Marco, who tries to make up for his past mistakes does so without trying to break what Raju and Rosie have. In his own way, Anand seems to allude to the story of Radha and Krishna in Rosie and Raju, making their union more spiritual than worldly. What starts out as an unconventional and unlikely friendship develops into a love that defies all social conventions and as the lovers evolve, it takes on a divine form. Over five decades later, Guide stands out for being that film that drives home the message that what the society accepts as “conventional” isn’t necessarily always the “right” thing for anyone. That love transcends all boundaries – even those considered as sacred as marriage.
Lover of all things Bollywood, Ghalib, Delhi and Punjab, Shakun is happiest when watching old Hindi films. An erstwhile copywriter, she now spends time taking pictures of her cat, walking the streets of Puraani Dilli and collecting screenshots from black and white films.