Adapted from a classic novel written in English, the plot is structured around two processes of transformation. Rosie (Rehman) who belongs to a family of courtesans, is seduced away from her tyrannical archaeologist husband Marco (Sahu) by the brash tourist guide Raju (Anand). Raju helps her to realise her dream of becoming a successful dancer, realising his own ambition to become wealthy at the same time. Their life together is ended when he is jailed for forging Rosie’s signature on a cheque. Released from jail, he becomes a drifter and is mistaken for a holy man. Raju uses his newfound respectability to provide a school, a hospital and other facilities for the villagers. Forced to demonstrate his messianic status when there is a drought, he manages to fast for 12 days and the rain comes, confirming his holy status in the eyes of the villagers (and of the audience) as he dies of starvation. The film can be seen as a regressive comment on ‘national culture’ e.g. the shift from colonial tourism to capitalist enterprise to religious faith, from mass cultural commodification and spectacle to pre-colonial naivety and ritual. There is also a discourse about stardom: starting out as a man of the people, the hero transgresses conventional moral codes and fulfils his dream of wealth, then finds this unsatisfying and, having been freed from material possessions (and women), he ends up fulfilling others’ wishes and finds apotheosis as a god in death. The film’s quasi-expressionist, garish use of colour and of calender art sets provides its own comment on notions of national popular culture, highlighted in the sequence when Raju changes from a fast- talking tourist guide to a saintly figure through dissolves awash with blue and yellow light spots and in the rhythmic cutting of the song He ram hamare ramachandra. Disowned by the novelist Narayan, the film has been attacked mainly for its thematic deviations, esp. the transformation of Rosie: in the novel she is a devadasi (temple dancers and prostitutes liberated by a reformist political movement leading to the Devadasi Bill in 1927 in Madras), a condition defended by orthodox historians for having preserved the South Indian classical Bharat Natyam dance tradition. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s essay ‘Once Again a Leap into the Postcolonial Banal’ (1990) addresses the irony of a novel, written originally in English and critical of that orthodoxy, itself being assimilated by the orthodox literary establishment in order to attack the film. She suggests a different version of colonial historical continuity than the one dominated by ideas of (literary, historical) authenticity. The film was a musical success with major hits such as Gaata rahe mera dil and Aaj phir jeene ki tamanana hai. A substantially altered 120’ English version (co-sc Pearl S. Buck p/d/co-sc Tad Danielewski) was released in the USA in 1965. It introduced new characters and much enlarged the role of e.g. a bitchy US television reporter played by Sheila Burghart. It also added new scenes (including a sequence in the US Embassy in Delhi). Although the Indian version has Pathe colour, the US version has US-processed Eastmancolor.
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The film is based on the novel The Guide, written by the great R. K. Narayan. Read More