Blast From the Past: Pyaasa (1957)


No discussion on Indian cinema is complete without the mention of Guru Dutt’s timeless classic ‘Pyaasa’. Starring Waheeda Rehman and Guru Dutt in key roles, the film is about the life of a struggling poet, Vijay, as he tries to make sense of a world which is steeped in greed and selfishness.

I watched the film for the first time yesterday and I was thrilled to discover that the film has a copyright angle to it!

[Warning: Spoiler ahead!]

After Vijay’s supposed death, Gulabo (Waheeda Rehman) approaches Mina’s husband to publish Vijay’s ‘nazms’. Gulabo does not want any royalty, she simply wants the nazms to be published in the hope that the world finally recognizes the worth of Vijay’s works. As luck would have it, Vijay’s poems, which were never appreciated during his lifetime, become a runaway success once they are published.

The film has a scene where Vijay’s brothers (who had banished the poet from their house when he was alive) approach the publisher asking for a share in the profits of Vijay’s work; what they were essentially seeking were royalties for the poems. It bears noting that this was an era when the present copyright legislation did not exist.

Guru Dutt was, through the film and its many characters, trying to highlight the hypocrisy of a world where familial ties are broken and forged and loyalties swapped based on how materially successful a person is, a theme captured in these lyrics from one of the songs in the film:

“Yeh mehlon, yeh takhton, yeh taajon ki duniya
Yeh insaan ke dushman samaajon ki duniya
Yeh daulat key bhookhey rawajon ki duniya
Yeh duniya agar mil bhi jaaye to kya hai
Yeh duniya agar mil bhi jaaye to kya hai”

Coincidentally, Pyaasa was released in 1957, the year in which the present copyright legislation in India, i.e., The Copyright Act, 1957 was passed. Before the 1957 Act, copyright law in India was governed according to the provisions of Indian Copyright Act, 1914; the 1914 Act was largely based on U.K. Copyright Act, 1911.

It would also be of interest to our readers to note that Sar Jo Tera Chakraye’, a popular song from Pyaasa composed by R.D. Burman is based on a tune from the British movie ‘Harry Black’.

Another masterpiece made by Guru Dutt is Sahib, Biwi Aur Ghulam (1962). A film titled ‘Sahib, Biwi Aur Gangster’ directed by Tigmanshu Dhulia was released in 2011 and later a sequel to the 2011 film was released in 2013. Although Tigmanshu Dhulia’s films were not related to Guru Dutt’s film in any manner, I wonder if it would have been possible to restrain the producers of the 2011 and 2013 films on the ground that the title of their films was deceptively similar to the 1962 film; however, that is a question to be pondered another day.

[This post is part of SpicyIP’s series on Blast From the Past where we scour interesting IP related trivia from yesteryears. You can read some of our earlier posts on IP in Celluloid here and here, and if you know any interesting IP trivia, do let us know.]

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2 thoughts on “Blast From the Past: Pyaasa (1957)”

  1. Dear Devika,

    It is settled law that there is no copyright in respect of movie titles.

    However, if the movie title has acquired secondary meaning it is protected under the Trade Marks Act.

    In Kanungo Media (P) Ltd. vs. RGV Film Factory and Ors., 2007 (34) PTC 591 (Del), the High Court of Delhi has held that the title of a ‘work’ under the Copyright Act is not entitled to protection under copyright law.

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