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Why did The Guide fail in English?

A landmark in Hindi cinema, Chetan Anand's The Guide didn't fare that well in the English language. Filmed in the language of the book it was based on, all it evoked was a scathing review from its creator, RK Narayan.

Shriram Iyengar

Universally acknowledged as one of the most important films in Indian cinema history, Chetan Anand's 'The Guide' is a stylish retelling of RK Narayan's fabulist tale about the redemption of a wayward tour guide. The Hindi version starring Dev Anand and Waheeda Rehman remains one of the biggest hits of the pair and stands alongside epics like Mughal-e-Azam and Pyaasa in terms of its film importance. The conception of the film occurred on the faraway shores of Hollywood. RK Narayan's book had already found a massive fanbase outside India. Supported by writers like Graham Greene and John Updike, he was on the bestseller list. It is no coincidence that the sharp eyes of Dev Anand came upon the book during his visit to America.

After a few phone calls, the author reluctantly agreed to have his story filmed. Dev Anand planned to use the film as his vehicle to enter international waters. Ambitious in his planning, he roped in the celebrated author, Pearl.S.Buck, to pen the screenplay for the film. It was to be directed by Ted Danielewski, whose only claim to fame was directing a cinematic version of Jean-Paul Sartre's existentialist drama 'No Exit'. Initially, Dev Anand tried to rope in his elder brother, Chetan Anand, to helm both versions of the film. Chetan refused because Indian audiences would never accept a hero who is an adulterer, philanderer and a liar pretending to be a saint. Twice Dev Anand tried, and failed on both times.

The film was not dubbed, as is mistakenly believed, in English. Its English script was one of the prime reasons Chetan Anand nominated Priya Rajvansh as the lead. Dev Anand put down his foot and suggested Waheeda Rehman for both versions of the film. It could be argued that filming a book in the very language that it was written is simpler, than in any other language. However, RK Narayan's The Guide is a novel that depended more on its cultural milieu than the language. Like Narayan famously said about his imaginary town of Malgudi 'If it were a real town, it would be a nuisance.' Among the many things that went wrong with the English version of the film, one key  element was the director and the script writer's inability to translate the emotive language of RK Narayan's hero. Where Vijay Anand, who later stepped in for Chetan Anand, brought out the humanism of the characters in their moments of weakness, Tad Danielewski's film had no such emotional bond. The film began with Rosie and Marco stepping out of the train at Malgudi, and in a few moments, the montage cut to Rosie in bed with Marco. Another disappointing factor was the absence of any songs. Sadly, there is no evidence of the 120-minute film anywhere on DVDs or the internet, except for short trailers that feature Dev Anand and Waheeda Rehman.


The failure of the English version forced Dev Anand to rethink the strategy of the film. RK Narayan, who was part of the advisory team, was unhappy with the way it was going. Writers Hasrat Jaipuri and Shailendra were roped in for the songs while SD Burman came in to add music. In the end, the Hindi version of 'The Guide' earned the trifecta of Best Film, Best Actor and Best Actress at the 14th Filmfare awards. It mattered little that RK Narayan never really liked either version.