Why Guide’s Rosie is one of the most iconic female rebels in Hindi cinema

For the landmark film’s 52nd anniversary, we examine the character of Rosie, played by Waheeda Rehman, and how it was a pioneer film for female roles to follow.

Sonal Pandya

Since the film Guide hit theatres in 1965, there haven’t been many female characters like Rosie. Originally, a creation of RK Narayan in his notable novel, The Guide, Rosie was brought to life, literally, by Waheeda Rehman in Navketan’s landmark film, Guide. Authors and critics have called the character ‘a rebel’, one who dared to dream and actively pursued those aspirations. Once she achieved them, Rosie was unapologetic about her goal to remain unfettered and most importantly, be happy.

Dev Anand bought the rights of Narayan’s novel and the grand plan was to release the film in two languages, English and Hindi. American filmmaker Tad Danielewski was chosen to helm the English version while initially Dev’s elder brother, Chetan, was due to direct the project. But Chetan had a difference of opinion on how to approach the film and youngest brother Vijay stepped in.

The shorter English version, called The Guide, directed by Danielewski and Pultizer Prize-winning author Pearl S Buck, was panned by The New York Times movie critic, Bosley Crowther. He called the script “sluggish and uncertain” and the romance between Dev Anand and Rehman as “unconvincing”. The film has been lost to time.

RK Narayan, however, panned both the Hindi and English versions, by stating in an infamous essay, “I trained myself to give up all attempts to connect the film with the book of which I happened to be author of."

The story of Raju (the guide) who meets the dull Marco (Kishore Sahu), the archaeologist, and his vivacious wife Rosie and agrees to show them the historical caves, which Marco is researching for his work. However, Rosie wants to experience some fun and asks Raju to show her the city instead. A skilled dancer, she has to subdue this passion as her husband feels it is unacceptable.

Marco believes he has saved Rosie, a daughter of a courtesan, by marrying her. Spending time with Raju, Rosie sees that there is more to life and he helps her leave her husband. But he too exploits her as he guides her to a career as a dancer and a singer. Rosie becomes a star under the stage name, Miss Nalini. When Raju tries to forge her signature to return back some jewels to Marco, he is arrested and sentenced to two years in jail.

In the film, even though she comes to meet Raju after he is released from jail, she does not succumb to the will of the men in her life. Deepa Gahlot writes in the book, Sheroes: 25 Daring Women of Bollywood, that “Waheeda Rehman was warned that if she played Rosie in Guide (1965), she would ruin her career; no good Indian woman could be like that – leave her husband, take a lover, build a career!”

Rehman, who was not the first choice for Rosie, was determined to play her and ended up winning her first Filmfare Award for Best Actress.  In fact, the film swept the major awards at the Filmfare ceremony with additional wins for Best Film, Best Director and Best Actor.

In the interview with the daily newspaper The Hindu, Waheeda Rehman said, “A good artiste should be able to portray any kind of role. Guide is closest to my heart because Rosie was a very mature character. She is married to Marco and yet decides to go in for a live-in relationship with Raju. Many producers saw it as a negative role, a wrong step at that stage of my career and advised me not to do it, but to me a role was a role.”

Even now, more than five decades after Guide, the strong roles for actresses are scant. In the last few years, a few handful come to mind, which include Vidya Balan in Kahaani (2012), Kangana Ranaut in Queen (2014) and Deepika Padukone in Piku (2015). While these female characters live life on their own terms, they did not face as much scrutiny as Rosie did in Guide (1965).

Once she goes to live with Raju, she is ostracised by his mother, his best friends and by the neighbours in the town he resides in. It was much more revolutionary for Rosie to act the way she did in 1965 than the characters of Vidya, Rani and Piku did in their films today.

Critics and authors who have studied the film and its impact on Indian cinema have hailed Waheeda’s fearless performance as one for the times. Professor of Indian Cultures and Cinema at the University of London, Rachel Dwyer wrote in her book, 100 Bollywood Films, “I cannot think of another example of a wife singing a celebratory song (‘Aaj phir jeene’) on leaving her husband.”

This wasn’t the only film in which Waheeda Rehman took a risk. Rehman began her career working with Guru Dutt on Pyaasa (1957) and Kaagaz Ke Phool (1959) and after Guide, Rehman appeared in Teesri Kasam (1966) opposite Raj Kapoor, Khamoshi (1969) opposite the young newcomer Rajesh Khanna and Sunil Dutt’s Reshma Aur Shera (1971) where she won the National Award for Best Actress. But Guide’s Rosie and her performance will always remain as a high point in her filmography.