Guide spelled commercial success and acclaim for both the novelist and the movie-maker in different ways. It is acknowledged as the best novel and best movie respectively for R K Narayan and Dev Anand by the masses though discerning reader and viewers may choose to disagree with the verdict.
It led to an unseemly quarrel between the writer and the actor but creative licence is very much part of the medium. Dev Anand was intent on making a commercial money-spinner and so he made changes that he deemed fit to address the taste of his audience.
But the schism makes for an interesting experience for a person who decides to read the novel and watch the film. Whether one is an admirer of Narayan or Dev Anand or neither or both, the experiment is interesting. I watched the movie before reading the novel but since I am an avid Narayan fan, I agree that the novel was richer in characterization and the film does appear to be a trivial bauble though we cannot but admire its various aspects including the songs, music and choreography.
Narayan returns to the familiar setting of Malgudi. Raju is a ‘happy-go-lucky’ character who owns a small shop at the Railway Station and he works as a ‘Guide’ to the people who happen to visit the town. His gift of gab helps me earn his living and have fun entertaining people. The story takes a fateful turn when Marco, an archaeologist, comes to town along with his neglected wife, Rosie. Raju takes a shine to the couple and occupies himself in helping them to the point of neglecting his business.
Rosie finds welcome relief in his attentions as she has always yearned for the freedom of being a dancer. Marco has snuffled her ambitions and sets about his usual business. Raju and Rosie get attracted to each other and eventually Marco gets to know about the liaison. He sends Raju packing but to his dismay Rosie refuses to reconcile to play the role of a bored housewife. She walks out on him and seeks help from Raju.
Raju’s mother doesn’t approve of this and Raju earns the scorn of all his well wishers but he is simply besotted by Rosie. Undeterred he toils to establish Rosie as a famous dancer and ‘guide’ her to stardom. Things don’t remain hunky-dory for long, Marco attempts to contact Rosie and Raju pre-empts the meeting as he is insecure about them reconciling. He ends up forging Rosie’s signature and in the process lands up in jail for 2 years. Rosie is perplexed by his behavior and is not happy about the turn of events.
Post his early release, Raju wanders about and gets mistaken to be a Swami i.e. a spiritual ‘guide’. (Shades of what happened to Chandran in Bachelor of Arts , Margayya in The Financial Expert and Jagan in Vendor of Sweets – Narayan has often used spiritual retreat as a device in his story). His way with words rescues him again in a manner of speaking and creates a legend of bhakti around his persona.
Raju is benumbed by his experience and resigns to his fate. Eventually circumstances goad him into doing a long fast to help the villagers bearing the brunt of a relentless drought. Unlike the movie, Narayan chose to leave the story open-ended wherein Raju seems to collapse from exhaustion and finally the Rain Gods seem to be in a mood to oblige the common man.
The novel brought rich acclaim to Narayan. It became the first winner in English of the ‘Sahitya Akademi Award’ in 1960 and of course it formed the basis of Dev Anand’s eponymous evergreen hit Hindi movie with Dev Anand as ‘Raju Guide’ and Waheeda Rahman as Rosie.