The plot of the film revolves around Vijay (Guru Dutt), a poet. His failure to establish himself as a successful poet earns the wrath of his family, especially his brothers. Unable to bear the disturbance at home Vijay stays away. He comes across a prostitute (Waheeda Rehman) on the streets and the latter falls in love with him. His ex girlfriend, Meena (Mala Sinha) is married to a rich publisher (Rehman). This man hires Vijay to find out more about his wife and him.
While trying to save a beggar from a running train Vijay meets with an accident. Since his coat was lying with the beggar he is mistakenly considered dead. Gulabo approaches Ghosh, the publisher, to publish Vijay's poems. He agrees, as he would make a good living by publishing them. However Vijay is very much alive but he is refused to be recognised by either Ghosh or Shyam, Vijay's close friend. He is admitted to a mental asylum as he insists to be Vijay. Even his family snatches away their support as they had been paid by Ghosh to keep their mouth shut. With help from his friend Abdul Sattar (Johnny Walker) he escapes from the mental asylum and reaches the memorial service. Vijay is sick of all the hypocrisy and hides his identity to leave with Gulabo to start afresh.
Pyaasa is one film that Guru Dutt has always desired to make. It is in Pyaasa where one sees Guru Dutt surpass the ordinary. In a world of formula films the great director leaves his footprints behind with the film as Vijay leaves his mark with his poetry. Initially the film was named 'Kashmakash' and the male lead was to be a painter. But later he changed it. The plot was always there with him but the tarry made the film better as by then he too was a seasoned director and actor. In fact Pyaasa is considered one of the landmark films in Indian cinema.
Several scenes in Pyaasa have become impressionistic images. One instance would be the keertan, 'Aaj Sajan Mohe Ang Lagalo.' It is a Bengali devotional song where the baul singers perform and in a way the song depicts Gulabo's emotion for Vijay. Another memorable sequence is at the end of the film when she finds the poet at her doorstep. Their romantic relationship is given a spiritual dimension by the director.
The performances delivered by the cast were undoubtedly superb. Pyaasa till date remains one of the best films of Waheeda Rehman. She is simply superb in the role of prostitute who is besotted with the poet. Mala Sinha's role too is a well etched out one and she does justice to it. Pyaasa changed the course of Rehman's career. What he needed at that time was a hit and Pyaasa granted his wish. His effortless portrayal of a selfish, vain and opportunist press baron was truly appreciated. Guru Dutt in the role of Vijay was fine too. The dialogues by Abrar Alvi added more zest to his character.
The music of Pyaasa was composed by SD Burman. It is one of those rare films where all the songs were a hit. From the funny 'Sar jo Tera Chakraaye' (Mohammed Rafi) to the soul rendering 'Jane Who Kaise Log The' (Hemanta Mukherjee), all the songs of Pyaasa were runaway hits. these songs are counted as classics of Bollywood music.
Other soundtracks of Pyaasa were Jinhe Naaz Hai Hind (Mohammed Rafi), Yeh Duniya Agar Mil Bhi Jaaye To Kya Hai (Mohammed Rafi), Jaane Kya Tune Kahi (Geeta Dutt), Aaj Sajan Mohe Ang Laga Lo (Geeta Dutt), Yeh Mehlon Yeh Thakhton and Hum Aapki Aankhon Mein.