Kaagaz Ke Phool (1959) is the last movie bearing the name of Bollywood’s genius, Guru Dutt as the director. It’s a classic example of box office failure of an immortal masterpiece. It’s the tragic saga of a talented film director whose personal life problems led to his failure in his career and that failure further led to his personal doom, link-to-link. A vicious cycle trapped him and finally he died a calm death, not in line with his talent and heyday. It shows how cruel can this world be to the unsuccessful.
Talented and successful film director Guru Dutt’s marital life is in doldrums because of his rift with his wife and consequential distance from his beloved daughter, Baby Naaz. One rainy night, he comes across Waheeda Rehman and his connoisseur eyes pick her up as the female lead of his next movie. The classic tale of Pygmalion materializes in his life when he falls in love with her with herself too looking upon him as a father figure as well as the man in her life. However the possessive sentiments of the little daughter of Guru Dutt towards him repulse Waheeda from him and she sacrifices her love for the sake of the father-daughter relationship. However this repulsion of her does not go well with Guru’s work and the loss of interest in work strengthens the vicious cycle of failure-disinterest-failure. He loses his glory, his social respect, his wealth and his relationships; everything. Destiny leads him to meet his death in his own studio on the director’s chair but this death is no better than that of a stray dog.
Guru Dutt was a real genius who was quite well-versed with the power of the cine-medium in which the society is the real villain, not any individual. He first demonstrated it in Pyaasa (1957) and thereafter in Kaagaz Ke Phool. After Pyaasa, he once again underscored the selfishness of the world which bows only before the successful and ignores all the virtues and merits of the unsuccessful. Like Guru Dutt’s character in the movie, I have also felt through my life-experiences that the world considers success as a synonym for virtue and does not consider an unsuccessful person worthy of any respect or even love. The successful one finds the world at his feet while the unsuccessful one is discarded in his entirety. Through this review, I question all and sundry – is this world meant only for the successful ? Do unsuccessful ones not have a right to live with dignity and do they not deserve love as human-beings and recognition for their virtues ?
Guru Dutt seems to have taken a leaf out of the Hollywood movie – Citizen Kane while making Kaagaz Ke Phool. However this movie is by all means his original and bears the clear stamp of his vision. In several aspects of cinema, it was much ahead of its time. The only minus points of the movie are its slow pace and boredom at places as well as the portrayal of Guru Dutt’s in-laws and some filmwaalas as caricatures. However these small minus points cannot snatch the flare of a masterpiece from this movie.
Kaagaz Ke Phool discusses human relationships (especially male-female) with subtlety and in depth. Guru Dutt’s dialogue to Waheeda Rehman – Hum Ek Doosre Ko Kabhi Ghalat Nahin Samajh Sakte (we can never misunderstand each other) and the question – Kuchh Log Ek Doosre Ko Itna Achchhee Tarah Kaise Samajh Lete Hain (how do some people understand one another so well ?) simply touched the bottom of my heart. Yes, sometimes a husband and his wife are not able to understand each other even after spending together the period of a lifetime and sometimes two persons are able to understand each other perfectly in just one meeting or after a few meetings. How wavelengths of two people match so perfectly ? It’s the question that Guru Dutt asked Waheeda which is an unresolved mystery in male-female relationships.
The climax of the movie is unorthodox, unexpected, bold and moving. Perhaps Guru Dutt forsaw his own future through the painful end of his protagonist in this movie. He committed suicide at the tender age of 39 years. The mythical reasons discussed behind this mysterious act of himself were perhaps the box office failure of this movie and the intricacies in his personal life which has been said to be a triangle of himself, his singer wife, Geeta and his (like Pygmalion) piece of art – Waheeda. The truth will perhaps never come out but there is vivid similarity between this movie and Guru Dutt’s own life.
The lyrics of the great Shaayar Kaifi Aazmi, composed by Sachin Dev Burman and sung by Guru’s wife, Geeta Dutt (Roy) and Mohammed Rafi are immortal, especially Dekhi Zamaane Ki Yaari (Rafi) and Waqt Ne Kiya Kaya Haseen Sitam (Geeta). Waqt Ne Kiya takes the art to the dizzy heights with the words containing deep meaning and the highly imaginative cinematography of V.K. Murthy with the reflection of emotions and relations through lights and shadows.
Cinematographer V.K. Murthy has done an outstanding job in Kaagaz Ke Phool. Other than the marvellous work in the song – Waqt Ne Kiya, in general also, he has delivered a rare display of cinematographic excellence, perhaps the best ever in a black and white Indian movie. He has ably captured the decline of the studio system in Bollywood during the fifties.
As far as the performances are concerned, we need to discuss only those of Guru Dutt himself and Waheeda Rehman. Their on-screen chemistry itself is enough to give an illusion of their (supposed) off-screen relationship. The classic display of subtle emotions just through facial expressions (even without any dialogue) categorizes the duo as great artists. No theatricals at all. A rare demonstration of underplay.
Kaagaz Ke Phool (paper flowers) is an imperfect movie. However its greatness lies perhaps in its imperfection only. It’s a touching saga which could not be told properly, a magnificent idol which could not be given the finishing touches, a beautiful painting which could not be completed, a melodious song which could not be sung with musical grammer. Just like the immortal Mona Lisa sans her eyebrows.
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