Kaagaz Ke Phool

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(Paper Flowers)

India, 1959

Director: Guru Dutt

Production: Guru Dutt Films Pvt. Ltd.; colour, 35mm; CinemaScope (first Indian CinemaScope production); running time: 150 minutes.

Producer: Guru Dutt; screenplay and dialogue: Abrar Alvi; photography: V. K. Murthy; editor: Y. G. Chauhan; art director: M. R. Achrekar; sound: S. V. Rama; music: S. D. Burman; songs: Kaifi Azmi; costumes: Bhanumati.

Cast: Baby Naaz (Pammy); Venna (Bina); Mahesh Kaul (Father-inlaw); Waheeda Rehman (Shanti); Guru Dutt (Suresh Sinha); Johnny Walker (Bina's brother-in-law); Minoo Mumtaz; Pratima Devi; Niloufer; Sulochana; Sheila Vaz; Bikram Kapoor; Mehmood; Mohan Choti; Haroun; Munshi Munaqqa; V. Ratra; Tony Walker; Tun Tun.



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Rangoonwala, Firoze, Guru Dutt 1925–1965: A Monograph, Poona, 1973.

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Banerjee, Shampa, Profiles: Five Film-makers from India: V.Shantaram, Raj Kapoor, Mrinal Sen, Guru Dutt, Ritwik Ghatak, New Delhi, 1985.

Kabir, Nasreen M., Guru Dutt: A Life in Cinema, New York, 1996, 1998.


Padukone, Vasanthi, "My Son Gurudutt," in Imprint, April 1979.

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25–26, 1993.

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* * *

Guru Dutt's tour de force, Kaagaz Ke Phool, is a tale of a movie director who reflects on his life. Unhappily married to Bina, mainly because her elitist, colonial family cannot reconcile themselves to his career in the degraded movie industry, Suresh Sinha falls in love with a young orphaned woman, Shanti. He makes her into a famous movie star, and gossip journals suggest a romantic liaison between the two. Sinha's daughter Pammy, who believes that her parents can reconcile their differences if Shanti were to quit films, gets Shanti to promise to disappear from Sinha's life. However, her disappearance only leads to a rapid decline in Sinha's fortunes. Refusing to face Shanti in his impoverished condition, Sinha eventually dies sitting on the director's chair in a gigantic, womb-like studio interior.

The plot is often seen as Dutt's autobiography, and to some extent derives its astonishing power in the director/lead star's extraordinary impersonation of the tragic hero, rejected as it were by fate itself—as suggested in the opening musical refrain (Waqt hai meharbaan) and repeated throughout the film. The persona continues from Dutt's previous work, Pyaasa, where he plays a romantic poet exiled from the world and believed dead while his oppressors celebrate his greatness.

Such an idiom—of the romantic melodrama—was well established especially in the Hindi cinema when the film was made. Critics generally accept that the idiom, which I have elsewhere (1993) called the "epic melodrama," emerged in the context of Indian nationalism, especially as the utopian dimension of the freedom struggle gave way to a coercive state, corruption, mass culture, and to the despair that Dutt, better than any other filmmaker, expresses in Pyaasa with his lines: "This land of castles, thrones and crowns/ . . . /Burn this land/Blow it away/Remove it from my sight" (Yeh mehlon ki duniya). To a great extent Dutt, as actor, comes in line with the previous male stars reflecting this infantile Oedipal longing, with images built up over a body of work: Dilip Kumar (e.g. in Deedar, 1951, where he blinds himself), Raj Kapoor, the outcast of modern society. Kaagaz Ke Phool in fact refers directly to what is considered by some as the origin of this romantic stereotype: Devdas, a Saratchandra literary character filmed by P. C. Barua with K. L. Saigal in 1935, and then by Bimal Roy with Dilip Kumar in 1955. The fictional Suresh Sinha is in fact directing a Devdas version, and is desperately looking for an ideal Paro when he chances upon Shanti.

Kaagaz Ke Phool however, took that tradition of romantic melodrama onto a wholly new, and unprecedented plane, and to see how it did so, we need only to continue with the sequence of how Sinha discovers Shanti. He has been rejected by his wife and by his haughty father-in-law, and stands beneath a tree to shelter himself from the rain. Shanti, standing next to him and shivering in the cold, receives a gift of his overcoat, and later, arrives on his film set to return that coat. She intrudes onto Sinha's frame, and in an extraordinary follow-up, is seen in close-up in the director's editing room where he realizes that she is the star he is waiting for.

That sequence spins throughout the film a whole dimension of cinematic space, as shown by the two extraordinary and justly celebrated scenes of Sinha and Shanti standing apart in a cavernous studio, lit centrally by a straightforward metaphoric beam, as their disembodied spirits emerge and unite; and at the end when the director dies in that very space. It extends into one of the most sophisticated crane movements in what was India's first full CinemaScope film, constantly dramatizing the conflict between open and constricted spaces, spaces controlled by the director and spaces constraining him, spaces that he can enter and those from which he is excluded.

It also extends into the poet Kaifi Azmi's remarkable songs, set to music by Burman and picturized in an unprecedentedly new idiom by Dutt. The best known is of course the Waqt hai meharbaan which resurfaces, e.g. when the director, reduced to being an extra on a movie set, faces a giant stone eagle, and then escapes from Shanti even as nature generates a storm of protest all around him. The songs, especially, evoke something like a Sufi idiom, of the tragedy of unreachable, unattainable desire, and in the process also rescue the film from the sentimentalism that afflicts several other filmmakers working in the idiom of romantic melodrama—notably Kidar Sharma.

The film, it might be added, was a commercial failure when it was first released, prompting Dutt to not sign his future productions. Over the years it has, however, become something of a cult movie, notably for its songs and their picturization.

—Ashish Rajadhyaksha