Waheeda Rehman, Baby Naaz and Guru Dutt in Kaagaz ke Phool (1959)

This is often said to the be the film that marked Guru Dutt’s mental decline towards suicide, as its failure at the box office led to his refusal to direct another film. Many believe that he actually directed Sahib bibi our ghulam (1961) and Chaudhvin ka chand (1960), in which he starred, but that he did not want to be named as the director. However, this seems to have much to do with the confusion between the author, Guru Dutt, and the character he plays in this film, Suresh Sinha. A further echo of ‘real life’ was the fact that, just as the married Suresh Sinha was in love with Shanti (Waheeda Rehman), so Guru Dutt was said to be in love with his leading actress, with his marriage to playback singer Geeta Dutt breaking down. This whole feel of the film, which exposed too much about the director and the film industry, is sometimes cited to explain why the film did poorly on release but

became a classic in subsequent years. It seems more likely that the film’s dark mood was not initially appealing, but that its other qualities led to its subsequent appreciation.

The film traces the fall of the film director, Sinha, who, as the maker of Devdas, is presumably loosely based on P. C. Barua. His decline is both personal and professional, ending in his death in his director’s chair. Kaagaz ke phool is an unusual film, in that the hero’s marriage has broken down beyond repair. He is separated from his wife, Bina (Veena), at least in part because her snobbish upper-class family look down on his work in the film industry. The relationship between the two is ambiguous. Suresh falls in love with another woman, Shanti (hired to play Paro in the film), who is presented as pure and good. While she seems willing to enter into a relationship with him, even though he is married, his daughter from his first marriage persuades her that this relationship is damaging his family. When she withdraws from the film world to take solace in teaching, Suresh falls into a downward spiral of alcoholism and self-hatred, and his professional life collapses.

It is said that Sahir Ludhianvi had fallen out with S. D. Burman after they both worked on Guru Dutt’s Pyaasa, so the pairing could not be repeated. The lyrics of Kaifi Azmi include some happy numbers, but its main songs foreground the betrayal of relationships (‘Dekhi zamaane ki yaari’) and the impermanence of the self and of love (‘Wagt ne kiya’).

The first Indian film to be shot in CinemaScope, it is notable, like most of Guru Dutt’s films, for the superb black-and-white photography of V. K. Murthy. The use of lighting and shots creates an atmosphere of beauty, half in love with death, that is very much in the Romantic tradition as well as that of Urdu poetry.

Cast and Production Credits

Year – 1959, Genre – Drama, Country – India, Language – Hindi, Producer – Guru Dutt Films, Director – Guru Dutt, Music Director – S. D. Burman, Cast – Waheeda Rehman, Naaz, Johnny Walker, Mahesh Kaul, Veena, Minoo Mumtaz, Mehmood, Pratima Devi, Nilopher, Sheela Vaz, Bikram Kapoor, Mohan Choti, Tony Walker, Tuntun, Guru Dutt

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