Many years back, as a child I saw on television an image that stuck to my mind forever. An old man runs out of a studio and a woman, seemingly his lover, runs behind him. As she steps out of the studio, she is mobbed by fans for her autograph and the man looks at the crowd surrounding her from a distance and walks away into anonymity. The image kept haunting me. More than a decade later, I came to know that it was a scene from Guru Dutt’s Kaagaz ke Phool. This year, Kaagaz ke Phool completed fifty years of its artistic glory.
When it was released in 1959, the critics and the audience unanimously rejected the movie. On the day of the primiere, when Guru Dutt walked into the hall, he saw the reaction and knew that his piece of heart has been outrightly thrown out of the window. In an interview later, he said “The movie was good in patches. It was too slow and went over the head of the audience”. Kaagaz ke Phool was Guru Dutt’s autobiographical venture, an extension of his own life. He could never really come to terms to the fact that the movie flopped. The story of a successful director Suresh Sinha, who seeks comfort in a relationship with his actress Shanti, to seek succour from his tattered domestic life seemed to mirror his own relationship with Waheeda Rehman and his uneasy marriage with Geeta Dutt. In the later half of the movie, Shanti becomes a superstar while Suresh’s career slides down and many years later, he is reduced to playing an extra in other movies to make his ends meet. One day, Suresh is found dead on the director’s chair in the studio he once ruled, unknown and unlamented, save by a studio worker who recognises him.
Though many feel that this movie was an extension of his own life, there are more chances that Guru Dutt was inspired by the life of his mentor Gyan Mukherjee, to whom Pyaasa was dedicated. Mukherjee, the director of the blockbuster Kismet (1943), didn’t meet with such success later in his career and slipped into obscurity.
So much has been written about Kaagaz Ke Phool and its maker and yet, so much remains to be discovered. What is the most outstanding feature of this movie besides being Guru Dutt’s own story? Perhaps, it is the visual symbolism, laced with the haunting music of S.D.Burman and stunning photography of V.K.Murthy. S.D.burman does not create much impact through his songs apart from Waqt ne Kiya and Dekhi Zamaane ki yaari. But the background score augments the element of lyricism which Guru Dutt intends to serve the audience.
In the movie, Suresh, in his hey days, makes a movie titled Devdas and is in search of Paro for his movie. The search ends with Shanti. The parallel between the lore and the life is evident. Like Paro, Shanti too displays a higher level of emotional strength than her male counterpart, though they initially seek strength from them. Later, certain factors of the society divide both of them. The striking similarity between the scene where Shanti, playing her successful innings, visits Guru Dutt in his dilapidated shack and the scene where Paro visits Devdas after her marriage to find him devastated, cannot be missed. In both the movies, there is a final meeting, which is almost missed by the lovers. It is the restrictions of a Zamindari household that stops Paro from meeting Devdas and the fans in Kaagaz ke Phool who mob Shanti for a photograph as she rushes behind Suresh. The tragedy of Devdas heavily influenced Guru Dutt in Pyaasa as well as Kaagaz ke Phool.
Posthumous fame seemed to haunt Guru Dutt. He showcases that in Pyaasa. He also talked of posthumous fame in one of his articles, drawing references to Homer, Narsi Mehta besides many painters of Europe. Kaagaz ke Phool saw a revival in the 1980s, when it was released in Germany and France. Soon, it caught the attention of the critics and cinema-lovers and was hailed as a classic worldwide. Two decades after his death, Guru Dutt too got his name mentioned in the same breath as other greats of cinema like Bimal Roy, Raj Kapoor and Mehboob Khan. His talk of posthumous fame turned out to be prophetic.
It is not that Kaagaz ke Phool was without flaws. The movie somewhere is drenched in self-pity and Guru Dutt takes the idea of ‘the fall of a star’ too personally and seriously. The character of Johny Walker seems cut off and forced for the sake of providing some comic relief. Like Devdas, the character of Suresh does not inspire, quite unlike the protagonist of Pyaasa, with whom the viewers are able to relate and in whom they see a relfection of their own thoughts. But in spite of all these flaws, Kaagaz ke Phool was the finest comment on the film world to come from a film-maker.
It has been 45 years since Guru Dutt left this world. On October 10, 1964, Guru took an overdose of sleeping pills and committed suicide. The night before he was found dead, he had a long talk with Abrar Alvi, at the end of which he said “I think I want to die”. Abrar pushed aside this final comment away as of mind as one of his usual expressions of depressive thoughts. It was his third and final attempt.
Guru Dutt was an artist’s artist. He successfully touched upon most of the popular genres of the day – crime thrillers, suspense dramas, comedies, period films, tragedy, musicals and biopics. No other film-maker perhaps put the feelings of a creative person as effectively and beautifully on screen as he did. The test of time, is difficult to pass and very few have done it. Guru Dutt is one of them. He remains a filmmaker, who made films in all genres. The work of the legend resounds in the lines of a song from this movie – Daur yeh chalta rahe, rang uchalta rahe, roop machalta rahe, Jaam badalta rahe!
(This article was published in the Saturday supplement of The New Indian Express in 2009)