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Copyright 2004




Kaagaz Ke Phool: Paper flower

Guru Dutt was much misunderstood, both in life and in death. When he committed suicide in 1964, the world had certainly seen his innumerable films, even enjoyed them, but seldom appreciated them. Critics panned his work, and he was dubbed a failure, perhaps a strong reason why he did not wish to see his 40th birthday.

But about a decade and half later, the same world realised, with pangs of guilt and sorrow, what a great artist Dutt really had been. His movies were released in theatres at home and abroad, and they revealed that Dutt made a kind of cinema that was way ahead of his times.

Call them muted melodrama or what you may, Dutt's creations had a rare style which captured with ease both the tragic and the comic. Their emotional depth was so intense - magnified even more by his black and white images - that no frame left anyone unmoved.

Dutt's ability to picture societal conflict and dilemma, sometimes through his extraordinary women characters (for instance, Waheeda Rehman, and has anybody else ever made her so beautiful and precious and utterly strong ?), turned the screen into a spectacular canvas. Yet, the spectacle never became boisterous; it remained dignified and thought-provoking.

Let us take Dutt's "Kaagaz Ke Phool" as an example. Made in 1959, it is his best known after the 1957 "Pyaasa". Often regarded as India's "Citizen Kane", "Kaagaz Ke Phool" is a strongly autobiographical fantasy and the country's first ever Cinema Scope attempt.

"Kaagaz Ke Phool" is essentially the story of a married film director (played by Dutt himself), whose fortune gets intertwined with that of an actress (Waheeda Rehman). When she withdraws from Dutt's life and career, heeding to the plea of his daughter, the director is forsaken and forgotten.

There are a few remarkable aspects about "Kaagaz ke Phool." V. K. Murthy's photography is brilliant to the point of being distracting. In fact, he was accused of spoiling the narrative. But look at the picture today, and you will realise that Murthy's cinematography is, on the contrary, greatly enriching and complimentary.

Dutt's use of space is very interesting, in the way he dramatises that which helps him and that which restricts him, between the open and the closed. It is a fine interplay whose technique was confusing some four decades ago.

Finally, "Kaagaz Ke Phool" draws fascinating parallels with its director's life. His unhappy marriage and his love for an actress he had discovered have all been reworked into the script. Even Dutt's mannerisms find a place in this celluloid piece.

But unlike the director in "Kaagaz Ke Phool," Dutt never faced real failure. Yet, he said goodbye when he was 39, a promising life ruined by excesses and, perhaps, unrequited love.

(This story/review appeared in The Hindu dated May 4 2001)

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