Kaagaz Ke Phool (1959)

The title song to this film tells us not to sit in a garden comprising kaagaz ke phool (paper flowers). But if viewing films is like walking through gardens, this one directed by and starring Guru Dutt is well worth walking through despite having more thorns than flowers. In what has to be one of the earlier films reflecting on the film fraternity, its artistic prowess, thoughtfulness, and purposefulness, when placed in the context of the era in which it was released and from among the ones I have consumed, are rivaled only by Guru Dutt's 1957 wonder, Pyaasa.

The flashback that the film essentially is, delivers a glimpse into the life of a renowned film director Suresh Sinha (Guru Dutt). Suresh and his wife divorce partly because of his in-laws' apathy to films and filmmaking. He has extremely limited access to his daughter Pammi, who plays a critical role later in the film, when an orphaned Shanti (Waheeda Rehman) forays into his life. Suresh and Shanti enjoy tremendous success with his next film (fittingly, Devdas), in which he casts her as Paro, propelling her to stardom. Decisions on their togetherness follow, initiated primarily by Shanti, who suspends her career for reasons you must discover with your viewing.

This leads to Suresh losing control of his career, until he has a decision to make when Shanti offers to use her leverage to his benefit upon her return. Will he accept? Where will his decision lead him? And how will perceptions of his art continue to impact his life? Watch Kaagaz Ke Phool to discover. The outcome will most certainly leave you thinking, as will some tremendous imagery that requires no accompanying dialogue, with not a shadow out of place, and not a light used in excess.

It's hardly all serious, though. Seldom can be when Rocky (Johnny Walker) is around! And look who has the upper hand (pun intended) in this handshake with Dr. Singh (Minoo Mumtaz)!

Aside: So this is the second film in which I've really enjoyed Minoo Mumtaz's performance, the first being a guest appearance in Naya Daur (1957). If you have any specific recommendations (of films and songs), do let me know.

Paper flowers symbolize a lot more than a title would ordinarily suggest. At the surface, they address how fragile human relationships are. Dig deeper, and they present a valid viewpoint which equates the exploitation of vulnerabilities in relationships to selfish tendencies inherent in being human. There is an obvious correlation to the challenges that lie in pursuit of happiness, with allusions to questions such as: What price are we willing to pay? Do we account for others' interests when making decisions (in something as trivial as choice of words to articulate thoughts)? Where do our priorities lie?

But think scalability to humanity, and the deeper meaning to the message the paper flowers carry could well be interpreted to be that being on either extreme of any scale only spells trouble (and the absolute nature of this is only applicable in its relevance to every scale). The film doesn't say this explicitly, but it doesn't need to. I think its accuracy and validity are pretty obvious.

Having said that, I am curious to learn of the viability of my thoughts (scales, two extremes to each, and that it's good to be somewhere in the middle) expressed in the previous paragraph, specifically within the scope of this film. Am I the only one who is caught between agreeing with the treatment of Suresh Sinha (with the response of the producers to his film after Devdas, for example) being sad and arguably unfair, on the one hand, but finding it difficult to feel sorry for Suresh's response to the treatment he received? To take a stance either way would initially appear straightforward, but what adds complexity to answering this is that I do not believe Suresh was insecure of his position. There's something to be said of the maturity of thought that led to his decision-making. In how it is packaged in the film, almost a rare, assured understanding of what played out around him, a resolution to not be part of it, and a willingness to accept the consequences.

Each of these are also indirectly alluded to in the brilliant title track with which the film opens. Mohammad Rafi in absolutely phenomenal form here:

The soundtrack, with music by S. D. Burman and lyrics by Kaifi Azmi, is rather good, and contains the ever-popular Waqt Ne Kiya Kya Haseen Sitam by Geeta Dutt. (A quick search on YouTube leads to this user-generated rendition of the great tune.) San San San Chali Hawaa is a fun car song by Asha Bhosle, Rafi, and Sudha Malhotra. A rather good kid song, Ek Do Teen by Geeta Dutt, is an excellent example of the wide-ranging improvisational skills of the one and the only Waheeda Rehman! I wonder if Guru Dutt ever sang this to her. (Excuse the tangent, but I love that song! :)

My huge expectations going into this film were met. I try to refrain from discussing the personal lives of our actors, but this film challenges that. I kept thinking while viewing whether Dutt was summarizing his experiences and rivalries within the film industry. If you are aware of any fact-based sources of information that would help answer this question (with specific mention of the film), please share the references. In any case, Kaagaz Ke Phool excels where it matters, and for that, I think it's well worth checking out when you're in the mood for some quality cinema that is best consumed in a quiet setting that serves as an incubator for reflection.

Movie rating: 4.5/5 (Excellent!)
Pyaasa is a more complete product, but that it is used in the same sentence as Kaagaz Ke Phool is compliment enough for the latter.

My classification: PG

Music rating: 4/5
Two outstanding tracks in a surprisingly pleasant soundtrack which is well-integrated in the film.


Darshit said...

Remember we had convo about how it is tough for me to put such a classic into words? I still am trying to find what to write about this masterpiece. And you have done great job. Interestingly your first screencap is exactly the same what i capped from the movie ! Perfectly said about lights and shadow. The things i love in b/w movies. And the legendary song, Waqt ne kiya...OMG, the best use of lights ever. And so are the leads. Best wud b understatement. Loved 'bheegi bhaagi' Waheeda ji. (no pic of her? ! Put rainy one) and satirical track of Johnny walker was fun !

Pankaj said...

This is a wonderful movie. Definitely an ACE in all departments. I think, Guru Dutt portrayed his personal emotions via the movie.

bollyviewer said...

"surprisingly pleasant soundtrack" - why "surprising"? Didnt you expect a film of that vintage, and a Guru Dutt productions at that, to have excellent music?

For Minoo Mumtaz, check out Black Cat - she plays the lead with Balraj Sahni, and Johnny Walker has a very substantial role as well.

theBollywoodFan said...

Darshit: Guru Dutt is one director who's black and white films I'll gladly prefer over a colorized version, although imagine this film in color, and all the possibilities! Waheeda Rehman...sprightly as always! I certainly remember our conversation, but I don't think you're being fair to yourself, buddy!

Pankaj: There's got to be some truth to that. I don't think, for example, that the inclusion of a successful 'Devdas' was a coincidence. Ironic when one sees the films all these years later. Bollywood has always been more fascinated by a Devdas, but this guy Suresh Sinha in this film certainly had more control of himself (although still self-defeating), which makes him much less of a loser.

Bollyviewer: I did expect the film to have a really good soundtrack, so the quality wasn't much of a surprise. What was a surprise was how many songs of a pleasant tone were included in the soundtrack, with more happy than sad songs (four to two, if I recall correctly). I didn't expect that ratio given the theme, but again, was probably influenced by Pyaasa (how could one not be?) in forming expectations.

Thanks for the note on Black Cat. As you can tell, I've been bad following up since you wrote about it, but a new-found appreciation for Minoo Mumtaz will most certainly lead me to a film with her in a lead role!

Bhargav Saikia said...

I haven't watched this one but the title sounds brilliant and also I've read in many articles that the photography is flawless. And of course, Waqt Ne Kiya Kya Haseen Sitam is iconic.

theBollywoodFan said...

I think you'll like it, Bhargav. The title is fitting, and its usage in the music even more so. The cinematography is especially quite remarkable, what you've heard is correct! Cheers.

Richard S. said...

This is a fine film and you've done another good writeup here!

Regarding recommendations of Minoo Mumtaz... Probably the best collection of Minoo Mumtaz clips on YouTube belongs to Tommydan1. Try starting here:


If you haven't seen it yet, you would surely love the song that she does with Madhubala in Insaan Jaag Utha:


My other favorites by her include the mujra that she does in Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam (another lighter moment in a (very, very) heavy film), her dance at the beginning of C.I.D. (which I know you saw), and the song that she does with her brother Mehmood in Howrah Bridge.

I also think she was fun to watch in Yahudi, and I recall (though less vividly) that she had some good moments in Payal. (Payal really belongs to Padmini and Baby Naaz - who's pretty good in this film too.)

Anu said...

No words would be enough to do justice to this magnificent film or what I felt while watching this film...

As Darshit has very rightly said, it's hard to describe a classic (especially of the ranks of Kaagaz Ke Phool) in words.

The performances, the music, the use of light and shadows in the film... - everything is iconic and leaves an indelible impression on the viewer.

I feel too small to write anything in description of Guru Dutt or Waheeda Rehman. They're legends in truest sense of the word.

I must mention Geeta Dutt. She simply sailed through the song "Waqt Ne Kiya Kya Haseen sitam". She sang it so effortlessly! Her voice has a unique inherent quality to it...

The artistes of that era stand in a league of their own. Their dedication to their craft is unmatched (especially in comparison to "stars" of the modern era).

veracious said...

Been a long while since I watched this .. it was probably the second Guru Dutt film I saw, and I really enjoyed it, but boy was it tragic. Hence I can't really recall whether it evoked some philosophical thoughts in me, about the name 'paper flowers' or anything. There's something pretty simple about Guru Dutt's tragic artist hero characters - and I remember thinking about his own real life fate sent chills down my spine during this movie - but maybe that's why it works. The soulful artist might not be the most sympathetic of heroes but you still live with him for the movie's running time...

memsaab said...

Nasreen Munni Kabir has written an excellent biography of Guru Dutt, and as I recall she does talk at length about how autobiographical this film was for him. In any case if you are a fan of his it's well worth checking out :-)

theBollywoodFan said...

Richard: Thank you for the links! I'll definitely view that channel soon. And can it get any better than Madhubala and M. Mumtaz? Just made my day 8) I missed identifying the latter in C.I.D. and Howrah Bridge, which means I must revisit the songs. And I need to get Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam any way, this will only speed up the purchase :) Thank you again!

Anu: Agreed on everything you've said. It's easy for us to write and rate movies in our arrogance, but little can add or take away from something as magnificent as Kaagaz Ke Phool. (Most movies, really; there's a reason they're making the films and we're viewing them!) Then there are films that test this sentiment. I know for a fact, for example, that I can at least write a movie that's better than a Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi! =)

theBollywoodFan said...

Veracious: Good point, and you're probably right about the correlation with Dutt's life contributing to the viewing experience. Have you seen Pyaasa? A fun film he did was Mr. and Mrs. 55 opposite Madhubala, which I really enjoyed as well.

Memsaab: Thank you! And it's available on Amazon! :) I know I'm a big fan of Guru Dutt the actor and filmmaker, not sure I know enough yet to know whether I'm a fan of the person. The book will help!

bollywooddeewana said...

I'm yet to dissolve myself fully into Guru-ji's work the geniuses at moserbaer have a 6 pack Guru Dutt dvd i can't wait to get my hands on

Now some Trivia for you, i once heard Amitabh Bachchan say Waqt ne kiya is one of his all time fave songs

theBollywoodFan said...

That set of DVDs is absolutely worth getting, so it's great you're looking forward to it (wouldn't think twice)! I think you'll like his films, and some of those (haven't seen them all) are perfect to get a better understanding of his art. And that's an interesting bit from Amitabh, thanks for sharing!

theBollywoodFan said...

While on troubled celebrities, how unreal is Michael Jackson's passing? Never figured him out, but I know I'm among a generation of those who grew up listening to and really enjoying his fantastic music, and that's where he will be missed most, of course.

memsaab said...

I just watched a Dara Singh film (Faulad) with Minoo in a fairly good role. I love the music from it (GS Kohli). Here's one picturized on her:


theBollywoodFan said...

That's an excellent song, Memsaab! Thanks! I'll definitely start with the soundtrack. Heading to your blog for your review of Faulad.

bollywooddeewana said...

Michael Jackson is a legend forever, i grew up listenig to his stuff as well, even bollywood couldn't resist Michael see here