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.