KAAGAZ KE PHOOL : Everlasting Fragrance of Withered Flowers

#60YearsOfKaagazKePhool   #CelebratingUnboundLove

There couldn’t have been a better title to Guru Dutt‘s melancholic and yet poetic masterpiece Kaagaz ke Phool! Leave the film aside, the title itself is reminiscent of the genius that was Guru Dutt. In three simple words, it exposes the fake intricacies as well as use-how-you-want-and-throw-after-that practices behind the walls of the elusive world of cinema. And at the same time it stands for the most delicate and most fragile saga of love and loss. No wonder, after six decades of its release (yes, the classic completed sixty glorious years of its being), it remains as relevant as ever. How much ever it was trampled and rejected by the audience back then (to the extent that it devastated Dutt to the core), the fragrance of those withered flowers continues to command cinematic awe and celebrate wounds of the heart in equal intensity to this date.

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One can say that there are inspirations drawn from ‘A Star is Born‘ to an extent. And yet, this film could not have been more auto-biographical than its filmmaker’s life, and stands tall as a defining tale of love and pain, of rise and fall, of celebrations and uncertainties, of satisfying self discoveries and the loneliest forms of solitude! So when Suresh Sinha, the forgotten filmmaker, returns to his temple to revisit his entire life with his shadow being his only companion, he is reminded of:

Kya leke mile ab duniya se.. Aansu ke siva kuchh paas nahi..
Yaa phool hi phool they daaman me.. Yaa kaanto ki bhi aas nahi…
Matalab ki duniyaa hai saari… Bichhade sabhi baari baari…  

Everything precious in life has left him and broken him to pieces – Whether it is his family.. Whether it is his much earned fame and success.. Or whether it is the love of his life that he never openly acknowledged – the only one that has gotten him some momentary peace and happiness.. Shanti! But life could not have been so kind to him, and he is destined to lose it all. And as he loses it piece by piece, he tries to escape its wrath drowning himself in alcohol.. Jinhe nashe me rehne ki aadat hain, unki aakhri ummeed.. – he says – shohrat aur kamyaabi ka.. daulat aur Mohabbat ka.. Indeed each of these treasures have their toxic highs, and each of them are as transient in life as they could be.. The more you want to hold on to them, the more elusive they become.. How appropriate for the film then, that the film (within the film) that brings Suresh and Shanti together for the first time is Devdas, and she plays his elusive Paro! He knows she is Paro the moment he sees her flashes from broader daylight, and eventually he becomes a Devdas when he loses her and everything along with to destiny.. Its a complete circle of life for Suresh Sinha, and the brilliance of Guru Dutt lies in his approach to depict it. As Shanti, Waheeda Rehman almost plays out like a mirror that brings to light all the unspoken electrifying emotions between them. Her face is this brilliant canvas that captures every bit of pain, of ecstasy, of gratitude, of empathy, of pride and of devastation. It is Suresh Sinha’s story, but Shanti anchors it, and Suresh leaves it to her in complete submission.. So when she comes back to him in her final attempt to resurrect him and take him back to life, he tells her – Tum to janti ho sab kuchh kho dene ke baad mere paas bas ek hi cheez bachi hain.. meri khuddari.. Is waqt main woh khuddari tumhare hawaale karta hoon… 

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How precious is this bond that thrives on this level of understanding and submission. This is love and deep respect in its purest form that is not looking for a formal acceptance of any form of relationship. For her, it is the deepest form of reverence where she knows when to leave his house or his life, because him or his family asks her to, and as an ode she renounces everything she got from him along the way. She knows what she would never be in his physical life, and she also knows the space she occupies in his spiritual being. For him, he has given up on everything in life, but its just that one gift from her that he has held on to with his life. He wants her to find back her glory and he knows it cannot be attained with him by her side. They both want to stay on, they both let go, and their unbound love lives on.. Humne humesha ek doosre ko samjha hain.. – they tell each other – kabhi kabhi log ek doosre ko itni achhi tarah kyon samajhne lagte hain..

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One can only be thankful to Guru Dutt and Waheeda Rehman for having played Suresh and Shanti with such utmost sincerity where the lines between reel and real get blurred in their intensity of emotions and the depth of their understanding – towards their craft, towards themselves.. This is love, reverence and internalization of emotions of the highest kind, one that is to be treasured for ever..

As treasured is the cinematic marvel that Kaagaz ke Phool also becomes along with this deep poignant tale of love and loss.. Standing today, one is really thankful that this film was made six decades ago, because I firmly believe that the cinematic spectacle of the film would have lost its luster if it wasn’t such a striking black and white canvas. The interplay of light and shade of this film remains unique and unparalleled to this date.. Tum bhi kho gaye, hum bhi kho gaye, ek raah par chal ke do kadam becomes such a classic not just because of the marvel that SD Burman, Sahir Ludhianvi or Geeta Dutt weave together, but also because of how exquisitely it is shot by V K Murthy giving shape and form to all the pathos of the protagonists.

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In a way, the film also pays an ode to Dutt’s other classic Pyaasa, and one cannot miss some of the influences. The first chance encounter of Suresh with Shanti under a tree will certainly remind one of their Pyaasa introduction scene as well, though the situations are entirely different. The entire track surrounding Johnny Walker and his playing a sort of antidote to Sinha’s trauma is also somewhat reminiscent of his character arc from Pyaasa, though I personally feel that it is one track that could have been completely eliminated. It only sticks out as a loosely coupled dilute distraction in its current form and works towards robbing the film of its gravitas and depth, not to mention the unnecessary stretching of length. Similarly, Kaagaz ke Phool would have still remained one of the best soundtracks of SD Burman had it only restricted itself to the legendary Bicchde sabhi and Waqt ne kiya only. Frankly all other songs are unnecessary in the film and aren’t too memorable in their stand-alone form as well. Not their fault – how would they have matched the poetic depths and the emotional opulence of..

Ud ja, ud ja pyase bhanwre.. Ras na milega khaaron me…
Kaagaz ke phool jahan khilte hain.. Baith na un gulzaron me…
Nadaan tamanna reti me… Ummeed ki kashti kheti hai…
Ik haath se deti hai duniya.. Sau haathon se le leti hai…
Ye khel hai kab se jaari…
Bichhde sabhi.. bichhde sabhi baari baari…

That is the legend of Kaagaz ke Phooleternal.. mesmerizing… heart wrenching… and yet irresistably compelling… The crumpled flowers will remain as fresh, fragrant, ferociously in love, and familiar in their charm forever…

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Copyright ©2019 Jayashree Chakravarti. This article cannot be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL can be used instead.

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