काग़ज़ के फूल
This bleak but often lovely film is the gloomy story of a depressed filmmaker who spends his life lonely, unappreciated, and plagued by demons - not unlike the tragic biography of its tortured auteur, Guru Dutt.
Director Suresh Sinha (Guru Dutt) is making an adaptation of the classic Indian tragedy Devdas. His heroine doesn't share his artistic vision - she wants her character glammed up, with luscious sarees and a sophisticated hairdo. After she walks off the set, Suresh stumbles across the heroine he has been looking for in Shanti (Waheeda Rehman), a young working woman without a family. Suresh becomes Shanti's mentor and father figure, and a tenderness grows between them as well. Just when that tenderness appears poised to blossom into real love, though, Suresh's young daughter Pammi (Kumari Naaz), who is kept from Suresh by his estranged wife (Veena) and who harbors a fantasy that her parents will reconcile and reunite, prevails on Shanti to leave Suresh. The film covers a span of years as Shanti and Suresh, who seem destined for one another, nevertheless attempt to navigate their lives apart.
Kaagaz ke phool ("Paper flowers") is in many ways an exceedingly beautiful film. It is poetically written, touchingly acted, and shot with gorgeous and evocative black and white cinematography that I do not even feel qualified to describe. Its tortured artist theme, however, is somewhat grating - films about how hard it is to be a filmmaker always tend toward the self-indulgent, and even an excellently-crafted film like Kaagaz ke phool cannot entirely escape the gravity of that sort of navel-gazing. It is frustrating to watch the tragic evolution of people who are done in by their own stubbornness; Suresh in particular, but Shanti too, have plenty of opportunities to improve the course of their lives, and their persistent refusal to take advantage of them shifts the mood away from the tragic and toward the pathetic. At one point, after Suresh - without Shanti as his muse - makes a bad film and loses his job, there is some musing about how unforgiving the film industry is, how once one has begun to fall there is no regaining one's footing. But this is not shown to be an inevitability for Suresh - rather, it is a self-fulfilling prophecy, in both the professional and personal domains of his life. It is not for nothing that the film opens with Suresh molding Devdas to his vision; that story chronicles an even more annoyingly self-indulgent character who refuses to take responsibility for his own happiness.
None of this is to say that I did not like Kaagaz ke phool or that I think it is a bad film - it is, for the most part, engaging and compelling, save for a few draggy portions in the second half when we are shown Suresh's descent and degradation from a few too many different angles. But Guru Dutt and Waheeda Rehman are beautiful and charismatic, and even though the actions of their characters frustrated me, I genuinely cared about them and wanted better for them. (In this aspect the film stands in stark contrast to the only adaptation of Devdas that I have seen, in which the miserable protagonist's death could not come quickly enough to satisfy me.) And there were moments at which my breath caught at the sheer beauty, like the picturization of the majestic and unutterably lovely "Waqt ne kiya", the film's iconic song, which I am sad to report cannot be seen on YouTube. I feel I need to see the film again, perhaps on a day when I am better prepared to be battered by a story that starts out bleak and gets bleaker, in order to fully appreciate its art.