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Review – Kaagaz Ke Phool:The Original Screenplay

“The authors trace an interesting, sinuous connection between Guru Dutt and fame.”

Kaagaz Ke Phool is one of those classics that has been enriched enormously with the reactions, repercussions (especially on its director Guru Dutt’s life), awards, stories and analyses it has elicited over the years. Fittingly, the original screenplay of the film showcased in this book comes wrapped attractively with interviews of some of the key characters who were involved in the making of the film, an incisive essay on the relation between Fame and its producer-director, and a touchingly personal portrait of the father Guru Dutt by his son Arun Dutt.
Result: The book Kaagaz Ke Phool: The Original Screenplay is as much of a wholesome experience as the film, and its reading is bound to enhance one’s viewing of the movie.

The translation is of marquee quality as in the preceding two books in this trilogy (Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam: The Original Screenplay and Chaudhvin Ka Chand: The Original Screenplay by the same authors) and that greatly helps us to appreciate the film’s stark dialogue, dark observations on life, and rare witty parleys. The translations of Kaifi Azmi’s lyrics shine brilliantly and are deftly rhymed with nary a compromise on their meaning. I loved Johnny Walker’s brilliant eulogy of bachelorhood (‘Hum tum jise kehta hai shaadi’) and the wistful meaning-laden song, ‘Ek do teen’ that Waheeda croons to school children. The famous theme song ‘Bichhde sabhi baari baari’ stands apart. Sample the translation of these lines from the song:
Udd jaa pyaase bhanwre, ras na milega khaaron mein
Kaagaz ke phool jahan khilte hain, baith na un gulzaaron mein
translated as:
Flee, parched bumble bee, there is no nectar only thorns here
The flowers are made of paper here, from this garden steer clear

The highlight of the book is Arun Dutt’s candid sharing of his memories of the time spent with his father. While the son debunks the popular anointment of Kaagaz Ke Phool as an autobiographical movie, his own account of his father’s life shows up a few similarities between the film and his father’s life, most strikingly in the way both Sinha (the film’s protagonist) and Guru Dutt responded to failure and the considerable turbulence in their marital lives, albeit raked up by different provocations. To me, the key communiqué of Kaagaz Ke Phool is the importance of emotional stability for any creative soul to truly flourish. The loss of emotional equilibrium almost invariably precedes a creative downfall even if it is not immediately manifest. Arun Dutt’s memoir divulges crucial facts like Guru Dutt had conceived and written KKP five years before it went on the floors and how his father did not like his mother Geeta Dutt to sing for outside productions. All in all, Arun Dutt provides us a sober and thought-provoking view into the interiors of the mind of one of the doyens of Hindi cinema.

The opening essay by authors Dinesh Raheja and Jitendra Kothari is equally intellectually stimulating. The authors trace an interesting, sinuous connection between Guru Dutt and fame, handing out potent nuggets like how the auteur wanted other heroes to play the lead roles in his films, roles which he eventually went on to play and stamp indelibly on the public psyche. However, the erudition of the two authors (both being virtuosos in film journalism) tends to weigh heavily on this meditation on the subject of Guru Dutt’s conflicted relationship with fame.
The interviews – with KKP’s lead actress Waheeda Rehman, ace-cameraman VK Murthy, Guru Dutt’s younger brother and assistant director Devi Dutt, and Dutt’s friend, the late Dev Anand – flow limpidly and add myriad colourful touches to the portrait of Guru Dutt that emerges powerfully from this book. Like his keenness to experiment that led him to adopt the cinemascope form for KKP (it was the first film to be made in cinemascope in Hindi film history); his strong sense of music that prompted him to force-fit the perennially-appealing ‘Waqt ne kiya’ into KKP and for which we thank him profusely; and also his sense of fair play and how he ensured his employees were always paid on the first of every month.

The interviews and indeed the entire book yield valuable insights into the nitty-gritties of filmmaking in Bollywood in the 50s and 60s. DevAnand’s reminiscences about Guru Dutt (their early days together in Pune and later in Mumbai) and Waheeda Rehman’s recall about their off-the-sets interactions are poignant and have a nostalgic pull.
In a nutshell, Kaagaz Ke Phool: The Original Screenplay makes for substantial reading and is a worthy supplement to the film.
(Munmun Ghosh, who reviewed this book, is the author of two novels: Hushed Voices and Unhooked.)

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