Kaagaz Ke Phool (1959)

06 Jun

My earliest memories of Kaagaz ke Phool is the song “Waqt ne kiya kya haseen sitam”. It was quite a favourite with the producers of Chaaya Geet and later on Chitrahaar. The beautiful cinematography and Geeta Dutt’s melancholic voice, S. D. Burman’s haunting music made a big impression on me. My resourceful aunt, who would otherwise always provide us with the plots of the movie, would also be very quite. I never could fathom if it was because of the captivating sound or because of the extra-marital affair going-ons. There were regular screenings of the movie in the morning show, but I never thought of ‘bunking’ (that is the word used for skipping classes in Bombay/India) classes to watch it. Thus it was in my late teens that I watched it on DD’s late night movies.

Just like with Pyaasa I was very much floored by the movie, but it left something of a taste of disappointment back. I just couldn’t pinpoint it then. And every time somebody lauded it as a classic, I just chorused in.


The story is of Suresh Sinha, who is a famous, successful and thus a very much sought after film director.

He is sort of a dictator on sets and makes films on his terms without bowing down to producers or heroine’s demands.

He lives separated from his wife Bina (Veena) and has a daughter Pammi (Naaz), who is kept away from him in a hostel.

During a visit to his in-laws, he meets Shanti (Waheeda Rehman). When she comes to Bombay to return his over-coat, which he had lend her, he takes her up as Paro for his Devdas, which he is directing at the moment.

Shanti is an orphan and finding so much attention from Suresh falls in love with him and he falls for her too. But this love remains platonic as evident in the dialogues.

Pammi hoping that if Shanti leaves Suresh, her parents will come together again, black mails Shanti into leaving him.

Heartbroken from this separation and also from the fact that his daughter is snatched away from him, he takes to drinking and neglects his work resulting in his losing his job and further on his downfall.


Though the end as told above comes in the 100th minute, the film goes on for further 50 min. And that drags.


It has often been mentioned that Kaagaz ke Phool is autobiographical. Is it so? Till Kaagaz ke Phool, nearly every movie of Guru Dutt’s was a hit. It is as if he started moulding his life in Suresh Sinha’s form. The film was a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy for him.

The main characters of Suresh and Shanti are so passive, that they really get on your nerves. When Pammi leaves him, why doesn’t Suresh call up and Shanti and reconcile and show her the futility of her ‘sacrifice’. That would, naturally wouldn’t have lead to this ‘wonderful’ tragedy. But I am left with a feeling that the director/script writer owes me an explanation here. The only explanation provided is the dialogue between Suresh and Shanti, when she is about to leave him and the film industry.

Suresh: Tum ja rahi ho? (You are leaving?)

Shanti: Ha, mein jaane se pehle batana chahti thi, lekin… (Yes, I wanted to take your leave before going, but…)

Suresh: Batane ki zaroorat nahin, mein samajhta hu tum kyu jaa rahi ho. (There is no need to explain, I know why you’re leaving.)

Shanti : Mujhe yakin tha ap zaroor samajh jayenge. (I was sure, you would understand)

Suresh: Humne hamesa ek doosre ko samjha hai, hai na? (We have always understood each other, haven’t we?)

Shanti: Hamesa. (Always)

Suresh: Kabhi, kabhi ek doosre ko lag kyu samajhne lagte hai? Kaash ke aisa na hota. (Why do people start understanding each other? If only, this wouldn’t happen.)

There are many such dialogues which touches one.

The overall feeling that I had was that of Guru Dutt wallowing in self-pity and tragedy of life. Well, who should know it better than yours truly. 😉


But all said and done, the film is well shot. It is India’s first cinemascope film. The film is a large canvass and provides breathtaking shots not of exteriors in panoramic views but of the interiors (of the studio) and giving a deep insight to the psyche of the people involved in the story. Even the bad quality of my moserbaer dvd couldn’t really hide the splendour of it.


The music by S. D. Burman and Kaifi Azmi’s lyrics are stupendous. The short song ‘Haar kabhi jeet kabhi, khaye ka rona re’ is used in a sensible manner, in a sense that the sensibility of this song is lost on Suresh, who is filming it, thus the brevity of the song and reason in his life.

The story takes place, at least till Suresh’s downfall, in the pre-independence days of India, which is but not reflected in the costumes and sets. Guru Dutt thankfully doesn’t fall prey to include the patriotic fervour of those times in the story.

What I further liked was the depiction of the life of junior artistes. There is for example this scene of a female extra having to leave her baby in the hands of its sibling so that she can go to work or how they group in front of the studios.


There is indeed a Hindi movie called Vidyapati. It was directed by Debaki Bose and he went ont o win the Berlin Golden Bear for his film Sagar Sangamey which was also released in 1959, the year of release of Kaagaz ke Phool as well. Did Guru Dutt place it because Vidyapati ‘s message was also of love without expectations?


There is this scene with Tun tun and Mohan Choti where they praise Suresh’s punctuality and its connection to gambling luck of Mohan Choti’s character. When Suresh takes up drinking, he is nor more punctual and both the above characters moan Suresh’s downfall. Between botht he scenes there is at least a gap of a few months but both the characters are wearing the same clothes. Most probably both shots were taken on a single day. In fact in all scenes featuring Tun tun, she is wearing the same costume and even the same earrings.

 When Shanti goes to the party and is rebuked by Suresh, her eye brows are removed. But in the scene, which takes place next morning her eyebrows are intact.


A remake? NO (though I may revise my opinion 😉 )

Three year later Sunil Dutt would name his film company Ajanta Arts, the name of the film company, where Suresh Sinha was employed.


Posted by on June 6, 2010 in Bollywood, Guru Dutt Series


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

31 responses to “Kaagaz Ke Phool (1959)

  1. dustedoff

    June 7, 2010 at 6:38 am

    Of all the films Guru Dutt made, Kaagaz ke Phool is the one I like least, despite the superb music and the brilliant cinematography. It’s just too depressing, and in a way that lacks the finesse of Pyaasa… and of course, as you point out, there’s that “haath pe haath dharke baithna” sense of helpless fatalism that most of the characters seem to be afflicted by – it’s too irritating for words!
    But some of my favourite songs are here: Waqt ne kiya kya haseen sitam, San san san woh chali hawa, and that awesome Bicchde sabhi baari-baari.

    BTW: Saw a very brief interview with the man who did the cinematography for Kaagaz ke Phool. That famous ‘ray of light’ effect was created by using mirrors. Don’t remember the logistics of it, but it’s superb!

  2. harvey

    June 7, 2010 at 1:55 pm

    How right you are! it is indeed depressing. Not even the csp makes you smile, though Minoo Mumtaz and Johny Walker try their best. But what a waste of Minoo Mumtaz and her character, who starts as the self-confident vet and ends as an appendix to Rocky.
    Yeah, I saw that interview as well. it was Kabir’s famous docu, wasn’t it?

  3. dustedoff

    June 8, 2010 at 5:56 am

    No idea about where that interview featured… my husband was surfing TV channels, and all I got to see was that brief (very brief!) clip before the next commercial break came on.

    • harvey

      June 8, 2010 at 9:17 am

      Anyway it is also mentioned in Munni Kabir’s documentary, which is can alos be viewed on you tube. His sister’s views give food for thought about his suicide and things and also my remark ‘The film was a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy’.

  4. Richard S.

    June 8, 2010 at 9:10 am

    I liked this film all right, though not as much as Pyaasa. I’m not as bothered by passivity and fatalism in the main characters… I get the impression that old Hindi cinema made more room for this kind of “hero” than did Hollywood, which helped to propagate triumphant cowboy myths that would lead to the success of awful fake-individualistic right-wing politics.

    I know I’ve seen this sort of “hero” in Hindi films a few times before, but maybe that’s because I got kind of hooked on movies from a little earlier, like the ’40s to the early ’50s. I just looked at Philip Lutgendorf’s review of this again, to see his point that maybe this film was “anachronistic” and, in fact, suffered because of a “morose” kind of storyline that audiences had already seen too many times before . (He mentions Devdas and Pyaasa. He also mentions those films in a review of Anmol Ghadi, but I think the “hero” in Anmol Ghadi bears the closest resemblance to Suresh in this movie – at least during their respective declines…)

    But the grim ending actually brought to my mind the ending of Mahal… No longer can I feel comfortable when I see someone sitting still in a chair, not moving…

    • harvey

      June 8, 2010 at 8:16 pm

      You are right about the fatalist hero having more space in the hiindi films. And agree very much with “lead to the success of awful fake-individualistic right-wing politics.”
      But what I didn’t like is the self-pity coupled with false projections of the ‘reality’. It comes strongly to the foreground, when the voice over (it sounded like Kamleshwar) complains that when once a film fails the director doesn’t get a chance to prove himself again. This is not entirely true. he gets fired or doesn’t get a job because of his neglect. he comes drunk to the sets, he doesn’t concentrate, he comes unprepared to the sets. I think the studio bosses get other directors under better conditions. I am much more of the opinion of Philip Lutgendorf andhis wife, that Suresh needs a good therapy.

      As for the failure of the film I think the viewerrs were getting too much of the fatalist hero is only partly and marginally responsible. In my opinion, the climax of the film is whenhe loses Shanti AND Pammi and he takes to drink. He could easily have moved forward fom there to the present showing his downfall with the song “Bhichdde sabhi bari bari”, some scenes off hisincreased dependency on alcohol and leading to his death. Sounds abrupt but with strong visuals it would have been possible. He could have done away with flashback beginning, prolonged the love story, given Johny Walker the role of his assistant.
      Or better still instead of his death, he moves with Shanti to a better world like in Pyaasa. Not because it is nice, but because I basically think that life in general does have a happy end!

      I’ve forgotten the ending of Mahal, I’ll have to remedy that soon!

      Curious to know what you (or others) think of my (bizarre?) ideas.

  5. bollywooddeewana

    June 8, 2010 at 4:24 pm

    Lol at Richards last sentence above

    Waqt ke kiya is such a beautifully shot song it first came to my attention when Amitabh cited it as one of his all time favourite songs, below is the link to the interview, he talks about it around the 5:30 mark

    • harveypam

      June 8, 2010 at 9:53 pm

      Thanks for the link, bd!
      He always admired Waheeda! He wanted her to play his wife in Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham, but then her husband died and she was replaced by Jaya.

  6. pacifist

    June 8, 2010 at 5:02 pm

    I wasn’t able to concentrate on the film because the print was so bad.
    The darkness added to the depressing feeling. I am very tolerant with passiveness, fatalism as well as ‘sacrifices’ 😀
    Have my own theory regarding these as compared to modern times.

    I would love to revisit a good print of this film.
    What I remember that impressed me is Guru Dutt running away and Waheeda Rehman following him but gets thronged by fans and loses him.
    Many other studio scenes.
    Guru Dutt’s visiting the studio at the end.

    Perhaps I should watch it again and see what I can make of it.
    Oh why oh why don’t they do something to these prints of classics. 😦

    Bichchde sabhi bari bari seems to be the song played at award ceremony (Filmfare I think) to shiow pictures of film people who passed away the year before.

    • harvey

      June 8, 2010 at 8:25 pm

      O you poor thing! Bad prints are so common. I had the same problem with my copy as well. I was sitting with one finger on the brightness button.

      Would you like to share your views of fatalism and sacrifices? I basically think that in our consumerist society sacrifices are too underrated, but I hate it the way depicted in most hindi films, where it doesn’t make sense or you are bludgeoned with it a là Tapasya and its sisters and daughters.

      You are right about the print. What I won’t give to watch it in a theatre!

      Guru Dutt’s films have such restrained emotional scenes! It is balsam for the soul!

      I didn’t know that Filmfare used that song for yesteryears greats. A bit cynical, don’t you think so?

      • pacifist

        June 9, 2010 at 12:58 am

        They play this song as the pictures of those film personalities that passed away (died ;)) the year before are flashed on the screen.

        • harvey

          June 9, 2010 at 9:56 am

          I understood what you meant, but I just thought ‘matlab ki hai duniya sari’ would be unappropriate for such an occasion! 😉
          But I do understand the general feeling, which they want to spread.
          All the same, if one remains with the lyrics strictly it would mean let the dead bury themselves, we move forward! 😀

          • pacifist

            June 9, 2010 at 9:46 pm

            Oh I get it now. :-/
            No. Actually they just played the lines ‘bichchde sabhi bari bari’ .

            • harvey

              June 10, 2010 at 11:03 am

              That sounds sensible!

  7. Richard S.

    June 9, 2010 at 9:54 am

    I was very distracted by a bad print too 🙂 ; that’s one reason that I feel I would have to see it again before getting into discussion of some of the smaller details.

    And by the way, I felt that the “happy end” in Pyaasa was a little unsatisfying if one thought about it. I mean, it is nice poetically, so to speak, but where could they really go to get far away from this corrupt world where everything is sold in the marketplace, etc.? (And even if they could find a place back then, where would they go now? The USA? Just kidding…)

    • harvey

      June 9, 2010 at 10:10 am

      Well. I never really thought that they are going off really (in the geographic sense) to a different place. It is much more of an inward journey. I would say they remain in Calcutta or in the suburbs but they don’t clamour after wealth, success and fame. Vijay would hereafter write poetry for poetry’s sake and not for to get recognition. It is not his identity anymore. It is an output of his identity. In Hinduism one would say he has become one with Brahaman and found that HE is the world.
      He rejects the ‘yeh mahaloon, yeh takhton, yeh tajon ki duniya’ (the world of palaces, thrones and crowns) the ‘mayavi’ world so to say. Check wwhat Vijay says to Meena in their last scene together.
      Gulabo makes this transition during the song ‘Aaj sajan mohe ang laga lo’. In the Bhakti tradition it wouldmean she transcends this worldly body and becomes one with her beloved (not Vijay, but rather the whole universe). Similar trends are to be seen in sufism and mystic christian traditions.
      It is just like in many yoga stories, where the woman finds ‘mukti’ earlier than the man. There is this fascinating story on the same lines in ‘Yoga Vasistha’, but I won’t bore you with that now! 🙂

  8. Richard S.

    June 9, 2010 at 11:26 am

    Nice interpretation, and no, these ideas don’t bore me at all. (I am somewhat familiar with them… 🙂 ) Of course, many people in this day and age can’t even fathom what it is like to do writing or poetry without having those thoughts of recognition/payment/identity in mind, though I think such thoughts can often just get in the way of the creative discovery and mental pleasure involved in the activity itself. (You don’t have to be a HIndu, Sufi, mystic, etc., to feel this way. What would it be like to be able to do writing, poetry, and so many other activities without having to contend with a society that pressures people to compete to build a social/occupational identity around any such activity? I found the best articulation of that question in a book by a notoriously anti-religious philosopher. 😉 )

  9. harvey

    June 9, 2010 at 12:20 pm

    You are right about the ‘recognition/payment/identity’ driven mind. But such is the nature of mind. the mind can’t but do it, since this is its nature. Asking mind not to do it would be like asking a fish not to swim. I think the first step would be just to be aware of it and not identify with it.
    And you are right again, when you say one doesn’t have to be a Hindu or Sufi or a mystic for that. It is just a shell. Therefore I find writing a blog is something in tthis direction, though one does like it when somebody writes a comment to your posting. 😉

    “What would it be like to be able to do…”
    I think it must be like a child at play. It is just spontaneous! 🙂

    And what is the name of the ‘notoriously anti-religious philosopher’? 🙂

  10. sunheriyaadein

    June 9, 2010 at 7:50 pm

    @ BD : There used to be this chat show named Koffee with Karan (hosted by Karan Johar). Karan had once asked Amitabh if there was any Hindi movie he wished he could have done and he replied saying eh would have loved to do Kaagaz Ke Phool. Amitabh is very fond of Waheeda.
    @ Harvery : Therefore I find writing a blog is something in tthis direction, though one does like it when somebody writes a comment to your posting. How true!!! LOL 😀
    This discussion is getting very interesting.
    @ Richard : Yes, even I would like to know the name of the ‘notoriously anti-religious philosopher’?

    I had seen this movie long long ago. Didn’t even know Hindi properly back then, so I don’t remember much of it other than the fact that it was very depressing. But I love all the songs. I need to revisit this too. There are so many movies to watch and rewatch and so little time. When will I ever get to do so much? 😦

    • harveypam

      June 9, 2010 at 8:58 pm

      Did Amitabh really say that he wanted to Kaagaz ke Phool? That would have been something! Yes, it is true, Amitabh has oftne mentioned Waheeda as his fav female co-star. Even Sanjay Dutt remembers her fondly and talks about her simple ways and how she would never complain during the shooting of Reshma aur Shera, where they not only had ot cope with the heat but also snakes and scorpions.

      Don’t you worry about watching and rewatching. We have plenty of time, haven’t we?

      I think it would be a good idea if we (group of bloggers) decide to watch the same film and independent of each other write a review. It would be interesting to see which different aspects we discover! I know there are sure to be different things,w hich will come inb etween, but I am….. just thinking….

  11. pacifist

    June 9, 2010 at 9:53 pm

    That is a very interesting discussion harvey and Richard S 🙂

    • harvey

      June 10, 2010 at 11:09 am

      Thanks pacifist! Join in!
      To say it in the words of paheli:
      ‘door door se thak jhak mat aa ja akhade me’ 😉

  12. Richard S.

    June 10, 2010 at 8:12 am

    Which notoriously anti-religious philosopher? Well, he was a favorite among quite a few old Hindi film directors and actors…I was thinking of a passage about the division of labor, from Karl Marx’s The German Ideology, in which he envisions a social change coming about in the communist society that “makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticize after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming a hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic.”

    It is one thing to be recognized for doing a particular thing well, but I don’t think it is a tendency inherently built into the human brain to feel this need or pressure to mold a social/occupational identity exclusively around a single activity, or to feel that any such activity has to be validated through material earnings or occupational prestige. I really think that tendency is a product of socialization within our particular system(s).

    And you are right that blogging is something maybe a bit in this other direction… Of course, in the past, there has been a lot of discussion among people in the radical left, whether socialist or anarchist (religious or anti-religious 🙂 ), about this sort of thing.. I remember that before blogs, people would discuss this urge to work on self-published books or zines, or completely non-profitable independent music (a good parallel to the old role of poetry?), etc.

    • harvey

      June 10, 2010 at 10:41 am

      Wow, good ol’ Karli Marx! Nice to hear that from him. High time I read his works!

      “I really think that tendency is a product of socialization within our particular system(s).”
      Very true, I agree with you completely. One always reads about certain tribes, where productivity is not a scale on which people are measured.

      I would say blogging is a new aspect to the old tradition of having an alternattive system for art and living. But so long people have the profit frame of mind, it will always creep in. By saying this I’m not claiming to be free of it. 😉
      The main thing is one keeps on trying and ‘acccept’ that the other side will always exist instead of ‘fighting’ it.

  13. sunheriyaadein

    June 12, 2010 at 12:41 pm

    Yes, he actually said that in an interview. Check this :

    It has the whole episode there. The entire episode is lots of fun, but he mentions Kaagaz Ke Phool at 34:22. And the part after that is hilarious, esp where Mallika Sherawat makes an appearance. (I was a big fan of the Bachchans at one point of time. I must have seen this episode more than ten times.)

    I really want to believe that we have all the time in the world to watch anad rewatch all these movies 🙂

    That’s a wonderful idea!!! It would be fun to read what each of us thought about the movie.

    @ Richard : Really, nice to hear that from him. High time I start reading more of Karl Marx.
    I’m getting a new dimension to blogging altogether now 😉

    • harveypam

      June 12, 2010 at 1:02 pm

      Normally I don’t like Koffe with karan. It seems to be soartificial except for the episode with SRK and Kajol and how SRK reacted to kajol’s answer that Ajay since he is working hardly has any time for social ccontacts. That was hilarious!
      Will have a look at the link which you have sent, but right now my browser is not allowing me to have a look at any pics or videos!

  14. sunheriyaadein

    June 12, 2010 at 8:49 pm

    I liked Koffee With Karan few years back when it first started and religiously followed all the episodes in the first season….but after that I grew out of it 😛
    Kajol and SRKs episode was fun – they kept pulling each other’s leg so much, it was very entertaining.
    No pics and videos…that’s sad. Hope that gets sorted out soon.

  15. Chris

    January 11, 2013 at 10:37 pm

    Nice reviews of Guru Dutt’s films. I can watch and rewatch these types of depressing films in b/w but not the coloured ones. I might have had a better opinion of Mother India if it was not in colour.
    Anyway, the ‘award’ for the MOST melodramatic+depressing films of all time in history of cinema goes to 2 Marathi films – one was called ‘Maherchi Saadi’ , It is sort of a gloomy version of ‘Anupama’ but with a a very sad ending. This was a big hit in Maharashtra (which surprises me) and remade in hindi as ‘Saajan ka Ghar’ starring Juhi Chawla (I like her) which was a big flop. Other even more depressing film was called ‘Chimani Pakhar’ which was the comeback of Padmini Kolhapure in Marathi. That was also remade as ‘Tulsi’ with Manisha Koirala.Originally it was ‘remade’ from this English film I really seem to have a high tolerance level for watching those films and their remakes.

    • harveypam

      January 11, 2013 at 10:58 pm

      Thank you Chris!
      Except for Kaagaz Ke Phool, I don’t find Guru Dutt’s films depressing. In fact all of them are, for me at least, stories full of hope.
      I haven’t heard about both the Marathi films, you have mentioned, thus can’t comment. The Marathi films, which I have seen, are all from the 50s and 60s, which were aired on DD on Saturdays in Bombay and some of them were nice. But it could get repetitive with the same plot of Patil and Tamashewali. There were exceptions like Sadhi Mansa, which had fabulous music by Lata Mangeshkar. And there were some nice Raja Gosavi comedy films, though his appearances in Hindi films were all major disappointments. Then the Jabbar Patel films and Shantata Court Chalu Aahe, left very deep and good impressions on me!


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