Thursday, July 03, 2014

Kaagaz ke phool / Paper Flowers

Guru Dutt, Waheeda Rehman
कागज़ के फूल / Fiori di carta. IN 1959. D: Guru Dutt. SC: Abrar Alvi. DP: V. K. Murthy. ED: Y. G. Chawhan. SC: M. R. Achrekar. M: S. D. Burman. Songs: Kaifi Azmi. C: Guru Dutt (Suresh Sinha), Waheeda Rehman (Shanti), Baby Naaz (Pramila  Sinha), Johnny Walker (Rocky), Mahesh Kaul (Rai Bahadur Verma), Veena (Veena Varma/Veena Sinha), Minoo Mumtaz (veterinario), Niloufer, Sulochana Devi, Sheila Vaz. P: Guru Dutt per Guru Dutt Films. 35 mm. 144'. B&w. Hindi version. From: National Archive of India
    Black and white in CinemaScope.
    Screened with e-subtitles in Italian and English by Sub-Ti at Cinema Jolly, Bologna, Il Cinema Ritrovato, 3 July 2014
INDIAN NEWS REVIEW NO 767 (IN 1963) 11'. V. inglese.

Arun Khopkar (Il Cinema Ritrovato, 2014, catalogue and website): "A dark, brooding masterpiece, Kaagaz ke Phool explores the make-believe world of the movies. Quasi-autobiographical in nature, it portrays the life and times of a filmmaker, depicting failure, oblivion and death as the inevitable outcomes of his journey. The theme proved to be somewhat prescient, since Kaagaz ke Phool was a commercial failure, and Guru Dutt never put his name to a film again, hurtling into a state of depression which led ultimately to his tragic suicide in 1964. The plot concerns Suresh Sinha, a famous film director whose marriage is on the rocks. When he grooms a young woman named Shanti to fame and stardom, the gossip about their love affair troubles Suresh's daughter. For her sake, Shanti withdraws from films. Suresh's fortunes begin to decline and he takes to drink, slowly losing his grip on himself."

The Realm of Shadows

"Guru Dutt, who died in 1964 at the age of thirty-nine, is today recognised as one of the masters of the world cinema, and as a creator of haunting images on the big screen."

"Many historians and critics see the film song, the sine qua non of the Indian cinema, as a deviation from a realistic idiom or as a concession to the box-office. But some of the greatest Indian directors have been able to lift the song to great lyrical heights and dramatic intensity. Guru Dutt was certainly a leading exponent of the form. Throughout his short but dazzling career, he moved with great ease from the spoken word of the dia- logue to the measured words of the lyric, merging them seamlessly with the help of skilful editing."

"Kaagaz Ke Phool provides several examples of his mastery. In the first ten minutes of the film,  intensely  powerful images move smoothly into a flashback. Preferring powerful montage to a straightforward narrative, Guru Dutt creates a daring sequence, stunning in its beauty and lyricism. The vast spaces of a film studio - with its lights, its dark corners, its high ceilings, catwalks, cranes and trolleys, all engulfed in complex patterns of light and shadow - are stretched to their expressive limits by the Cinemascope format of the film."

"Kaagaz Ke Phool was the first Indian film made in Cinemascope. Guru Dutt, however, was a seer of cinema who realized the potential of Cinemascope for his self-reflexive film about the film industry and the struggle of an artist to retain his own creativity. He used the format to express the loneliness of a man surrounded by vast spaces mute to his suffering. This was in 1959, a year before the masters of European cinema explored the artistic (as against the merely spectacular) potential of Cinemascope with films such as L'avventura (1960), La dolce vita (1960) and 8 ½ (1962)."

"Guru Dutt used lighting to pick up the glint in an eye and the flicker of a facial muscle, making them speak with rare eloquence and grace. He and his cameraman V. K. Murthy created brooding, introverted images with rich velvety blacks, casting a mood of foreboding and gloom. The world they take you into is oneiric, with its own laws of light and shade." Arun Khopkar (Il Cinema Ritrovato, 2014, catalogue and website)

AA: AA: A meta-film, a story of Indian film industry from the viewpoint of a rising star and a falling director, not unlike A Star Is Born, also seen here in Bologna in the William A. Wellman retrospective. Also as a study in alcoholism Guru Dutt's performance in Kaagaz ke phool can be compared with those of Fredric March and James Mason in their A Star Is Born interpretations.

Kaagaz ke phool covers many aspects of the film world: - facing huge crowds of fans - comical backstage scenes - the contempt faced by the film people among the reactionary elite: "I don't want my daughter to be tainted in the filthy atmosphere of films" - the novice Shanti making herself up for a big party and reproached by Suresh: "I never expected tinseltown to take you", "you have ruined your sweet innocence", "for the first time I see a swan trying to make herself look like a crow" - the joyous bus ride to a location - the premiere of Suresh's biggest hit, Devdas, starring Shanti - taking a joint portrait photograph after the screening - Shanti quits, and Suresh loses his touch - the next film is a catastrophe - "you aren't fit to direct anymore" - "after the millions I've made for you" - at night, Suresh sneaks into the studio to die in the director's chair.

It is also a song film, and like in Guru Dutt's Pyaasa, the songs are of the essence. Like in ancient storytelling cultures depicted by Robert Flaherty's Oidhche sheanchais seen earlier this afternoon and in our Finnish land of Kalevala, they are the life juice of the spirit, the vital way to convey experience. Music and moving images are inseparable. Main song passages include - the elegiac opening song bringing us to the memory lane, full of naive life force - another elegic song as Suresh is about to meet his daughter Pammi on the school yard, "spring is a guest here" - the film crew's trip to the countryside: the joyous bus ride, "the passing wind whispering in my ears" - Shanti's lament when Suresh is taking a distance from her: "time has wrought such beautiful agony" - Shanti's number song as a teacher of mathematics in a little village - Shanti's shock and despair witnessing Suresh as a decrepit ruin of his former self, an unrecognizable bum: "fly away, thirsty bee".

Suresh has found success as a film director, and we learn to know him as a man of dignity and integrity who does not take advantage of his protégée Shanti even though she would be willing.

Suresh's tragedy is the loss of his daughter. The upper class family of his wife has disowned him. The daughter herself does all she can to reintegrate the family. She also distances Shanti even further from Suresh. The final insult is the custody trial. It sets Suresh on his final downward path. Still on her wedding day ("even the viceroy of India has been invited") Pammi makes an effort to track down her father, even seeking out Shanti ("What have you come to take this time? I've lost everything.")

Like Pyaasa, this is a tragedy of the artist, the poet, burned by his art, losing his grip on reality.

Guru Dutt's mise-en-scène in this first Indian CinemaScope film is strong and assured.

It was a pleasure to see this print of originally good visual health, although it has been heavily used and has marks of rain, wear and scratches. There are enough good passages to deduce the original visual quality. There were many focus issues in the screening.

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