Kaagaz Ke Phool: A masterpiece that flopped
It’s yet another busy day at one of the massive studios in Mumbai. The tea break had just ended when tens and hundreds of workers who work behind the camera scenes rush into the studio to commence work. They find an old man sitting on the Director’s chair. His head looking down while his hand resting on a stick beside the chair. There is a buzz around while people wonder about his identity, shabby clothes and evidently grave appearance. One of the veteran steps forward as he recognizes the lifeless face. Suddenly, the stick falls off and the man’s body drops off and rests on the side of the chair. The veteran screams in agony, ‘Sinha Sahab’! The man is dead.
By the time the ending credits scrolled up, tears rolled down the cheeks of the Singapore audience who had the privilege of watching this film. This was the last scene of one of the greatest Indian films ever made, Kaagaz Ke Phool. The man who sat on the chair was legendary Actor and Director Guru Dutt who played the principal role. This movie was screened overseas only after a decade of it original release in India, 1959. This film was a Box Office disaster when it was released. Commercial success was far from sight as many Box Office experts suggested that this film won’t please the Indian audiences. At many screenings, people pelted stones and garbage on the screen to express displease.
When Guru Dutt approached popular names in Indian Cinema to contribute to this film, they all expressed that the script wouldn’t suit them. Even the people who read the script said that it’s a disastrous project if taken up. Guru Dutt’s close associates themselves asked the Director to drop the idea of making this film but, he was adamant. In his words, “This is a film I want to make for myself and no one else”.
Guru Dutt played the character of Suresh Sinha, a Film Director in demand and on the very pinnacle of industry success. Having a stressed relationship with his wife and being separate from his daughter, Sinha needs love. He finds it but, in course he loses everything. This story fascinated Guru Dutt as it speaks volumes about the reality of life. Dutt, a very renowned Director in real life by then, took this script as a challenge.
Though Dutt’s real life story and the plot in the film have resemblance, the film is not inspired by the Director’s personal life. This film is actually inspired by the life and times of Gyan Mukherjee who was a successful Director himself in the 1940’s. Dutt joined Mukherjee in 1950 and the later passed away in 1956. The film is said to be a tribute that Guru Dutt paid to the Senior Director from whom Dutt had learnt a lot of things.
Kaagaz Ke Phool, as expected, was a flop. Though the music and lyrics of S.D Burman and Kaifi Azmi respectively became very popular, they did not help in guiding the film to commercial success. Guru Dutt’s production house had suffered a major setback. Guru Dutt’s associates claim that Dutt had invested an insane amount of time, effort, money and dedication in making the film. His morale was destroyed when the film received a negative response. It was his biggest ever project, not in terms of money but in terms of self actualization. This was Dutt’s final film as a director. He refused to direct movies after Kaagaz ke Phool’s failure. The result of his hard work wasn’t very pleasing and he sunk into depression after the disaster.
Film experts always said that, ‘Guru Dutt was ahead of his time’. This turned out to be true by the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. The film was released in film festivals and it was received overwhelmingly well. Soon 13 countries across Asia and Europe requested for a few prints of the film for screening. Film schools and Universities with Film studies asked for copies of this film. The demand had increased considerably almost two decades after its original release.
Many film institutions regarded this film as a masterpiece. It was like a verse from the Bible that disciples of film were suggested to learn from. Soon, it was re-released in India and this time the response was positive. Guru Dutt had visualized world, ahead of the time he was in. Today, this film is a reference at many Universities; students study this film to know more about film making. Many magazines and labels have ranked ‘Kaagaz Ke Phool’ as one of the greatest films ever made. The timeless magic of the film never died as even today the final scene brings tears to the eyes of the audience watching this film.