Thursday, July 10, 2008

when paper flowers mirror life... and tragedy yields beauty...

kagaz ke phool 7" sleeve

in october of 2006 i did a week of posts celebrating my favorite indian film director, guru dutt. i posted images and songs from most of the soundtrack LPs, but at the time i didn't have anything from kagaz ke phool (one of his greater films, perhaps second only to pyaasa, which is definitely his masterpiece). this 7", a recent find, sparked a revisiting, and so for any completists our there (besides me...), here's a song from that film.

as with most of dutt's later films, kagaz ke phool (the title translates as 'paper flowers', and suggests not only the fragility of life, but also the fleetingness of fame...) is a relatively dark and depressing film, and very much connected to dutt's own tragic biography. the story centers on an aging movie director, who is unable to recapture the popularity of his earlier films with the public. he is lost in a loveless marriage, and because of circumstances, unable to be with the young actress he is truly in love with. scandals develop, people are selfish and ugly, and dutt is constantly criticizing the gossip and fame machines in the film world. the film is incredibly pessimistic in its view of fame. in the end, it is a classic tragedy of unfulfilled desires, and unappreciated genius, both of which unfortunately, mirrored the darkness of dutt's own late career. the last scene of the film shows the director in a kind of mental fog and physically unrecognizable to everyone around him, sitting alone, broken, in a darkened film studio, collapsing "to let the life flow out of him". five years later dutt would take his own life.

kagaz ke phool is certainly considered a masterpiece now, but at the time it was an enormous box office failure. the negative reception finally exhausted dutt's faith in the public ever embracing another of his films. it was the last film he would ever credit himself as director, fearing the public's dislike of his dark pessimism would keep any film with his name as director from having any success. the few films he made after kagaz, dutt is listed as a producer, even though you can see his hands all over the place in them. clearly he was more involved than credited. unfortunately even these films were met with relative disinterest.

kagaz ke phool is a powerful film in its own right, but in terms of its relationship to dutt's own life and beliefs, it is a difficult film to watch. it's an incredibly powerful film, but knowing dutt's biography, one has a sense he was very aware of the unfortunates life had in store for him.

the song here, waqt ne kiya, is sung by his wife, the amazing singer geeta dutt (although unintentional, in the context of the film's narrative this is highly ironic). it conveys beautifully all the sadness of such a melancholy love and the longing that unfolds with the story. dutt was a pioneer in this - using songs to enhance the emotional trajectory of the narrative, instead of simple festive breaks. for the film music, dutt worked again with composer s.d. burman, who wrote several great scores for him. of course, as you can hear, this song is an absolute gem...

click here to listen

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

steve - thanks for this, and for the reminder of your past posts. i have long wanted to find an entry point into indian film and music, and now i have one... pyaasa is at the top of our netflix queue, and i downloaded all your posted songs. geeta's voice is divine perfection!

9:43 AM  
Blogger sroden said...

oh pyaasa is incredible. i know that every single copy i've found is absolutely terrible, either the sound is off, the picture dark, or no subtitles, so good luck! i saw it once at ucla and the print was amazing so i hope you get a decent version. he's not much like a bollywood director, even though he worked within the system - hence the songs in every film. but pyaasa and kagaz are both great. his earlier comedies are also wonderful such as mr. and mrs. 55, and johnny walker who is the comedy relief in every film is our favorite part of most of the films aside from dutt himself, he's hilarious and a much needed balance with much of the angst. let me know what you think.

11:38 PM  

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