It’s a treasure trove of filmy firsts. It’s the first Indian film shot on the spectacular 75-mm CinemaScope format. It opens, unprecedentedly, with a sweeping flashback depicted in a song. It also happens to be a rather bluesy plot about filming that ultimate tear-jerker, Devdas. But wait a moment. Before we bury ourselves under technical trivia, let’s first admit that Kaagaz ke Phool is a work of breathtaking visual and aural beauty. And this ageless classic has just turned 50.
Now let’s go back to the firsts.
The wide screen: The CinemaScope format, ‘under licence from 20th Century Fox (India) Pvt Ltd’, gave VK Murthy a grand canvas never before available to an Indian cinematographer. And Murthy used it to spool up one of the best-framed Hindi films. Ever. The whole slow plot seems worth it when a solid shaft of light sets Waheeda Rehman and Guru Dutt softly aglow as Geeta Dutt’s voice renders Waqt ne Kiya in the background.
The opening: The blessed combination of Kaifi Azmi’s words, Sachin Dev Burman’s melody and Mohammad Rafi’s voice gave the country a song sung even today at every other moment of drunken desolation. In one swell swoop, Hai dekh zamaane ki yaari tells us the backstory of a glittering filmy career turned to waste. Later, the tune comes back to haunt and connect.
The storyline: The circular conceit of a talented, married director sucked into the bottle by an unachievable, extramarital passion eerily presaged the last five years of Guru Dutt’s life that followed this 1959 release. Kaagaz ke Phool was to be Guru Dutt’s eighth and last directorial venture.