When Obsession is Just Self Destruction: Kagaaz ke Phool (1959)

Speaking of movies about Junoon or romantic obsession--I just finished Kagaaz ke Phool. My netflix sleeve came with a description:

"[Guru] Dutt plays a film director who discovers a star in the making when she returns a borrowed coat to his studio. His subsequent relationship with the actress ultimately destroys his career and his personal life." 

I have three things to say about this admittedly serviceable synopsis
  • My brain automatically equated "destructive relationship"  with "obsessive relationship" when I read this--enough so that I described the film as such to my brother before finishing it. When I did reach the final shot, I screwed up my face and shook my head.
  • Because . . . it's not so much the director's relationship with the actress (Waheeda Rehman) that destroys him, but rather the lack of a relationship . . .and that "lack of a relationship" is nothing compared to his lack of doing something/anything about his desire for it. 
  • Furthermore, this is less about obsession, and more about the inability to choose between (A) moving on, (B) winning the girl back (C) and forging ANY new relationships. 

Last fall I was planning to watch the Bimal Roy Devdas (a production that released just a couple of years previous to KkP) with a Hindi classmate. Overhearing our plans, the TA asked if we were watching the old Devdas, the Dilip Kumar Devdas. I said yes, but then said something about it being directed by Guru Dutt. Nobody corrected me, but later I realized that I was quite wrong. Floating around in the brain space that holds all the reviews and analyses I've read about in Hindi films in the last year, KkP and Devdas (1955) had gotten all jumbled up. I was embarrassed when I realized, but now I understand my mistake. 

Not only is the meta movie inside KkP (that Dutt's semi-autobiographical director is working on) a version of Devdas, KkP itself is of course a re-working of the Devdas story. And like the later Devdas adaptation, Muqaddar ka Sikandar (1978), it is one of those hard to watch classics. Unlike MkS, the characters get little redemption or semblance of agency by the end. Nobody's suffering does anyone else any good. In Dutt's universe, misplaced promises take the place of class barriers between people in love; the courtesan has merged with Paro into a both sexualized and sexless love interest; the playboy friend leads a separate life from the virtually friendless film director; the loveless marriage is the hero's, not the heroine's cross to bear;  and Paro is locked away behind the iron gate of her memories, not her husband's haveli. 

But the drinking and self-destruction remains the same. What is Devdas without the sharab-problem? On the other hand, this film says something different with looks alone--something about the power of an unspoken connection and understanding that sometimes grows between two people, regardless of formal bonds of marriage or even friendship.  

This scene broke my heart. 

In that, it sets up a psychic connection between two people that refuses to be severed over the passage of time and space . . . a connection that may not be junoon, but is something very like the shadowed outline of junoon's absence. 


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