The Man Who Made Paper Flowers

The Man Who Made Paper Flowers

A documentary traces the extraordinary life of Guru Dutt

The highlight of the feature-length documentary,made by Nasreen Munni Kabir in 1989 for UK’s Channel 4 TV,is the staggering range of people — from Mani Kaul to Raj Khosla,and all shades of artists in between — who hailed Guru Dutt as a cinematic genius. In Search Of Guru Dutt paints a portrait of the man and his outstanding,if tragically brief,filmography,and leads you to the fact that he created not just some of the best films,but some of the best song situations in Hindi cinema. Dutt,the auteur who died young,gave us this gorgeous song to live by: “Aankhon hi aankhon mein ishara go gaya,baithe baithe jeene ka sahaara ho gaya.”

The music in Dutt’s films was joyous,haunting,lilting,happy,sad — literally,a song for every mood. You can run out of adjectives,but the romp through the songs that studded his films like jewels,is never-ending.

Kabir draws forth anecdotes and vignettes from several people (Abrar Alvi,Dev Anand,Johnny Walker,Majrooh Sultanpuri,Raj Khosla,V.K. Murthy,Waheeda Rehman) who worked closely with Dutt,but you come away with the strong feeling that no one really knew this man,who ended his life at 39. His sister Lalitha Lajmi’s comment is telling: he found it hard to cope with things,and it used to come out in his films. This was especially true for his most personal,most poignant film,Kaagaz Ke Phool,which sank at the box office,and which,they say,broke his heart.

He was the architect of the modern Hindi film dialogue with its accent on conversational rhythms rather than stilted recitation. And his segueing from word to song is masterly. The most sparkling segment comes from Waheeda Rehman,as she talks of how she first met Dutt when she was just starting out in Telugu films. He asked the distributor of one of her films: can she speak Urdu? It isn’t clear if that was her only qualification to enter Hindi films,and I shudder to think what would have happened if she couldn’t,but it led her to give a screen test in 1955,and that brought her to CID with Dev Anand,and to the eternal classics Pyaasa,and Kaagaz Ke Phool,with Dutt himself.


There’s a lovely bit with Sultanpuri recounting how Dutt threw grammar to the winds in the creation of Sun sun sun zalima. The original line had “pyaar mujhko tujhse ho gaya”. Dutt wanted “humko tumse”. The lyricist protested,citing grammatical niceties. Dutt said: Arrey yaar Majrooh,chhodo na,gaana sunane ki cheez hoti hai.

He listened to Dutt,as they all did,inevitably. And we got an unforgettable melody.