Guru Dutt is undoubtedly one of the greatest showmen of Indian cinema, but what makes him great is his representation of the predicament of artists who are entrapped in the mayhem of society. Both Pyaasa and Kaagaz Ke Phool revolve around two artists—a struggling poet and a famous director—who are misfits for society. Guru Dutt chose melancholy to be his muse in both of these films; he immortalised the artists he depicted in both of these films through their suffering. Both Pyaasa and Kagaaz Ke Phool are tragedies that mirror the issues of society that are still prevalent today.
Dutt’s depiction of society in both films
In both films, Guru Dutt represents a society thirsty for power, fame, and wealth where love, loyalty, and friendship are transitory. His protagonists in both of these films are victims of materialistic society. Pyaasa, as the title of the film suggests, depicts the eternal thirst of men in a cynical society where peace is a distant dream, while Kaagaz Ke Phool shows how with time everything withers away in a worldly society. Kaagaz Ke Phool, as the title of the film suggests, refers to the flowers that blossom, yet subtly it indicates that the flowers of this material world are made of paper that can be easily crumbled under the burden of the vaulting desires of people.
Dutt’s protagonists: Vijay and Suresh
Guru Dutt, being a multitalented artist, was very familiar with the pysche of an artist, which makes his depiction of artists so adequate and unique. Vijay in Pyaasa was a struggling poet thirsty for recognition; his poems were, however, discarded by society and dumped as trash until the false news of his death, which finally led to the publication of his poems and gave him the recognition as a poet that he had been yearning for throughout his life. Meanwhile, Suresh in Kaagaz Ke Phool was an established and famous director who, in his quest to find a perfect heroine for the role of Paro in his film Devdas, stumbled upon an orphan girl named Shanti, ironically, whose entry into his life snatched everything away from him, including his peace and fame. Vijay and Suresh’s journeys as artists are antithetical; while Vijay was a pauper who became a renowned poet, Suresh was a famous director who became a pauper. Vijay and Suresh, however, were true to their emotions and art and never compromised their outlook on life. Both of them endured excruciating pain; both of their hearts were pierced by the thorns of love, yet they always resisted and rejected a society replete with hypocrisy.
When Vijay finally got the opportunity to let the world who revered him for his poetic genius know that he was alive, he chose to remain dead. On the other hand, when Suresh got the opportunity to go back to the superficial world of cinema, he chose not to return. Both of them were firm in their beliefs and were resolute. Guru Dutt never explicitly depicted his protagonists as rebels, but he used their resilience to implicitly portray them as silent rebels who fought hard to redeem themselves from the shackles of their society. Moreover, Kaagaz Ke Phool is kind of a déjà vu film that anticipates Guru Dutt’s own life and his future in the film industry; he was a visionary director who could envision his own life and the issues that will plague this society even in the 21st century.
Dutt’s depiction of women – Gulabo and Shanti, Meena and Veena
Dutt presented two categories of women in both these films: one who always aimed to possess all the riches of this world in order to climb the social ladder, such as Vijay’s lover Meena in Pyaasa and Suresh’s wife Veena in Kaagaz Ke Phool; both the women repudiated their lover and husband in order to taste affluence and to fit in with society; and the other category of women are damsels in distress longing for warmth and love, such as the prostitute Gulabo in Pyaasa and the actress Shanti in Kaagaz Ke Phool. Gulabo and Shanti were both orphans who never experienced the feeling of home and security until they met Vijay and Suresh, who changed their world and their perspective on life. However, both of their unflinching loves only brought misery into the lives of Vijay and Suresh. If Vijay and Suresh are considered tragic heroes, then their hamartia is love; falling in love with Gulabo and Shanti led to their downfall. Nonetheless, both categories of women Dutt depicted were victims of patriarchy. While women like Meena and Veena were conditioned by the prejudices of society, which subdued their ability to be decisive, women like Gulabo and Shanti were objectified and exploited by lustful and treacherous men who took advantage of their naiveté. “Yeh Hanste Huye Phool Jinhen Naaz Hai Hind Par”, is a song sequence in Pyaasa that captures a bleak view of tormenting women in society, and through his song, Dutt raises a vital question, i.e., Is our nation still divided by narrow barriers of caste, creed, religion, and sex really worthy of the pride we take in being a part of it?
Why are both these films timeless?
Pyaasa and Kaagaz Ke Phool are extremely poetic, be it the cinematography or the lyrics of songs written by Sahir Ludhianvi and Kaifi Azmi, the two great Indian poets, and sung by Mohammed Rafi, Hemant Kumar, and Geeta Dutt. All these aspects make these two films cult classics of Indian cinema. Moreover, Pyaasa narrated the tale of a struggling poet who was trapped in this capitalistic society, the poet who was never valued by his society. This issue unfortunately still persists in our society, where often writers are underpaid and not given their deserved recognition, where budding writers are still not given a proper platform to showcase their talent, and where opportunities are only provided to well-known writers rather than budding writers. Kaagaz Ke Phool, on the other hand, narrated the tale of a director who was a prey of time; it depicted how, with time, all fame, glam, and glitz fade away, which is indeed an eternal truth.
Dutt’s portrayal of a society where the thirst for power and wealth has blinded the humanity in people is very much like the society we reside in. Society might have evolved through the decades in various ways, but its issues remain the same. Guru Dutt’s protagonists were strong adversaries against the corrupt society; they strived hard to transcend their worlds that only inflicted them with grief, while Vijay chose to remain dead even though he was alive and decided to migrate far away with his lover Gulabo, the only person who understood him. Suresh sought refuge in alcohol and died in the end. In both of Dutt’s films, love was synonymous with pain, and the union of lovers was always fraught with uncertainty and impossibility. Whether their endeavours were successful is debatable, but both of these films by Guru Dutt can be considered tragedies where life and happiness seemed to be illusions and death and agony the only realities.