(director: Guru Dutt; screenwriter: Abrar Alvi; cinematographer: V.K. Murthy; editor: Y.G. Chawhan; music: S. D. Burman; cast: Guru Dutt (Suresh Sinha), Waheeda Rehman (Shanti), Johny Walker (Rocky), Kumari Naaz (Pramila ‘Pammi’ Sinha-as Baby Naaz), Veena (Bina); Runtime: 131; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Guru Dutt; Spark Entertainment; 1959-India-in Hindi with English subtitles)

“Has remained revered as a cult favorite.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Legendary Indian filmmaker Guru Dutt (“Thirst”/”The Net”/”A Game of Chance “) directs and stars in this melancholic b/w soap opera musical romance. Dutt committed suicide in 1964. The film evokes the storyline of WhatPrice Hollywood?(1932), and has remained revered as a cult favorite. It’s India’s first CinemaScope film.

It’s told in flashback from the empty soundstage of Ajanta Studios and is about the rise and fall of a celebrated filmmaker from India, Suresh Sinha (Guru Dutt), who in his self-destructive downfall has aged and become an alcoholic. Suresh reflects back on his life, as someone who comes from a poor background and hit the top rung in the Bombay-based Indian film industry as a director of such acclaimed movies as “Zordar.” But he has a rotten marriage to his aristocratic and cinema hating wife Bina (Veena) and an estranged daughter, Pammi (Kumari Naaz), he loves very much in a boarding school.

Things change for Suresh when he makes a tragic film called Devdas and falls helplessly in love with the beautiful ex-teacher Shanti (Waheeda Rehman), his discovery as an actress. Their love is shown as they stare at each other in silence while in the background “What has time done?” is sung by Guru Dutt’s unseen wife Geeta. Rumors of their romance reach his daughter, who visits the actress (someone who was a teacher in her school) and moves Shanti by her urgent pleas to leave Suresh and not to break up her family. Shanti quits acting and teaches in a village school. The absence of Shanti drives the depressed and prideful director to drink and not accept help, and his film career goes downhill.

In due time, Suresh gets another chance to direct a comeback film with the condition he can get Shandi to star. How that works out, becomes the gist of the film.

Though the film is dated and flawed and failed to hold my interest throughout, it matches in intensity and scope Fellini’s 81/2 film that also told, but in a different style, about the joys and tolls of film-making and the ups and downs in life.

Kaagaz Ke Phool (1959)