An excerpt from Waheeda Rehman’s interview inKaagaz Ke Phool: The Original Screenplay’ 


In a scene from Kaagaz Ke Phool, a film director (played by Guru Dutt) asks you to audition for the leading lady’s role in his directorial venture, and a panel of studio executives assess your screen potential. When you first started working with Guru Dutt, did you have to undergo a similar audition?

WR: No. They shot my photographs from various angles but I wasn’t asked to mouth lines. They selected me instantly. However, there was a five-month wait before this screen test. Guru Duttji is my mentor as far as Hindi cinema is concerned; however, my first film appearance was in a dance number in the Telugu film, Rojulu Maraayi. I was in Hyderabad for the celebration of the success of the movie. Guru Duttji too was visiting his distributor’s office in the city. He was told that a new girl named Waheeda Rehman had performed a dance that had become immensely popular. Guru Duttji arranged for a meeting with my mother and me. At the meeting, we hardly spoke. Four-five months later, Guru Duttji’s office contacted us and asked us to travel to Bombay for a screen test. We were rather scared so we took a friend along with us to Bombay. Guru Duttji took some photographs and signed me on a contract for three years.

When Kaagaz Ke Phool was in production in 1958-1959, you had achieved stardom thanks to the success of Pyaasa. Was it a challenge to play a naïve ingénue in Kaagaz Ke Phool?

WR: It wasn’t difficult for me because I remained down-to-earth even after box-office success. I never felt or behaved like a star. I wasn’t very fond of make-up. In my personal life, I would wear a salwar kameez and sport two plaits. I was gently reprimanded by well-wishers for not applying lipstick and I was advised to behave like a star, but I just didn’t know what was required to be a star. My director, Guru Dutt was very down-to-earth too. Mala Sinha, my co-star in Pyaasa, pushed me to take care of my looks—make-up, hair and costume—and not leave these details entirely to the director. She advised me to demand a change if I didn’t like a certain look. She was very sweet.

Sulochna (aka Ruby Myers), the biggest superstar of the silent era in Indian cinema, played your chaperone in Kaagaz Ke Phool. Her cameo was poignant because the film’s theme emphasised the fickleness of fame. In your interactions with Sulochana, was there ever any mention of the irony, so manifest in the brevity of her role?

WR: Guru Duttji told me that she had been a very big star in her time. I am afraid I had never seen any of her movies. But I had never heard of Guru Dutt either before I met him—55 years ago in Chennai we were able to watch few Hindi films. I knew the names of only four film people—Mehboob Khan, Sohrab Modi, V Shantaram and Kishore Sahu—before I entered the world of films.

Sulochna never evinced any bitterness over changed circumstances. I was nice to her and we would sit and chat. I behave consistently with everybody. I went across to her house a couple of times too and she was elated.

Your great strength in these films is the understated manner of expression. You have said that Guru Dutt was very good at extracting performances from a newcomer. As an actor, what was it like to be directed by Guru Dutt?

WR: Guru Duttji was a very understanding director. He would explain the scene and then leave it to the artiste. He would laugh and caution, “Don’t copy me, I performed like a man would.” He would patiently explain technical details to me. Raj Khosla, with whom I worked in CID, was a very good director, but he was not very understanding of a newcomer’s mindset. While shooting a close-up, I would be asked to remain still and just move a flicker; as a result I would grow very stiff. When I did the same on Guru Duttji’s sets, he said, “Aap yeh lakdi ki gudiya ki tarah kyun ban jaate hain? Relax.” (Why are you as stiff as a wooden doll?). He explained to me the degree of movement required in the shot. He pointed out that if I had to address somebody off camera, I need not turn around completely. Even if I just dart a glance in the direction, the camera would indicate that I am addressing the person. Fortunately, I preferred to underplay. Guru Duttji too never believed in excess.

Was his legendary penchant for retakes true?

WR: Yes! He was a perfectionist. Not just the actors, the unit members too would try to persuade him against demanding a retake. We would all chorus that the shot was very good, but he would not stop till he was satisfied.

Excerpt Courtesy:

Kaagaz Ke Phool: The Original Screenplay

Compilation, Translation, Essays & Interviews: Dinesh Raheja & Jitendra Kothari      

Published by Om Books International

An initiative of Vinod Chopra Films Pvt Ltd. Price: Rs 595 (216 Pages)

Kaagaz Ke Phool: The Original Screenplay is part of a compendium of books on three ageless classics made under the aegis of Guru Dutt Films Pvt Ltd — Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam, Chaudhvin Ka Chand and Kaagaz Ke Phool.

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