If the Pyaasa poster took me a while to decode, the poster of another great Guru Dutt movie, Kaagaz ke Phool (the one he directed right after Pyaasa and after which he never directed again), was much simpler to get.
In KKP, GD’s Hindi film director character, Suresh Sinha, is married but separated with a school-going daughter, who is in his wife’s custody. Suresh meets Shanti, Waheeda Rehman’s character, in a different city (Delhi, if I remember correctly) one stormy night. When she comes to Bombay, she eventually ends up being cast in his under-production movie on Devdas. Over the days, feelings and a great understanding develop between the two, but they also know they can’t bring these to fruition. This was the 1930s after all. Plus, it was the grain of the characters: both are seekers enough to like each other, but are also tormented by their morals in not wanting to break up a marriage. So, they remain anguished in their almost-relationship, which eventually ends, and ends despondently.
GD and WR bring out the dual feelings of desire and anguish marvellously in the poster: just look at their faces and the expressions they bear. But, also look at the rest of the body language. WR faces away from GD and seems to convey a feeling of wanting to pull herself away from this situation (unlike in the Pyaasa poster, where although not fully facing him, she doesn’t appear like she wants to move away from him). However, her head leans toward his, to indicate a level of interest and yearning coming from the core. As for GD, he seems to be clutching her like he doesn’t want her to go. In all the tight embracing and thoughts of pulling away, they look painfully torn. This kind of love can only happen on paper (kaagaz). And on a brilliant poster.