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Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Terrific tramp (Awara)

The first thing that strikes me when Awara opens is how shockingly handsome Prithviraj Kapoor is. Pushing 45, this heavily built man almost reminds me of a Greek God. Playing the obstinate Justice Raghunath, Prithviraj shows why the Kapoors could mesmerise the audience with panache. Every expression is spot on, his booming baritone modulates impeccably, his eyes belie happiness, pain, sorrow and scare with utmost ease and his personality is too overwhelming to avoid. Thank heavens he passed on those brilliant genes to his sons...

And then, the camera pans to the inflicted face of the lovable tramp. Played by who else but Raj Kapoor, this man means business. His over-wrought expressions, his taut dialogue delivery, his chemistry with both his father and Nargis (rumours of her affair with Raj Kapoor were rampant) and his charisma prove that this youngster was way ahead of his times. Who else would have dared to show skin in a film made in 1951 (Nargis and her tied blouses, swimsuit, off-shouldered costumes and Cukoo flaunting stocking garters in Ek do teen!)? Who else would be comfortable portraying the latent physical chemistry between the tramp and his priviledged sweetheart? Who else would have dared to garb his lead in a wicked light, a man who murders and is defiant enough to attempt a murder again? Yes, he is instigated. But, not all heroes those days, were shown to have the spine to take to crime, the easier route to lucre. Baazi, Dev Anand's 1951 film about a good-natured crook, somewhat tried the same. But, Awara is a different ball game altogether. A well-knit plot, hardhitting punch lines, stunning cinematography, good songs and a plausible end puts Awara right up there. The first film of Raj Kapoor (he produced and directed this superb drama) to be filmed at the new RK Studios, it is the start of a tradition. With this film, Kapoor shows that a strong family entertainer can have so many elements in it. Romance, thrills, melodrama, music, drama and a social message all packed into a superhit venture. And, he was just 26 then...
Awara is special. It stars Prithviraj, Raj, Shashi and Prithviraj's father Dewan Basheshwarnath (as the judge trying the convicted Raj). Leela Chitnis is quite beautiful. Nargis is spunky, stylish and confident as Rita. Shankar Jaikishan's score is memorable. Though I prefer the songs of Shree 420 much more (read the watershed Pyaar hua ikraar hua, Mud mud ke na dekh and Ramaiya wasta waiya ) but I feel in terms of picturisation Awara's songs were better. Even though there is a kind of disparity between the overall personality of Raj in the film and his avatar in Awara hoon. This hugely popular song is a homage to Chaplin and portrays Raj, the crook, as a clever thief with a golden heart. However, there is an innocence about him. But, right after the song ends, Raj is shown to be smooth, fast and extremely meticulous in his wicked ways. He dexterously picks his Guru's pocket and has no qualms in admitting it. His lines are laced with sarcasm. In the song Ek do teen, Raj looks delightfully devilish, with a beret, his tattered tee and the cigarette smoke enveloping his stubbled face. This is not the man who appeared so sweet in Awara hoon...
An artist just betters himself with every art. In Shree 420, where Kapoor portrayed another Chaplinesque character, the transformation of the protagonist is gradual and hence, acceptable. He plays an honest do-gooder who is sucked into the vortex of greed and deceit. So, it is only natural that this guy would first sing Mera joota hain japani and then after the makeover, would be stylishly matching steps with the cunning but sassy Nadira in Mud mud ke na dekh.
Anyway, back to Awara. What is it with filmmakers imparting a kind of deliciousness to their rogues? Raj, the crook, the tramp, who is supposed to be hated, steals your heart. Yes, he is driven to the crime alleys by society's slight and neglect, poverty, his father's inflated ego and the diabolical Jagga (KN Singh's scarily odious), but his vulnerability and angst melts you. In fact, you instantly recognise with his emotions when he goes on a tirade accusing the society and its falsity for his deplorable state. He says, "Mein bhi in bachho ki tarha masoom tha...samaj ke is gatar ne mujhey apradh ki taraf dhakel diya..."
After Justice Raghunath shuns Leela, his pregnant wife, for fear of slander, and most importantly, because his mind is crippled by suspicion about her fidelity, the poor woman gives birth to Raj in some dark dreary lane. Jagga snatches this opportunity to extract his revenge against the judge. Though Leela painstakingly tries to give her son a good upbringing, Raj sees light in Jagga's company. Replete with imagery, the scene where Jagga comes to rescue the young Raj, after his innocence and honesty is bruised by the local lads, there is a man who lights up the street lamp. I see this as a sign. Jagga lights up Raj's nights, the dark hours when crime thrives. But, when it will be day, this light will extinguish, leaving Raj battered and shorn of respect and love. So, Jagga is not his saviour. Ultimately, he turns out to be the demon responsible for Raj's ruin and his estrangement from his father...
Awara also negates the erroneous and dogmatic views that run through our social fabric. Judge Raghunath believes: "Ek khooni ka beta khooni aur ek judge ka beta judge hi hota hain." This puerile principle is a harbinger of his sorrows. He cannot accept his wife, creates a barrier between Rita and Raj and then simply brushes away the possibility of Raj's goodness... Here I have to say that Prithviraj Kapoor is the perfect staunch judge. No one could have stepped in his shoes...
He is a well-respected man who is loathe to sacrificing his dignity and position, and of course his ward's well-being, to Rita and Raj's impulsive love. But, he can be mellow, too. For, he is deeply grieved when an old woman comes under his car. Note the background score here. It will remind you of O basanti pawan pagal from Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hain.
Even though I am not convinced when Judge Raghunath accepts Raj as his lost son (courtesy a lofty speech by Rita and then Raj, and not legal reasoning), I love the scene where he goes to meet his son in prison. Steeped in high-strung melodrama, this scene stands out for Prithviraj Kapoor's liquid eyes and Raj Kapoor's intensity. Mock surprise lacing his sarcasm at seeing his father, Raj says, "Ek judge, ek apradhi se milne aya hain?" It's almost as if Raj's aggrieved eyes are slicing the camera. When Judge Raghunath extends his arms towards his son with a theatrical 'Beta', Raj does not respond. It is not so easy to forgive and forget...
It's only later that he resorts to his fate and promises Rita that the sun will shine in his life. Seeing the sea change in his father's character, he tells her, "Kal raat ek judge ko dekha, mujhey achha laga. Rita main judge banunga..." Very unlike what the young Raj had told his mother. You have to give it to the genes when you watch Raj and Shashi Kapoor. You can't be a top director without knowing a thing or two about good acting. And, Raj Kapoor is damn good as the lovable, and attractive, crook. But, what's this? He even extracts a bewildering performance from young Shashi. Note how his eyes emote in the scene where Jagga corners him and forces him to steal... Just awesome...
Awara is a high strung film. So, it's only just to see the seething sexual chemistry (and almost tangible) between Raj and Rita (something that the audience hardly got in the 50s). When they are frolicking in the water, I thought the background score resembled Na mangu sona chandi from Bobby! When Rita jokingly calls Raj a junglee, the animal in him surfaces and he slaps her. He feels slighted and is reminded of his social stature. But, the very next instant he admits that hitting Rita would be equal to hurting himself. Dum bhar udhar mu phere is a rocking romantic number in terms of picturisation. The lovers are in close proximity to each other and exchange amorous glances on a boat. Rita and Raj's love knows no bounds and they do not shy away from submitting to the passion with which they love each other. Later, when Raj is brooding with Mukesh's Hum tumse mohabbat karke sanam (my favourite number in the film), Rita comes to assure him that no matter what the society thinks of his past, she will accept him with utmost happiness. This song stands out for Kapoor's amazing looks. He toys with his knife, laughs at his misfortune and with a smirk tries to hide the fire eating into his heart. It's as if a wounded pariah is licking its wounds, inflicted by a cruel passerby.
The scene preceding Ek bewafa se pyaar kiya (Lata Mangeshkar sounds so different) is stunning, too. Raj is close to Rita when he gifts her the necklace and even admits that he has stolen it. Rita laughs. But, when she gets an empty jewellery box from her Judgesaab, she immediately realises that Raj is indeed a thief. What a subtle way of driving home such a bitter truth!!
Raj is a crook with integrity. He never wants to hide his profession from Rita. When he is in love he wants to abdicate his wrong ways and earn an honest living. The dream sequence here is absolutely opulent in terms of sets and execution. Raj, fighting his inner demons, tries to seek refuge in Rita's glorious love. But, he is exasperated when the society does not give him a chance. Even when Judge Raghunath insults him, he says, "Aap to mere bhi baap nikle..."
With such cracking punchlines, it's hard not to let out those wolf whistles!!! Truly, the sign of a sheer showman...


  1. Rocking post! Acute observation!
    I think Shree 420 is an evolved version of Awara — shorn of excess melodrama, with more well-rounded characters and better songs. The social message, though, remains as bitter and hard-hitting.
    The real revelation in Awara, apart from the sultry Raj-Nargis screen chemistry, is Prithviraj Kapoor's transformation from the stage to the screen. The man, then used to holding court on the stage, betrays a tremendous screen presence as well.
    Hum tumse mohabbat karke sanam also happens to be my favourite number, primarily because of its picturisation. The knife talks in Raj's hand as he etches Rita's name on the bark of the trees, his angst spewing like blood from an open wound. He could as well have sliced his veins in disgust...

  2. @Netdhaba: Right you are. No wonder, some of Prithviraj's expressions might look theatrical. But, he did exercise restraint overall.
    That knife talk you wrote about is awesome. Couldn't have explained it better myself. I think Shree 420 becomes splendid after interval. It's then that we get to see the charisma of the showman called Raj Kapoor. Thank you for the comment :)

  3. Thank God!!! Finally you realised that Shammi Kapoor is not the be-all and the end-all. thanks for considering Shammi's elder brother Raj Kapoor's movies for you review. I'm loving' it.

  4. @Shilps: Heylo baby. Thanks to mujhey kehna chahiye for coming back here :)
    Waise, my favourite still is the irrepressible Shammi. But, I always believed that Raj Kapoor was a fabulous filmmaker and a very attractive man when he was young.
    You cannot make entertainers like Awara, Shree 420, Bobby abd Prem Rog, until you are a fascinating person and director. And, Raj Kapoor was that. A pool of talent and charisma. Thanks for the comment and keep reading :)

  5. This is one of my favourite Raj Kapoor films and a hard-hitting social drama of his that I have ventured to watch more than once. Must have seen it 3-4 times and it's more for Prithviraj Kapoor than for the showman himself!
    No doubt that he's a great actor and an amazing director, but it's papaji who I admire more. Never knew that it was Dewan Basheshwarnath as the judge, thanks for that piece of info. With 3 generations of Kapoors, a film has to be good. Love little Shashi and you are right, about extracting emotions even from a little kid.
    Raj-Nargis chemistry is sizzling. I have a soft-corner for all the Kapoors but Prithviraj and Shammi are my top favourites.
    You've been watching so many movies and writing about I envy you! It's been ages since I saw a good movie. I have so many posts pending. Don't know when I'll get to do all that :-(
    Have to read 2 more reviews of yours and then I'll be up-to-date. It's already too late today. Will check them out tomorrow.
    Do keep them pouring them's always so much fun to read them.

  6. And if we're talking about Kapoor family members (and by extension, their relatives?...) who appear in the film, there's also RK's brother-in-law, Prem Nath, in a cameo. In that boat song towards the beginning of the film, when the Prithviraj Kapoor character and his wife are travelling.

  7. @Sunheriyaadein: Thank you Archana for praising my writeup. Even I feel Raj Kapoor was a stunning director and a good actor, too. But yes, Prithviraj and Shammi take the cake. Especially Prithviraj. In Awara, whenever this handsome man was on screen, I couldn't think straight. Such was his magnetic persona. I also feel that Shammi looks a lot like his father, while the young Raj Kapoor looks quite similar to Shashi Kapoor in some scenes.
    I can't do without my daily dose of films. And, I love writing about them. Yesterday I saw another Prithviraj Kapoor film where he was an adorable woolly grandpa and I love that one. Soon I will be writing on it. This man was so damn versatile.
    I love reading your posts, too. Do not fret. I'm sure when you write your next post it will be just as sparkling as your earlier ones :)
    I am also a big big fan of Prithviraj, Raj and Shammi. Shashi and Rishi is superb, too. But, then the later generations couldn't show the same spark, I feel. Let's see what Ranbir does.
    Thanks for the comment again and keep reading :)

  8. @Dustedoff: Yes yes, sure, in Ho haiya. Wonder why Raj Kapoor didn't use this talented actor? He was so good in Barsaat :)

  9. Than you so much!!! I really needed that :-D
    Got a very hectic shedule at the moment...just reached home. And am too tired to write something myself. However it's fun to read what you all have posted. So I get my daily dose of entertaining even if I don't get to watch a movie myself :-)

  10. @Sunheriyaadein: You are so so welcome. I'm glad I could contribute a share to your entertainment. Three cheers for these lovely films :)

  11. @Sharmi Wow three generations of the Kapoors! And I always knew two. Your posts almost always tell me something that I didn't know thanks!
    The young Raj Kapoor had an inclination for Nehruvian socialist ideals which showed in his films. No wonder his films were such a rage in the former Soviet Union...they still sing awara hoon:) When Raj visited Moscow people especially women lined up on the streets waiving at his car...if you see the clippings you would think a head of state was visiting!
    Such was his charm! And Russians were not the only ones in love with him he was truly an international icon for the masses even though his films were not critically acclaimed in the international film festival circuit.
    I so agree with you on his boldness in not shying away from sexuality.
    His earlier hard-hitting social dramas may have given way to romantic films but he never junked his social responsibility as a filmmaker by raising relevent issues of the time with love as the central theme. Even Heena, which he couldn't complete, was sort of ahead of its time with its Indo-Pak theme when the animosity between the two countries what at its height.
    And of course the music , he never let you down with the music in his films. We all have our favourites, some we like and some we like more!
    Sharmi now that you've started on raj kapoor I'm going to put in another request --Mera naam joker:D

  12. @Deysaid: Oh Abhi, but that is perhaps the only film of Raj Kapoor's that I didn't like. I don't know why but i thought it missed the spark of all his other films. Even Jagte Raho (where he did not play the romantic hero) was so good. Anyway, since you have requested it, I will write on that. Give me some time :) And the DVD!! ;)
    Yes, all his films dealt with socially relevant issues. Be it Prem Rog (widow remarriage), Satyam Shivam Sundaram (the plight of the girl child), Ram Teri Ganga Maili (the rich man's naked lust for the poor girl and single motherhood), Jis Des Mein Ganga Behti Hain (peace), Awara or Shree 420 (both dealt with the hypocrisy prevalent in society), he always put forward a message via a lovely story. Such was his directorial magic wand! And, that's why, as you have pointed out, he was a rage in India and abroad (Soviet Union). And, who is bothered about critical acclaim as long as the film is entertaining, right?
    By the way, I just have to see Phir Subah Hogi and Sharada. Do you have them on you?
    Thanks for the comment and keep reading :)

  13. Hi Sharmi,
    I really enjoyed reading your thoughts about Awaara, wonderful movie by and with my favourite Raj Kapoor + Nargis of course!
    Now we need to hear you comment Shree 420! (I don't think you've done that already, have you?) and may I suggest Jagte raho, too?
    Oh and if you have some reading time, Awaara's dream-sequence! :

  14. @Yves: Hello Yves, I'm glad you liked what I've written. I will be writing on Shree 420 shortly as I like that film immensely. Jaagte Raho, I still have to see and that too, I will do soon. It if of course a very good film.
    Now I'm off to read your post on the dream sequence.
    Thank you for the comment and keep reading :)

  15. @Yves: Thank you Yves for the comment. Yes, raj Kapoor was a top notch director. I will definitely write about Shree 420, it is one of my favourites. Just give me some time. Jaagte Raho I have not seen, but will do so sonn and note down my thoughts on that too :)