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Monday, 29 November 2010

It happened one night (Jagte Raho)

It takes guts to invest your bucks in a film like Jagte Raho. But then, Raj Kapoor was no ordinary artiste. He always tread a unique path, with a vision that stood out from the hoi polloi. I'm sure when he decided to produce this Shambhu Mitra and Amit Mitra directorial venture, he knew he was hitting the right cinematic button. A film that has no lead pair, no romantic angle, no formulaic story, can only be successful if executed with utmost aplomb. And in that, Jagte Raho is a top draw. A stunning social commentary on the venality and dishonesty of most city dwellers, this story tells one sole incident in such a unique fashion that it is difficult not to sit up and take absolute notice...

Madhulika's review of this fabulous 1956 social satire piqued my interest in this Raj Kapoor starrer. I have to admit that since Kapoor looked hardly as fancy in this film as he did in Awaara and Shree 420, I've always avoided this one. Till I read Madhulika's review.
What a way to bring together a veritable cast of character actors from tinsel town. You have Pradeep Kumar, Pahari Sanyal, Iftekar, Sulochana, Nemo, Motilal, Rashid Khan, Daisy Irani, Nana Palsikar and even Nargis in this ensemble enterprise. Everybody performs stupendously making the film thoroughly exciting.
But what is more enthralling is the way that the dirt in society is depicted. On their vigilante, there are so many police chowkidaars who catch forty winks even though they are supposed to stand guard the entire night with their cry of jagte raho. And the one who is at all responsible punishes a poor villager who wants just a bit of water to quench his parched throat. When taps run dry, just like the cruel souls of city dwellers, this poor man has to sneak into the living quarters of the citizens to pacify his thirst. Accordingly, a shrill outcry of the chowkidaar labels him a thief and pandemonium ensues. All the dwellers in this quarters are up and awake. But, none is brave enough to search for the thief alone. It is their hollowness that prevents them to do so. For, they know very well that they themselves have dangerous secrets to hide...
The thirsty man is party to one secret after another. This is a place where proper educated men carry on clandestine affairs with women, but are not courageous enough to own up their love. Women are better off gulling their parents rather than sticking to the truth. What squalor is hidden under beauty and so called truth.
While a man looks all hale, happy and hearty from the outside, he is suffering from the germs of addiction. This man seeks advice from the neighbouring pandit, who is himself a greedy man. Even though one does not have the money to pay his rents, he is absolutely sucked into the vortex of gambling. For that he can even steal his wife's jewellery. I think the scene where Pahari Sanyal and his wife hurl things at each other, the director very cleverly exhibits two boards on the wall. One says, "Pati param guru" and the other "Patni laxmi swaroop". And here is this couple who have nothing but distrust for each other. What an absolute sham!!!
The other wife is this suffering woman who is subject to abuse by her drunkard husband every single day. He wants to disrobe her off her dignity and honour, something that this beautiful woman will not let. So, the result is that her husband stays away from her, intoxicated in brothels and always too inebriated to reason.
Isn't it awesome that though the film deals with very grave issues, the commentary is doled out in a somewhat comic fashion. The exchanges and action are funny, the lesson laced with humour. But somewhere in the laughs you realise the shallow existence of these city denizens. For instance, when the poor man tries to evade everyone by hiding under a drum, it is this very drum that attracts two traders, who are so miserly that they would even fight for a battered and damaged drum.
It is rather funny to see so many people after one man. Infact, it is funnier when these youngsters try to label their cause as a great one and become volunteers for something that is rather lame. They form a band with drums and trumpets. It almost becomes a picnic for them. A picnic that can be helpful to extract some easy money from the rich entrepreneurs living in the tenement.
Then there are the band of Sikh who are forever willing to brandish their kirpans, but there are also those who faint with laughter when tickled crazy. The youngsters who run around like headless chickens raising a hue and cry over a thief who no one has seen. But, they will never spend a minute to think about whether that man is actually a thief or is he just a poor scared man trying to save his skin from some blood hungry nomads.
Slowly the plot thickens and one gets to witness the deceitful persona of businessmen. Every single man here an illegal source of income and each one is most eager to pull his neighbour down. There is the old man who manufactures country liquor illegally in his house and the man who makes counterfeit notes. What won't they do to survive---they will lie, cheat and even kill. A doctor who is supposed to save lives, is most happy to forge death certificates and earn some quick bucks by partnering with an unscrupulous businessman. What is this doctor who can even become a demon and poison an innocent man?
An effective method of weaving in the role of the media increases the fun element in the film. Yes, they are shown to overhype every single incident. A mere thief is now called a band of dacoits and mountains are purposely made out of mole hills. But then the lust for money reigns supreme all the time...
A tiny incident snowballs into a situation that goes absolutely out of control. The poor man is instigated to speak his mind and injure people. But, he is not to be faulted. It is the system that forces him. Disillusioned and awestruck at the absurdity of the minds of city dwellers, this man is almost going to strike the child who suddenly opens the door to him. His action is not unprecedented. After all he is hurt by the taints and soiled by the dirt he has seen till now. But, the innocence and purity of this child strikes him once again. Not all is bad in this world, he learns anew. It is this young angel who teaches him that if you have not erred, walk out with your head held high, with a confident smile on your face. This changes our villager.
And we instantly find a change in Raj Kapoor's expressions. All this while he was this mousy villager who keeps escaping from one corner to the other. Even when he helps someone, he is too meek to say so. He never speaks, he just gasps some words. He only emotes through his eyes. But now Kapoor smiles and strides. We do not see him squirming anymore, he is not the reluctant and apprehensive man. His faith is renewed and he follows the strains of Jago mohan pyaarey (Salil Chowdhury's best song in this film, rendered beautifully by Lata Mangeshkar). It is with the water from this pure woman that our villager's thirst will be quenched and his drudgery washed away...

12 comments:

  1. @Sharmi: Great review! This is one of the very few Raj Kapoor films I haven't seen just because I thought it would be gloomy. Now I am sure it's worth watching.

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  2. @Sreenath: You absolutely must watch it. It's gives out those essential morals in a very tongue-in-cheek way. It's absolutely entertaining. Enjoy :)

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  3. Sharmi, thank you for the link to my review - and I'm so glad you liked Jaagte Raho! I loved the satirical way in which this film conveys its message: so much more effective, I think, than some of RK's earlier films.

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  4. @Dustedoff: Ya, there is simply no in-your-face treatment. It's funny with a very grave message. And I put in the link to your review because I feel no one could have summed up the film better :)

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  5. @Dustedoff: You are most most welcome. I said what I feel :)

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  6. This is one of the few films where you get to see Raj Kapoor the actor. I always found his Haanji,Main Kya bolu ji acting quite irritating, when it was obvious he was capable of much more as an actor. Here he is in his element. In the Bengali version I have heard his performance was remarkable more so because he delivers the Bengali dialogues himself and his diction is perfect. He had picked up Bengali during his formative years in Calcutta.Raj Kapoor had a virtue, though a director himself he never interfered when working with other directors. Though Jagte Raho was a RK film it was directed by theatre veteran Shombhu Mitra along with Amit Moitra and therefore it is different from the usual RK films.

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  7. @SHilpi: This has a Bengali version??!!??? I have to see it then....
    And as for Raj Kapoor the actor, I love him in Awara, Chori Chori and Shree 420. Attractive and wickedly in command. I loved this film for everything :)

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  8. Hi Sharmi,
    What you say about Jagte Raho struck a chord in me too. I remember the film well, and I realise that indeed the moralist and satirist that Raj Kapoor was when making his own films was not completely absent here either. "Jagte raho" means "stay awake" and this is the message he's sending to his fellow-countrymen: don't sleep away the troubles of the society you're living in, keep your mind alert to the reality, because if you fall back to sleep, then you will lead a life of lies and self-deception.(I'd like you to tell me what you thought of what I had written at the time!)
    bye!

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  9. @Yves: I totally agree with you and in fact was thinking of writing a bit about the title itself. Now I'm glad you have done that. I think Raj Kapoor's films always had a sound social message. Only here, he makes it very tongue -in-cheek. And that enhances the appeal of the film. Now I'm off to read your post :)

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  10. Sancho Chandran6 December 2010 08:40

    i believe the bengali version was called "Ek din raatre" with Chhabi biswas instead of Motilal. Haven't seen it myself though i have seen Jagte Raho...and absolutely loved it.
    I have often wondered if this movie could have been made with Raj Kapoor actually speaking no dialogues at all during the film. Or does that one scene towards the end where he does have a substantial dialogue add to his silence during the rest of the film. One of the best of the 20 odd R.K. Films

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  11. @Sancho Chandran: I know. What power his silence has. And his eyes emote all the feelings that the talkative others dont. Great work :)

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