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Friday, 28 October 2011

Marrying a widow (Prem Rog)

There is something that makes Raj Kapoor films immensely enjoyable. Even if you do not like some aspects of the films--say the melodrama, the OTT quotient or the excessive stretching of the plot, his films do rev up my interest in the happening. What mostly attracts me is the believable social thread that he ties his characters with. His characters are part of a community that suffers from some social malady or the other and through his story-telling method, he strives to drive home a point about this evil custom and how the protagonist struggles and succeeds to overthrow this societal sickness. This process is presented by Raj Kapoor extremely well through his films. They start off as family dramas, but in the folds of the plot, he sheds light on some social custom that needs to be demolished. His films become social commentaries without resorting to pontification. And that is the best part about the RK films. Look at Shree 420, Awara, Jagte Raho, Ram Teri Ganga Maili and the like. If you watch them carefully, you'll know what I'm hinting at.

In Prem Rog, Raj Kapoor raises his voice against caste discrimination and supports widow remarriage. This 1982 treatise on the ghastly caste divide in India and the horrible state of widows is packaged as a sensitive love story between an upper-caste widow and a young man of lowly status. The film has the usual Raj Kapoor approach--a great cast, superb locations, splendid sets and taut script. That a dichotomous character riddles the upper caste in India is shown perfectly by Raj Kapoor here. But what I love the most about this film is how everyone plays his part immaculately and the simply romantic tale turns out to be such a gritty family drama in the end.
Manorama (Padmini Kolhapure) is born with a golden spoon in her mouth. A daughter of a thakur, she is pampered by her family. All her wishes are granted at the swig of her dainty hand. She spends her time throwing simple tantrums and playing with her childhood friend, Radha, the daughter of the village pundit (Om Prakash). Soon arrives Devdhar (Rishi Kapoor), Radha's cousin, from the city, where he is studying to become a doctor. As the funding for his medical education has been done by Bade Raja Thakur (Shammi Kapoor), Manorama's uncle, Devdhar is immensely grateful to him and the thakur family. Manorama, the prankster that she is, tries to trouble Devdhar, but the smart man, turns the tables on her. She is upset but is constantly hovering over him. One instance that shows how pampered Manorama is when Devdhar tricks her to eat the kachoris she has naughtily laced with chilly powder for him. She bites into the kachori and immediately starts crying and saying that this would certainly kill her! Understandably, the director is hinting upon the hardships that she will soon be facing in her life...
Devdhar, the simpleton at heart, falls in love with her. But Manorama, the teenager, is yet to feel the pangs in a mature way. Dev tells her that there comes a day when every heart starts beating for that someone special. But Mano fails to catch the hint. Later, when Radha corners him with the truth that Dev will never be accepted by Rama's family because of the difference in their status, he quietens her saying that he has full faith in his convictions.
But fate has decided otherwise. When Dev goes to the Thakur haveli next day to request for Rama's hand in marriage, he is appalled to see Bade Raja thakur sitting with Raja Virendra Pratap Singh (Raza Murad) and Narendra Pratap Singh (Vijayendra Ghatge), the man who is to marry Rama. Dev gulps down his desires and with a heavy heart readies Rama to meet Narendra (I must say Vijayendra is rather dishy!). Rama admits that quite likes the look of her groom and childishly tells Devdhar that this is the man she has now fallen in love with. But there is one person who senses Dev's discomfiture at the happenings--Rama's mother (Nanda). She somehow puts two and two together and recognises the love for Rama in Dev's eyes. But, she keeps quiet. Rama gets married to Narendra aimidst much pomp and ceremony.
Next day, Rama visits her parents' home, as is the custom in all Hindu households. But soon, a horrific accident happens and Narendra passes away, leaving Rama devastated and a child widow. The world comes crumbling at her feet. Rama's doll's house disintegrates. The girl who was brought up like a fair is now treated like a rag. She eats a frugal meal a day, talks less, never laughs and is a subject of constant scrutiny by her aunt (Sushma Seth). If this was not unfortunate, Rama is cruelly raped by her brother-in-law, Virendra (Raza Murad). And it all comes downhill for her. At this juncture, where life is worth nothing for Rama, comes Devdhar, who brings to her lifeless existence, a gasp of fresh air, a ray of light and hope... But will her autocratic and orthodox aristocratic family let her live a happy life with her new-found love?
Prem Rog, despite the heavy social commentary, is the beautiful love story of Rama and Dev. Rama is the innocent girl, untainted and untarnished. Dev is the rescuer of the damsel in distress. He is brave and sensitive, she is soft and sweet. Rishi and Padmini do make a nice couple. And Radmini's juvenile attitude is a good contrast to Rishi's mature bearings.
While everyone is simply spectacular in the film, I found Padmini Kolhapure remarkable. You can make out that she is barely 20, but the range of emotions she displays is fantastic. Starting with her chirpy behaviour, her childish banter to her sad demeanour and her realisation of Dev's love, Padmini shows that she was to reach greater hieghts. In Padmini, Raj Kapoor found an able protagonist. 
What I however like, is how starkly Raj Kapoor, depicts the dichotomy in the world of these aristocrats. At one level these thakurs treat the members of the low caste as mere dirt, whereas, there is Chhote thakur (Kulbhushan Kharbanda) who picks and sleeps with the village women at his own whim. Chamiya (Bindu), the servant, in one rare moment, in a state of undress, points out how these men treat women as commodities. Chhote thakur has made her a subject of his lust and yet in front of the world he projects himself as a man who is true to his honour!
Similarly, while Bade Raja thakur orders a subject to get his widowed daughter get married again to a good samaritan of the village, he cannot accept the fact that his own widowed neice is in love with a commoner. He is more willing to see her elope with her saviour, than standing and blessing the couple in front of everyone.
But, apart from all these depictions, there is one scene that stands out for its starkness. A comment against the blind superstitions rampant in our society, Raj Kapoor presents a flawless picture of the sudden state of Manorama once her husband passes away. The new bride, a child still, is shocked and devastated. But the elderlies do not spare her. They sit and caste aspersions against her saying that she has brought ill luck on her husband's family. They drive home the point that her head needs to be shaved, lest her beautiful long hair attracts other men. The young widow howls and implores everyone so that they have mercy on her. But the fundamentalists are too mercinery. They call the local barber, make the weeping widow sit in front of his sharp razor and...


  1. Sharmi, this is a moving film. And one that you can watch several times. Padmini and Rishi are outstanding, but they are supported well by all the other actors, and a good script.

  2. I avoided watching this movie for many years because the music of the title song put me off - I hated it. But when I eventually saw the movie again, I liked it a lot. And both Rishi Kapoor and Vijayendra Ghatge do look really dishy! (In any case, Rishi is one of my favourite actors from that period... good-looking, entertaining, plus a good actor. Much like his uncle!)

  3. @Banno: Yes, it is a complete film, from all angles :)

  4. @Dustedoff: Yessss you said it. Like uncle, like nephew!! :)

  5. Hi Sharmi,
    Thanks for this review, I too have had this movie (being the RK buff that you know) for ages now, and was only half interested, but well, I think I'll give it a try! But I've been so backward with filmi movies these past weeks that I've an awful lot to do at the same time. It was nice to simply read your hard work!

  6. @Yves: Thanks Yves. Do watch this film. It's quite a social entertainer :)

  7. I agree that Raj Kapoor brought an important social injustice to the fore but I did find the film a bit over the top in its treatment. Surely, a girl who is so well loved before widowhood would not be treated so very badly afterwards? Still, its to get the point across I suppose.. Padmini, I agree, was quite superb. I havent watched this for many years, you inspire me to rewatch it soon.

  8. @Sujamusic: No actually, if you notice, Mano's mother and uncle really tried to protest but could not. Her aunt was the staunch one and father was least bothered about his daughter. That's what I feel!!

  9. The thought of melodrama kept me away from this film for a very long time, but I finally summoned courage and watched it one day and liked it a lot.
    Rishi is a darling. I've this soft corner for all Kapoor men :-)
    But Padmini is the show-stealer in this film. Like you said, the range of emotions she displays (blended with innocence) is truly remarkable.

  10. @Sunheriyaadein: Really really a must watch!!

  11. Even Nanda as a helpless mother was brilliant !

  12. Excellent acting of Nanda as Chotti Maa. Film can definately be seen many times