Friday 16 November 2007

Awaara (1951)



Is he robbing a Punjabi or Gujarati stereotype?

OK. OK. We need to calm down if we're going to write this review. But the DVD is still sitting hot in our DVD player, and we are still sitting, absolutely stunned, on our couch. This was one of those movies that, as Raj Kapoor sings at one point, you stare at, completely compelled. Our jaw dropped and stayed down for most of the film. We were very, very quiet. And all we kept thinking was, "Yes, Raj Kapoor needs to make movies now forever." Hence the whole Raj Kapoor hysteria of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. Yes, we definitely get it now. All hail the Kapoors. We're not worthy!

It's not the plot that's amazing. It's interesting, but fairly standard. Cue the prologue. Once upon a time, a handsome yet stern judge (Prithviraj Kapoor! The patriarch himself!) broke convention and fell in love with a widow, Leela (Leela Chitnis). They were happy, and they enjoyed watching fishermen sing foreboding songs on the sea. One day, an evil dacoit named Jagga kidnapped Leela. He threatened to rape her, she swooned, she was revealed to be pregnant, and Jagga had a pang of remorse. Followed by a pang of pure evil! Since the judge was always harping on about how "judges father judges and dacoits father dacoits" (well, we're paraphrasing), the dacoit would show the judge that a judge can father a dacoit just because he thinks his son is a dacoit! Because it's more nurture than nature, no? You follow? We hope so.

The first song, which BLEW US AWAY.

Anyway, the stern judge goes demented and kicks his (innocent!) wife out of the house, along with his unborn (legitimate!) son. She crawls into a gutter and there, our little hero Raj is born. Raj grows up into a strapping 12-year-old played by a very recognizable and lovable SHASHI KAPOOR. The PPCC rejoiced. Apart from having fun identifying all the Shashi Trademarks in a quasi-pubescent Shashi (the mega-rupee smile, squeaky laugh and head wobble are all present), the story also continues: Leela struggles to give Raj an education and, at school, Raj develops a childhood friendship (foreshadowing into romance, of course) with little Rita, a girl a few castes up in the world. One day, times get hard and Leela swoons from hunger. Raj is kicked out of school, beaten up by the other kids, and taken under Jagga the Dacoit's wing. Jagga tells Raj he must steal for a living. Raj tries to find some roti for his mom, and is thrown in jail (where, ironically and symbolically, rotis are plentiful).

Cue transition (Wayne's World sound effects). Now Raja is a strapping 24-year-old played by RAJ Kapoor. For the past 12 years, he has become an expert pickpocket and thief in Jagga's gang. He's been in and out of jail. But now he has enough money to put his mother in a good home, and she turns a blind eye to his criminality. All is well - until of course Raj bumps into Rita (Nargis), and their childhood friendship blossoms into the inevitable romance. Rita has (cue Hindi Movie Irony) lost both her parents and become the ward of a stern judge. Yes, THAT judge. And that judge is still as stern as ever, who quickly disapproves of Raj, as the latter is a tramp and a vagabond. Much drama of the usual kind ensues.

We at the PPCC TOTALLY approve of the feminist, empowered Rita, and finally FINALLY a ballad where the woman seduces the man!

Another gorgeous song.

What makes Awaara SO GOOD is... well, are several things:
  • The cinematography is incredible. Here we have an inventive, experimental, visionary film. Every shot is crafted and Raj Kapoor, who also directed and wrote the screenplay, makes the black-and-white film do things we, as amateur photographers, wish we knew how to do! The contrasts! The shadows! The textures! Sure, sometimes the shots are too framed, so that things ring artificial and cheesy. But this we noticed on perhaps two shots out of many, many more.
  • The Kapoorness of it all is truly a pleasure. As readers will know, we at the PPCC have an irrational fondness for Shashi Kapoor, youngest of the Sons of Prithviraj. Yet this film shows us the true Power of the Kapoors: with both father Prithviraj and eldest son Raj excuding massive charisma, almost (but not quite) at Toshiro Mifune levels. Now that's charisma! Prithviraj is compelling, with silent film good looks and restraint, though he can't resist pulling the truly old skool "horror movie face" now and again. Raj, who was pleasing in Sangam (especially with those eyebrows of his - they were on fire, man!), is awesome in this. We didn't think we'd buy the Chaplin-esque rip-off trampiness of Raj's protagonist, and yet not only did we buy and sell it, but we totally fell for it too.
  • The Raj/Rita-Raj/Nargis romance, with its parallels in reality. For those that don't know, Raj Kapoor and Nargis had a lengthy affair, and this shows glaringly in the film. The University of Iowa guys describe it as "electric" but we at the PPCC felt more that we were being intrusive, such was the intimacy between the two actors. It felt like voyeurism most of the time! We almost had to look away!
  • The empowerment of the female lead, unseen of in even modern, post-2000 Hindi films. Here is a female lead who is professionally employed, educated, more socially empowered than the male protagonist, but who is also an equal in her relationship with him. No more dominant/submissive mumbo jumbo, here is a relationship where Rita can seduce her Raj as well as vice versa, and where it's the heroine who comes to the hero's rescue once he gets in distress.
  • The moments of sublime aesthetics, due largely to Raj Kapoor's confidence and experimentation. For example, there is the famed dream sequence, wherein Raj envisions a heaven and hell which incorporate both Western and Hindu stereotypes (the clouds vs. fiery pits while Shiva looks on). In a moment that is both symbolic of the film's theme of attempted redemption and reminiscent of Dante's Divine Comedy, Raj struggles to free himself of varying demons' grasps and ends up crawling up the steps to heaven. Complete with ample dry ice and choral voices to accompany, Rita, like Beatrice, runs down the steps to meet him and help him up. And cue the mandolin, and cue the Hindi Movie-ness, and cue the sublime. The audience recognizes the melody: this is the same wonderful melody that played when Raj and Rita found each other and were reunited as adults, another beautiful scene. Then Rita sings: "Finally my lover has returned home!". Oh, just watch it for yourself:

    Golden ratios, faces in profile, dry ice! IT'S SO GOOD!

  • The fun facts of the film. Apparently Chairman Mao loved it. It was a huge hit in Russia. And Raj Kapoor was only 24 when he directed, wrote, and starred in this epic! Shades of Kenneth Branagh-esque precocious geniusness, no?
We're still too excited to upload the caps, otherwise we would have swamped this review with pics of Prithviraj (and accompanying comments of how Shashi looked so much like him), pics of Shashi (and accompanying comments of how young-Shashi looked so much like 1970s-Shashi), pics of the best shots or shots that moved us, pics of Raj and Rita as they were truly wonderful together, and so on and so on. Perhaps we'll do that tomorrow. But now it's late, and the basic points of Why Awaara is Amaazing are down. Good night, and good luck!


norallav said...

Oh please do post your screencaps! I watched this way in the beginning of my discovery of Indian films, before my love for Shashi bloomed, and have no memory of how cute he looked at 12.

Stella_1 said...

I love this movie. Raj Kapoor is the best!

me said...

Awseome review, thanks! This film is so outstanding, I have to buy it - again. I bought it sight unseen more than 2 years ago from an indian online retailer, who only shipped domestically, so I had it sent to my cousin in Bangalore. There it still is, but now that I've seen the film, I simply must have it to keep. The dream sequence is rightly famous, and the cinematography is everything you describe. I would be interested to read your thought's on RK's "Aag" if you ever get the chance to post a review of it. Like Awaara, it features some striking imagery and Shashi as the young version of RK's character.

NidaMarie said...

I loved "Awaara" too! That and "Shree 420" was my first peek at the beauty of Raj Kapoor's early cinema (although, I have to admit, I have a lonnngg way to go in my "golden oldie" filmi viewing list)...
The dream sequence was so beautiful, I think I took like 20 screencaps! And used them as desktop wallpaper for months...Also agree on the palpable chemistry between RK and the graceful Nargis.

Nirvana said...

If u liked Awara, u might like to read this



Edward Sonnenblick said...

I totally fell for Nargis' kick-ass Rita but am I the only one who cringes when Raj goes into a rage and starts smacking her because she playfully calls him 'jungli,' inspiring Rita to throw herself at his feet and say 'You want to hit me? Hit me.' WTF?? This is a liberated woman? At least she keeps on calling him jungli throughout the film...

Anonymous said...

I Love all the movies of "Raaj Kapoor" Saahab. He was massener of God to Promote Hindi Cinema with Bollywood . He was the Actual Prince of Bollywood. I Thanxxx to that i got a chance to watch his Most of Movies.But I feel guilty myself coz I Could not met Raaj Kapoor Sahab .

" No One can Be the next Raaj Kapoor"

Pankaj Rawat (KANPUR, INDIA)

Pankaj Rawat said...

I Love all the movies of "Raaj Kapoor" Saahab. He was massener of God to Promote Hindi Cinema with Bollywood . He was the Actual Prince of Bollywood. I Thanxxx to that i got a chance to watch his Most of Movies.But I feel guilty myself coz I Could not met Raaj Kapoor Sahab .

" No One can Be the next Raaj Kapoor"

Pankaj Rawat (KANPUR, INDIA)

yves said...

I suppose you PPCC are a woman, with all that oohing and aahing about Shashi Kapoor (only women do that, men don't, somehow), but anyway, thanks for a nice read, it is true that Awaara shines, and thanks mostly indeed for what you say, RK's artistry. I also appreciated the fact that for you Sangam was considered good stuff; so many people declare that after the glorious 50s, RK fell from grace and did nothing of interest, sigh!