RAJ KAPOOR - THE GREAT SHOWMAN OF INDIAN
When the world celebrated 100 Years of the
Cinema, Russia had planned to release a series of picture books on the great
personalities of cinema who had influenced Russian viewers. They released
books on such film craftsmen as Sergei Eisentsien, Sergei Bondarchuk,
Charlie Chaplin… and Raj Kapoor.
Raj Kapoor! What was India’s legendary
showman doing on the Russia’s list of great filmmakers? Plenty, actually!
For many decades, Raj Kapoor was the one foreign filmmaker (apart from
Charlie Chaplin) who had a faithful fan following deep in the heart of
In 1951, Raj Kapoor had laid the foundation
of his RK Studio in Mumbai. A few years later, the studio rolled out its
early films – Awara and Shri 420 – which became hits in India
and cult classics in Soviet Russia.
Raj Kapoor Magic
1947. While Prithviraj Kapoor’s
Prithvi Theatre Company was touring the country performing traditional and
experimental plays across India, his son up-coming actor Raj Kapoor, who had
already made hits like Barsaat and Aag, was dreaming of
setting up his own film studio in Bombay – the vibrant heart of the growing
film industry of India.
1951. Raj Kapoor set up RK Studio in
the suburb of Chembur, and even while the studio was semi-complete, he shot
the famous dream sequence of Awara there.
1954. With the releases of Awara,
followed by Shri 420, Raj Kapoor became one of the top
actor-directors of the Bombay Talkies.
His early films were extremely popular in
Soviet Russia. These were the first Indian films to be screened in Russian
cinemas, as a prelude to Prime Minister Nehru’s first visit to the former
Soviet Union. Most of the films being made in the Soviet Union were heavy
propaganda films. Raj Kapoor’s films presented almost the same pro-poor,
pro-working class “propaganda” – but in such imaginative and splendid
settings that the Russians were mesmerized. Raj and Nargis were
tremendously popular even with the people on the streets. When they visited
Russia, the people recognized them on the streets. They would request Raj to
sing Awara hoon for them. And he had a hard time convincing them that
it was a playback singer – not him – who had actually sung the song in the
film. What was more significant was that Raj Kapoor’s films caused the
Russian filmmakers to gradually change their own heavy-handed style of
making propaganda films. Raj’s films directly influenced such latter Russian
classics like Ballad of a Soldier.
However, the era of light, romantic RK movies
concluded when the Raj-Nargis affair ended in the late 50s -- after she
married Sunil Dutt whom she had met while shooting Mother India. Raj
returned to RK Studio with a determination to show the world (and Nargis)
that he could still make great movies on his own! He was fired by the
true-life story of a schoolteacher in Gujarat, who reformed a tribe of
dacoits by education. This became the setting of Raj’s finest movie Jis
Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai (1961) set in the UP badlands. RK movies were
known for their great songs (most of them personally scripted by Raj
himself), but this movie has a string of beautiful songs – each of them a
The success of Jis Desh, led him to
think really big. Sangam was a four-hour, Technicolor magnum opus,
which hopped around the world (Switzerland, Paris, London). That is when he
earned himself the title The Great Showman of Indian Cinema. But, Sangam
was followed by two critical successes that flopped at the box-office –
Teesri Kasam (1966) and Mera Naam Joker (1970). The failure of
Joker almost wiped him out (both financially and emotionally) – but Raj
re-invented himself with a fresh, love story – Bobby – that took the
younger generation by storm. And RK Studio’s fortunes were smiling once
The last great movie that the Showman made was
Ram Teri Ganga Maili. Perhaps it lacks the frothiness of his earlier
romances or the sincerity of Jis Desh Mein, but Ram Teri Ganga
shows Raj Kapoor at his matured best.
The story is the age-old melodrama of a
tourist visiting a hill station and leaving behind an innocent who he has
loved and forgotten. What is different, however, is Raj Kapoor’s symbolic
journey that traces the heroine’s evolution from simple village lass to
unwed mother as she travels down the Ganges -- from Gangotri in the
Himalayas to the evil cities on the plains.
But, like in most Raj Kapoor films, the film
has an is a happy ending -- for deep down in his heart, the Great Showman
was an optimistic romantic, who believed that individuals could rise from
the sorriest situations to plains of bliss – with a little effort, some luck
and guidance from the greatest showman of them all – God!
A List of Raj Kapoor’s Great Movies
I can go on and on talking about the
filmmaker. But, the best way to really get to know Raj Kapoor is to see his
films. Here then, is of what I consider his greatest films with a brief
summary of their fascinating plots (and a mention of the great RK hit
songs). Of course, readers will have their own favourites among his films –
and many may disagree with my choices. After all, he made (and acted in) so
many movies, in so many moods – that it is difficult to really name the very
Andaz (1949): Raj Kapoor and Nargis --
with Dilip Kumar thrown in for a melodramatic twist in the triangle. Watch
Raj Kapoor and Dilip Kumar match acting talents in a story of love and
suspicion. Hear Naushad’s unforgettable Tu kahe agar. Bombay’s
Liberty theatre opened with Andaz – it ran there for two years!
Awara (1952): A story much deeper than
it appears to be. When judge Prithviraj Kapoor pronounces dacoit Jaggu (K.
N. Singh) guilty merely on the grounds that “his father was a thief, so he
too automatically must be a thief”, the dacoit swears revenge. Jaggu kidnaps
the judge’s son (Raj Kapoor) and trains him to be a criminal. Raj, the
awara (loafer) grows up and falls in love with lawyer Nargis. A crime he
commits, lands him in the court where his father is the judge. Which will
prove stronger – nature or nurture? Sway to Ghar aya mera pardesi and
Shri 420 (l954): Tramp Raju whistles
through his travails, with his theme song Mera Jotha hai Japani
(which became a giant hit in India and Russia – and remains till date, Raj’s
signature tune). He falls in love with a simple schoolteacher (Nargis). But,
he meets Maya (Nadira) who entices him with the bright lights of the city.
Which side will win – high morals or his baser desires? With Ramiyah
vastavaya , Pyar hua ikrar hua and Mud mud ke na dekh.
Anari (1959): Simpleton Raj shares a
mother-son relationship with his landlady, Mrs. D’Sa (Lalita Pawar). He
falls in love with Nutan, who hides from him the fact that she is the
daughter of his boss. Her father’s factory is manufacturing spurious
medicines. When one of the bogus drugs claims Mrs. D’Sa’s life, Raj sets out
to expose his boss – but the cunning boss frames Raj instead!
Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behta Hain (1961):
Simpleton Raju stumbles on the hideout of a gang of dacoits and tries to
reform then by love and reason. He made this movie after his split with
Nargis and it became vital to show the world (and her) that he could still
make great movies without her! One of his finest stories with some of his
best songs – Mera naam Raju, O basanti, Aa ab laut chal, Hum bhi hai, tum
bhi hai and others.
Sangam (1964): The eternal love
triangle – but with the RK treatment. Two intervals, scrumptious songs and
four hours of movie that fly by – leaving viewers begging for more! (Bol
Radha Bol, Dost dost na raha, Yeh mera prem patra and other hit songs)
Mera Naam Joker (1970): This one broke
the showman’s heart – this autobiographical musical melodrama (again with
two intervals and four hours of running time) that did not click with the
public. Though the songs (Ay bhai jara dekh ke chalo and Jeena yahan
marna yahan) have become immortal favourites.
Ram Teri Ganga Maili (1986): His last
great movie with his most powerful plot entwined with a fascinating,
symbolic journey. The travails of a young girl which follows the descent of
the River Ganges -- from the Himalayas to the city of Kolkata, before it
enters the sea. A Technicolor, kaleidoscopic pilgrimage through the
heartland of India and straight to the heart!
So, what are you waiting for? Pick up a RK
movie and re-live the best moments of India’s Greatest Showman!