#42 #Scriptors100BestFilms #Awaara
Today when sometimes go into a theatre and watch a mindless flick (Which now producers themselves promote as mindless), I feel sad because as a writer and a Bollywood Fanatic, I miss story and characters the most. No characters to die for, no layers in the story or the plots or even in the characters written. When I watch movies like ‘Awara’ after decades of its surfacing on to the Indian Cinema, I feel that probably we have become irresponsible towards our cinema.
Awara, made in 1951 starts with a court scene where Raj is being tried for criminal offence. This is trial of a son who has had a lonely abandoned life, life in which he has been looking for everything that is relevant in this materialist world, money or name or love and the most the sense of belonging. ‘Awara hoon, ya gardish mein hoon aasmaan ka taara hoon’ So sings Raj, or awara or the vagabond, as he leaves the prison, and winds his way through village streets and benevolent humanity, his newly found freedom and his good nature hiding the deep wounds of a wrecked childhood. “Don’t sin any more!” the warden had said, as he was sent out of jail. But his tragic fate is fixed: once a thief. World is ruthless to his existence and he suffers and suffers for wanting to live in a happy world. Raj like most of the RK films hero is the victim of class-struggle in which oppressive capitalists exploit the uneducated masses, and benefit from their ignorance and their powerlessness. He knows not his roots, as he’s born of a woman who hasn’t told him who his father is; he has no father, thus no honour; society cannot accept him.
Why is there no escape for him, no redemption? Where is the road to fulfilment, to happiness? Why must one hide and suffer, instead of being honest and loving? Is it a pre-ordained destiny? Awara is a social and moral fable, much like Shree 420: let’s say it is more social, and Shree 420 more moral, in the sense that the latter really puts forward the question of free choice in front of good and evil. Awaara focuses more on the human condition, its potential absurdity but also its uncanny beauty, its puzzling reality. I really marvel at Raj Kapoor’s ability to create movies in which such symbolical stories are merged with such idealism and creativity in a true poetry.
This movie is extraordinary because of many factors like-
- Rise of the Vagabond powered by Chaplin: Awara introduced a generation of film-goers to the ‘lovable tramp’ image that Raj Kapoor wore like a second skin from then on. It was his homage to Charlie Chaplin, the original tramp. However, it wasn’t untilShree 420 that the tramp would become his alter ego. In Awara, Raju is not just a vagabond; he is a hardcore criminal, ironically thrust into the seamier side of life by his own father’s actions. Raj was humorous and savage, penitent and unrepentant, resentful and sorrowful, romantic and passionate – this was a film where he could do no wrong – no, not if he tried. His acting was controlled, the ‘persona’ restrained, the direction deft, the chemistry with his heroine unbeatable
- The depiction of the Heroine (Not using the term actress but using Heroine to instigate the fact that in 1951, no roles were as bold as this one): Nargis as Rita, an independent young woman, educated, self-willed, and surprisingly modern – she loves Raju and sees nothing wrong in premarital sex. (This was the time when Hollywood under its rules set by Hays Code that ran the Hollywood Censorship Machinery for four decades had forbidden showcasing premarital sex) In our movie, she is not punished for it, neither looked upon except by having to wait for Raju to complete his prison sentence!)She is willing to fight for her man, not by singing bhajans in a temple and willing God to change him, but by standing up to the world, including her much-beloved guardian, and entering the ring, no holds barred, she emerges in the first scene as a lawyer for her lover.
- Art Direction and Cinematography (Or shall we say art revolution): This was the first movie shot in newly made RK studios. The sets were elaborate and realistic, from the dungeon-like prison to the elaborately elegant mansion that Raghunath lives in. Longtime associate Achrekar (art director) was responsible for the sets that included the fantastic dream sequence depiction of heaven and hell (The song Ghar Aaya Mera Pardesi, is the famed dream sequence, one of the finest ever picturised – where Raj feels the tug of war between his former life and his aspirations for a better one. He is caught between heaven and hell, as expressed in the brilliant two song combotere bina aag yeh chandni / Ghar aaya mera pardesi. It’s a song that took three months to shoot, what with its architecture symbolising the steps climbing up to heaven, and the slippery slopes toward hell; a graceful Nargis promising redemption. To picturise these sets Cinematographer Raju Kamarkar, another team member, gave us some of the bestnoir scenes ever filmed – the dark, slick cobblestone streets, the storm sequence at the beginning of the film, the darkly surreal sets evoking the film’s underlying mood.
- The Music: Aawara cannot be mentioned with a word (or two, or thousand) about its music. The film had ten beautiful songs (you can also hear O basanti pavan paagal in the background during the climax, though it was formally a part of Jis Desh mein Ganga Behti hai). Apart from the consistently high quality of Raj Kapoor’s music (everyone agrees that he had a highly developed sense of music, and could play many instruments – and well), Awaara showcased some of the best picturized songs in Hindi films. The songs of this movie live till date in heartlands of India, even China and Russia.
- The four generations come together: Awara featured four generations of Kapoors – grandfather Dewan Bashwanath Kapoor (as the presiding judge), father Prithviraj Kapoor, Raj, his brother Shashi, and son Randhir (the little boy under the streetlamp in the credits). This was a master’s tour de force. How many 26-year-olds, then or now, can claim to have visualised such a concept,and brought it to fruition?
Hardly we know that This was scriptwriter KA Abbas’ first collaboration with Raj Kapoor; he had originally wanted Mehboob Khan to direct the film with Ashok Kumar and Dilip Kumar playing the roles of father and son.
It was entered into the Cannes Film Festival where it was nominated for the Grand Prize.
In 2003, Timemagazine included it in a list of “10 Indian Films to Treasure”. Time magazine also chose Raj Kapoor’s performance in Awara as one of the top ten greatest performances of all time. “Whenever Raj Kapoor and Nargis came together on screen, sparks flew. Their chemistry was electrifying and it crackles with raw passion in Raj Kapoor’s Awara. Nargis’s wild and carefree sensuality pulsates and Raj Kapoor’s scruffy hair-rebellious persona only adds fuel to the fire”. The Time Magazine included the film among the 20 new entries added to All time best movie in 2012.