Planet Bollywood
Producer: RK Films
Director: Raj Kapoor
Starring: Raj Kapoor, Nargis, Prithviraj Kapoor, Leela Chitnis, K.N. Singh, Shashi Kapoor
Music: Shankar-Jaikishan
Lyrics: Hasrat Jaipuri, Shailendra
Genre: Social
Recommended Audience: General
Approximate Running Time: 168 mins
Reviewed by: Shahid Khan  - Rating: 8.5 / 10
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Public Rating Average: 5.11 / 10 (rated by 410 viewers)
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On the face of it, Raj Kapoor’s “Awara” is a typical potboiler with a convoluted plot. In fact, there is so much in the plot that the first twenty minutes of the flashback are hurried through and the viewer is left thinking “woah, what happened there!?”. The device of a speeded-up beginning is something that Manmohan Desai later picked up on and used for his lost and found sagas. It is a shame really because after the confused beginning, there is more to “Awara” than meets the eye. If somebody who did not have much knowledge of Hindi cinema were to give this film a chance, that person would have to be open-minded to venture beyond the beginning and taste the fruits of this classic. Thankfully, the intriguing courtroom scene just before the flashback begins makes us curious to see what happens thereafter.

Prithviraj Kapoor is in the role of Judge Raghunath, a man with some strong views on crime. He sentences Jagga (K.N. Singh) to prison despite little evidence of what he has done on the basis of the fact that his entire family are also criminals. Raghunath believes that some people are just born bad because their parents are also criminals. Jagga gets his revenge by kidnapping Raghunath’s wife (Leela Chitnis) and keeps her captive for a few days. He does not rape her because he comes to know that she is pregnant and keeping her captive is enough to sully her name and reputation. Jagga lets her go back home in the belief that Raghunath may begin to suspect that the unborn child is not actually his and Jagga is the father. This aspect of the storyline does require suspension of disbelief on part of the viewers as one wonders how Jagga is able to predict Raghunath’s reaction in the first place. 

As the story develops, it is easy to think that Raghunath already knew that his wife was expecting and therefore his suspicion that Jagga is the father of the unborn baby comes across as illogical. Actually, it is not an illogicality in the plot but mainly the film fails to communicate that Raghunath had no idea that his wife was expecting just before she is abducted. The viewer first discovers that she is pregnant during the first song when she places her hand upon her stomach. This subtle action connotes the meaning of pregnancy. What the same scene does not express is that Raghunath himself is in the dark about it.

Raghunath is dismayed to learn that the world believes that the unborn child is not his. This plants a seed of doubt in his mind. Is the child his or not? On the basis of this doubt, he kicks his wife out of the home and she gives birth on the street to a boy, Raj. A few years later, Raj (Shashi Kapoor) is a school pupil who has fallen in love with Rita. A twist in the story means that Rita’s father is a close friend of Raghunath. Raghunath takes an immediate disliking to Raj at Rita’s birthday because when asked about his father’s name, Raj answers back that he does not have a father. In Raghunath’s view, poor father-less children are not to be trusted (unaware that Raj is his son, or rather, his wife’s son). Rita is taken out of school and the two friends lose touch. Twelve years later, Raj (now played by Raj Kapoor) bumps into Rita (Nargis) and the two’s love for each other is rekindled. The past is also rekindled with Raj eventually realising that Raghunath (now Rita’s guardian) is his father. What happens after this? What event landed Raj in the court in the first place? Can Raghunath accept Raj as his true son?

Here is a list of the ten best things about “Awara”:

1… The chemistry between Raj Kapoor and Nargis catches fire on the screen. Particularly delightful to watch is their moonlight serenade in the song, “Dum Bhar Jo Udhar Moonh Phere”. Raj has never looked as handsome as he does here with his twinkling eyes and broody but charming expressions. The scene where Nargis changes her clothes on the beach just after swimming has become one of Hindi cinema’s most enduring iconic moments. Nargis’s sensuality and sultry beauty is captured gloriously on celluloid.

2… “Awara” is famous for being the first film to have a song picturised as a fantasy or dream sequence. The song is “Ghar Aaya Mera Pardesi” and rendered by Lata Mangeshkar. Even with today’s slick and technically polished MTV-style music videos, the song sequence of “Ghar Aaya Mera Pardesi” still leaves one with a feeling of awe. The sets are dreamy and fantastical while Nargis brilliantly evokes romanticism with the simplest of hand gestures. What enhances the captivating sequence is the stark and dramatic introduction where the character of Raj is stuck in hell and tries to escape it (in his dreams).

 3… While on the subject of music, let us not forget Shanker-Jaikishan’s legendary score. Each and every song is a gem. As well as “Dum Bhar Jo Udhar…” and “Ghar Aaya…”, there is the evergreen “Awara Hoon, Awara Hoon” by Mukesh. Another pearl by Mukesh is “Hum Tujhse Mohabbat Karke”. Lata’s exquisite voice dominates the album though with beautiful tunes in “Jabse Balam Ghar Aaye”, “Ek Bewafa Se Pyar Kiya”, “Aa Jaao Tadapte Hain Armaan” and “Tere Bina” (with Manna Dey). She is not the only female singer here as Shamshad Begum’s earthy voice gives us the lively “Ek Do Teen”. Overshadowed by all these gorgeous numbers is Mohammad Rafi’s tribal song, “Haiyya Ho Naiyya”.

4… The central theme has often sparked much discussion among those who wish to look into the film deeply. The film asks whether the environment that a child grows up in influences his/her personality or is the character/personality already embedded in that child from day one? The villain, Jagga, seeks to convince Raghunath that children are not born with crime in their blood merely because their ancestors are perpetrators of crime. Or to express it in a better way, he wants to convince the judge that children of decent families, too, can turn to crime. Jagga takes a rather long time to establish this argument (21 years to be precise) and the poor guy does not get to confront Raghunath over this anyway. The resolution of the plot adds an interesting dimension to this argument as Raj promises to reform… after he has met his true father. Draw your own conclusions there but it seems as if the film suggests that it is father-less children who turn to crime. And that those who do have fathers (the decent law-abiding kind) do not turn to crime, or in Raj’s case, can reform. Nevertheless, this moral exploration of the theme makes the film all the more entertaining.

5… The creative camerawork adds an allure to the film. It is most notable in the scene where Raghunath casts his wife out of his home. Extreme close-ups of Raghunath’s face convey the suffocation that his extreme ideal and beliefs are causing in his life. Another shot has the angle of looking at the same character from below with his back towards the camera. And when he turns his face towards his shoulder, it gives the feel of a judgmental superior turning his back against what he cherishes the most.

6… In the same scene described above, the lighting sets up a delicious forbidding mood. The play of shadow upon Raghunath’s face is impressive to say the least.

 7… If it were not for “Ek Do Teen”, songs in film scenes would have carried on uninterrupted for quite a while. Since the song is set in a club, the director adds a touch of realism to it by interlacing the sound effect with noise of laughter and the general hubbub of a crowd. Even dialogue is spoken and the sound of the song fades away for a minute or two and then starts up again. Today, this is not considered as big a deal but back in the early 1950’s, it was quite an experimental thing for Raj Kapoor to do.

8… The use of the extended flashback is a device that Hindi cinema is particularly fond of. Here, the device works very well as the sequence before the flashback begins keeps the audience wondering how on earth the main characters get to their current positions within the plot.

9… Prithviraj Kapoor, Raj Kapoor and Shashi Kapoor are an inspired piece of casting. Of course, having one of those as the director would help influence the decision, ahem. Facial resemblance between the actors is necessary as the climax of the plot relies on Rita using the similarities as evidence that Raghunath and Raj are father and son. If Raghunath and Raj did not look so similar then maybe the scene would not work.

10… An often-imitated scene is the sequence where Raj and Rita first meet each other as adults (unaware of each other’s identity) and Raj steals Rita’s handbag. Raj then pretends that he has caught the thief (Rita does not know that he is the thief himself) by climbing over a wall and making noisy effects on the other side while a clueless Rita listens on. The latest echo of this scene can be seen in Sangeeth Sivan’s “Chura Liyaa Hai Tumne”.

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